The school system in America is by all indications in deep crisis. The problem is not in the net expenditure that the US government incurs for elementary and secondary education, which is comparable to other OECD countries at about 3.8% of the GDP. As for post-secondary education, US expenditure is well ahead of the curve and yet American students are lagging behind in not only science and math but also English and history.
The problem is multi-faceted but it appears that easy answers have been forsaken for ones that merely introduce further bureaucratization into a system already hobbled by red tape. In particular, the “No Child Left Behind” Act is mandating that all teachers be certified, leading to hemorrhaging of talented teachers from schools and creating new hurdles for people who want to teach. Let me preface the argument with my own story so as to provide context to the argument.
I graduated from college very idealistic about the kind of jobs I was interested in doing. Teaching seemed like a wonderful career choice; being able to share knowledge and, more importantly, share my enthusiasm about learning seemed like a wonderful idea. So I started applying for jobs in teaching, including Teach for America, for which I was rejected outright as I was not a citizen, for New York Teaching Fellows, from which I was also rejected. Still determined, I tried to apply to local schools. I found out that for teaching I would need to take more coursework in education and sit for state certification exams. This new information acted as a death knell for my plans to apply for a teaching position and I resigned myself to look for a private sector job and that’s where I have been since then.
The moral of the above story, if there is one, is that the education system needs to be more open to young graduates who are idealistic and may make wonderful teachers if pursued energetically. Instead the school system specializes in creating more hurdles, including archaic certification exams and requirements for courses in education. These requirements seem even more archaic given that a lot of private schools recruit teachers who are not certified and hence technically not ‘qualified’ to teach.
The certification process was instituted to guarantee a certain level of quality in teachers and to some extent one can argue that it has been effective, but as Alison Lobron, who teaches English at the elite private Concord Academy in Massachusetts, points out in her article for The Boston Globe:
When the certification process itself becomes a barrier for people wanting to go into a profession, it is time to review the guidelines. There are other cheaper ways of assuring quality including relying initially on surveys by parents and students. As it now stands, we may lose public school teachers beloved by principals, parents, and students, and we risk driving talented potential teachers into private schools or other careers entirely.
But the vagaries of the school system don’t end there. Lobron points out that her teaching experience in private schools didn’t count towards “the education course work required for a professional license.” So teachers like her who may want to transition to public schools would have to pass state tests and then finish an education program.
If we want to draw in a more talented and energetic pool of people towards the relatively low paying teaching jobs, we have to simplify rules for allowing people to teach rather than institute further arduous requirements like those being mandated by the “No Child Left Behind” Act. This is not to say that the quality of the teachers should not be tested but better ways must be devised to make it easier for people who want to teach to come forward and teach our next generation.