More Flexible Certification Could Help Ease Teacher Shortages
When schools hire teachers for a new school year, they generally find that some subjects are harder to staff than others. For instance, rural districts might not have enough candidates who are fluent in foreign languages. Another possible shortage area is special education, which calls for patience and dedication beyond what is required in working with other students. And science and math positions are notoriously difficult to fill, because people with degrees in those areas are offered well-paying jobs in business. The list could go on: The U.S. Department of Education has designated these and 13 other fields as teacher shortage areas in Missouri.
Missouri could alleviate the shortage by making it easier for professionals in other fields to become teachers. One reason for the shortage is the teacher certification process. The standard route to certification involves earning a bachelor’s degree in education. This prerequisite would make sense if people chose their careers while in college and did the same work for the following four decades. It’s less reasonable today, when workers learn new skills on the job and often change careers over the course of their lives.
Some people who earn bachelor’s degrees in science or math will decide they want to become teachers. And many education school graduates will decide not to go into teaching after all, or will quit teaching after a short time. Employment data show the severity of the problem. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), only 47.5 percent of people who earned bachelor’s degrees in education in 1992-93 were teaching in 1994, and 35 percent of the 1999-2000 education graduates were not teaching the following year. The NCES also reports that about half of all new teachers have left teaching after five years.
Districts wouldn’t find enough teachers if they had to rely on education school graduates alone. That’s why all 50 states have instituted alternative routes to teaching certification. The alternative routes allow college graduates to work toward full certification by gaining teaching experience, participating in mentoring programs, and completing coursework on teaching methods. These programs are remarkably successful: About one-third of new teachers hired in the U.S. have earned alternative certifications.
Missouri’s alternative route to certification is a good start, but it’s not yet flexible enough to meet the state’s demand for new teachers. Missouri requires candidates to have completed or be enrolled in courses on the “psychology of learning” and other topics, and to finish an additional eight credit hours of education coursework during the following year. Other states allow candidates for certification to complete distance-learning courses while working full-time.
For example, in Florida candidates begin teaching after passing a background check and a test of subject-area knowledge. They receive training in lesson planning and other teaching skills from their school districts before the first day of school. Then, the candidates receive guidance and feedback from experienced teachers as they begin teaching. Candidates complete education coursework through online courses; the amount of time it takes to fulfill this requirement varies from candidate to candidate. This flexibility allows candidates for certification in Florida to gain practical knowledge right away.
Modeling Missouri’s alternative route to teaching certification after Florida’s would help attract more professionals to teaching, and prepare them for successful careers in education. It would also enable districts to hire qualified teachers for math, science, and other hard-to-staff subjects.
Sarah Brodsky is a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute.