Qualification overkill in California

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Along the path to meeting NCLB requirements, California is tripping over its own shoelaces. Costly and time-consuming certification requirements are frustrating teachers and driving some of the best out of the public school system.

Pacific Collegiate, a distinguished California charter high school, lost several accomplished teachers this year, including Jefferds Huyck, a Harvard grad with a doctorate in classics and 22 years of high school and college teaching experience. Huyck decided to forgo taking two years of certification classes and spending $15,000 after watching his wife, Sarah Whittier, give up precious time otherwise dedicated to her students in order to participate in classes targeted toward young, inexperienced teachers. Ms. Whittier, with a doctorate of her own in English--not to mention a state award for excellence in teaching--described the certification as "a badge of shame." She continued, saying in no uncertain terms, "It's an embarrassment. It's infantilizing."

A recent New York Times article discussing this unfortunate situation shed an uncommon amount of light on this under-recognized problem, but it also unfairly blamed No Child Left Behind's "highly qualified teacher" provisions. Even The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation's weekly Gadfly piled on. How quickly we all forget. The stories of the Jefferds Huycks and Sarah Whittiers go back long before NCLB. They are why the alternate route movement gained such quick traction. Under NCLB's "highly qualified teacher" provisions, most teachers are required to attain certification--nothing new here--and it is the state, not the federal law, that establishes those certification requirements. What's more, NCLB explicitly exempts charter school teachers like Huyck from having to be fully certified. California, however, has chosen to impose a requirement for charter school teachers on its own.

Marilyn Errett, an administrator with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, defends the state's policy, stating that teachers "need to learn how to work with children in immigrant families who have limited English skills and students being moved from special education classes to regular ones. Those are skills we think they need to have." All well and good, but there's no evidence from California (or any other state) that these coursework requirements in fact help teachers achieve those skills--and plenty of evidence to the contrary. In truth, there's little more going on here than a power play.