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Guest opinion

Is certification required for teacher success?

Part of being a savvy customer is recognizing and interpreting signals when shopping. Usually this is simple enough: Valet parking at a restaurant can be a signal that prices on the menu will be steep, and a clothing store located beside such a restaurant usually indicates trendy fashions and high price tags.

Likewise, employers look for resume signals to prescreen job applicants, such as attendance at an esteemed college or work experience at a reputable firm. But research indicates that, in the teaching profession, completion of a standard certification program doesn’t always signal competency in the classroom. In fact, teacher certification does not have a strong relationship with student achievement — effective teachers are better identified after having some classroom experience.

Alternative teacher certifications have gained a lot of ground, by 2009, 47 states had adopted some form of alternative certification. But some alternatives are better than others. A study that year found striking differences in the programs.

In those states that had alternative certification routes requiring the applicant to take fewer than 30 credit hours of course work, students between 2003 and 2007 saw greater test-score gains in math and reading than their peers in other states.

In addition, there were more minority teachers in states with effective alternative certification programs. This is a critical finding because of the general shortage of minorities in the profession over the last decade.

Neither standard nor alternative certification programs guarantee teacher excellence, and successful school leaders “understand how to hire teachers that will achieve positive classroom outcomes without having to depend on cumbersome certification processes,” wrote Arizona Board of Education President Jaime Molera in the Arizona Republic earlier this month. Alternative programs provide more ways for talented professionals from all walks of life to enter the teaching workforce.

The University of Arizona has an excellent opportunity to create genuine alternative certification routes with the $1 million in federal grants it received last month to support such programs.

For the benefit of all Arizona students, state policymakers and the university should provide prospective teachers with legitimate alternatives to standard certification requiring less coursework. We should give school leaders more freedom to hire talented individuals and hold both accountable for teacher and student performance.

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