The 'Education Establishment' . . . and alternative certification

One of the commentators on this blog took me to task for using the term “education establishment,” arguing that this term gives aid and comfort to those who would “privatize” education.

As I’ve noted before, I think it’s quite possible to distinguish between a commitment to public education — that is, universally available, government-financed education — and a monopoly model that allows for only one set of government-sanctioned providers. It’s that last view that I was describing with the perhaps infelicitous “education establishment” label.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how the tension between centralization and diversification plays out as the Senate is finally moving to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or “No Child Left Behind” in its most recent, and now abandoned, iteration. After several years of delay, Senators are now racing to pass a bill before the Obama administration’s announced (and legally questionable) waivers kick in.

I am planning to write a series of posts about the bill that has just emerged from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and the issues that are likely to play out as the bill is debated on the Senate floor.

Let’s start with a provision that the committee rejected. As Education Week reports, the committee voted down “an amendment offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that would have allowed teachers to be considered ‘highly qualified’ only if they had completed a state-approved traditional or alternative teacher-preparation program, or passed a rigorous state-approved teacher-performance assessment, and attained certification in their subject matter. Sen. Bennet argued the measure would deal a blow to Teach For America and other alternative-certification programs.”

A letter to the committee from the New Teacher Project further clarifies: “The . . . amendment would treat teachers who are still completing a certification program as not meeting the highly qualified teacher standard in the bill. This provision would have the effect of ending the recruitment of teachers through alternative certification, despite the fact that about 4 of 10 new public school teachers hired since 2005 have come through alternative teacher-preparation programs (Feistritzer, 2011).”

I’ve acknowledged my own stake in this debate: I entered teaching through Utah’s alternative certification program, and I frankly think my students benefited from the fact that I spent six years of college and graduate school studying in depth the subjects I would be teaching them . . . rather than taking notoriously less rigorous education school courses. I also think that programs such as Teach for America and others described in the New Teacher Project letter have introduced valuable new talent into the teaching profession. Should this be the only route to teaching? No. Should it remain an available route? Yes, I think so.

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