Katherine Mangu-Ward has a splendid article in the May issue of Reason Magazine. In it, Mangu-Ward describes the emerging bipartisan consensus on the need for significant education reform, which includes such well-known personalities as Oprah. Nevertheless, unions remain committed to preserving the status quo, and within the current structure, represent an immovable object in American politics, Mangu-Ward asserts.

There are certainly disagreements as to the means for education reform. Republicans favor widespread education choice, while Democrats seem content with tinkering on the edges of the existing system. The latest bipartisan move in education reform established the now infamous No Child Left Behind Act which contained federal testing mandates which not only undermined states’ authority, but also created perverse incentives for schools to focus on short-term gains in test results over emphasizing a solid, well-rounded education for America’s public school children.

Mangu-Ward explains that the Washington consensus is shifting yet again, this time toward a fixation on teachers:

The consensus about how Washington can repair America’s schools has now shifted yet again, this time away from a test-based choice model and toward a fixation on teacher quality. At best, the teacher quality movement could result in better evaluation procedures, public transparency, merit pay, and a move away from seniority-based hiring and firing. At worst, it will exacerbate the focus on teaching credentials to the exclusion of competence and fund lots of continuing education junkets for senior teachers.

Mangu-Ward describes that this new fixation on teacher quality could lead to a wrong-headed focus on teaching credentials which could actually lower competence. Carrie Lukas suggests that alternative teacher certification could alleviate our current shortage of qualified teachers by expanding the pool of people eligible to become teachers while simultaneously improving the overall quality of our teachers. In IWF’s April policy newsletter on Alternative Teacher Certification, Lukas explains:

Expanding the pool of people eligible to become public school teachers is key to improving the quality of the teaching workforce. Typically, schools required that applicants have a teacher certification or license. Getting those credentials require education-specific coursework, a costly and timeconsuming process, which drives many potential teachers out of the field. Troublingly, research shows that a teaching certificate doesn’t guarantee a teacher’s classroom success, and isn’t associated with better student performance. 

One promising strategy for improving teacher quality is alternative teacher certification programs. These programs allow candidates to earn a license by meeting certain requirements-including having a college degree and passing a background check-and demonstrating mastery of subject-area knowledge. This makes it easier for many qualified candidates to apply.  

Read more here.