For-Profit Teacher Certification: Money Over Quality?

As for-profit teacher certification programs have grown in popularity, their standards and methods are coming under heightened scrutiny. Are these programs more interested in producing high quality teachers or a profit? It may be difficult to decide.

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Behind the Rise

Teachers come to the profession from all walks of life. Some commit to a career in education while in school and pursue an education degree and certification concurrently. Others pursue another field and career before turning to education. This latter group of aspiring teachers typically pursues alternative certification programs. Such programs offer a variety of paths to certification, including accelerated programs, part-time programs for people with full-time jobs and programs tailored for specific needs in the local school system.

Over the past few decades, alternative teacher certification programs have seen a dramatic rise in popularity. In Texas, for example, where the for-profit certification industry is thriving more than anywhere else, they're responsible for 40% of all new teachers. While these include both non-profit and for-profit programs, the for-profit programs are becoming dominant. These programs appeal to those who want to get certified in a way that's flexible, convenient and fast. Some for-profit programs make certification possible in as little as three months.

A Flurry of Criticism

While traditional certification programs have supplied the nation with teachers for centuries, for-profit programs are a relatively recent phenomenon. Thus far, they have little in the way of hard evidence that points to their success in producing highly skilled educators. Many education advocates have begun to question the intentions and merits of these programs. They've pushed legislation and tried to draw attention to what they perceive as the flaws in for-profit certification.

For example, for-profit programs may have less stringent requirements for classroom teaching time. Aspiring teachers who don't spend much time in a live classroom while they learn may be poorly prepared for the practical demands of the profession. Furthermore, the standards for admission into for-profit programs are typically more relaxed than traditional programs. In Texas, while alternative certification programs began growing in the mid-1980s, it took until 2008 before the state mandated a minimum 2.5 grade-point average for teaching candidates.

No Simple Metric

While there is little evidence of the particular effectiveness of for-profit certification programs, there is little evidence of their ineffectiveness. Part of the problem in formulating a criticism of these programs that goes beyond the anecdotal is that it's very difficult to link teachers' successes or failures to their certification programs on a large scale. But since new teachers often end up working in classrooms with the poorest students and those most in need of qualified educators, the need for rigorous certification is paramount. When it comes to preparing educators who will shape the minds of the nation's children, placing the pursuit of profit at an organization's core may be a dangerous gamble.

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