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Originally published August 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 15, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Snohomish County opinion

A certifiably poor way to help young teachers

"The urgency of the task can be stated bluntly. There is no possibility of adequate improvement in the quality of schooling so long as ...

Special to The Times

"The urgency of the task can be stated bluntly. There is no possibility of adequate improvement in the quality of schooling so long as [education schools and education experts] continue to hold both their current ideas and their influential positions as trainers of teachers and administrators."

— E.D. Hirsch Jr., "The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them"

MS. J. is an exceptionally energetic and creative young teacher, respected by her colleagues and loved by her students, whose Washington Assessment of Student Learning scores are among the best in the district.

But Ms. J., who is considered to be "highly qualified" under the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, will be fired next year unless she registers for a program whose primary outcome is to extend the influence of schools of education.

Professional Certification (ProCert) is a relatively new program that requires teachers who hold initial Washington State Residency Certificates to return to education school for one to two years of additional coursework in such archetypal ed-school activities as reflecting on "their intentional decision-making skills," collegial collaboration, portfolio development and writing professional growth plans.

ProCert does not, it is important to note, include any courses in the pedagogies of reading, math, science, social studies or writing.

Such navel-gazing in lieu of academic rigor is neither new to teacher certification, nor restricted to Washington state. In City Journal, author Heather Mac Donald concluded that the "immutable" dogma of ed schools was "Anything But Knowledge." (Many educators have horror stories of teacher ed that, like sausage-making, are best kept from public view.)

Requiring early-career teachers to return to ed school for further training is akin to sending a recovering alcoholic to the local tavern for refresher practice in socializing.

No research validates ProCert as contributing to teacher quality or student learning. Indeed, a 2006 study financed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards on the analogous National Board Certification Program found "no significant relationship between National Board certification status and student achievement gains in the classroom."

Instead, ProCert attempts to "professionalize" teaching in lieu of actually having to pay teachers professional salaries. (Washington teacher salaries rank dead last among West Coast states.) ProCert tuition is especially onerous to the targeted early-career educators who already are struggling to survive on low pay, and in many cases to repay college loans.

Moreover, the requirement is redundant. There already are established systems in place for meeting stated ProCert objectives, including demonstrating positive impact on student learning. ProCert is a program that treats teachers as slackers who must be bullied into career planning.

Teachers with excellent performance reviews and six to seven years of in-service training, teachers in shortage fields such as math, science and special education, even teachers with master's degrees in education, all will be fired unless they register for ProCert.

It is such hoop-jumping that causes educators to leave the profession early, and that keeps otherwise highly qualified teachers out of public education altogether.

Ed schools already wield far too much control over Washington's system of public education, with virtual veto power on who even gets to become a teacher, and often limiting entry into the profession to those who demonstrate a politically correct mindset or who are deemed amenable to indoctrination.

Teachers, principals and other administrators all must obtain ed-school consent to qualify for their jobs. Such inbreeding stifles creativity, promotes groupthink and suppresses dissent, and leads to such disasters as the WASL and a set of state learning standards that was graded with an "F" by an independent foundation.

In "To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher," William Ayers described the passage through teacher education as "painfully dull, occasionally malevolent, and mostly beside the point." The good news is that most teachers do learn to teach during their first years on the job, and that actual classroom experience can help to expunge a lot of ed-school dogma.

ProCert is an unwarranted encumbrance imposed on early-career teachers; it should be abandoned immediately.

Richard Slettvet is a special-education teacher in the Edmonds School District.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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