Teachers’ unions are pro-choice on abortion, but not on education. They use their enormous political capital with the Democrat Party to block voucher initiatives in whatever state or municipality proposes them, including in California. Consequently, many parents home-school their children at their own expense, even though they still have to pay local property taxes which are spent mostly on public schools their children do not attend. Right now, about 166,000 California children are taught at home. But last week, an California appeals court declared that all children must be taught by a “credentialed” teacher. It means that most home-schooling parents without teaching credentials would be violating California law and subject to prosecution. This is going to touch off a political conflagration.
The teachers’ unions love it. “We’re happy,” said Lloyd Porter, who is on the California Teachers Association board of directors, to the San Francisco Chronicle. “We always think students should be taught by credentialed teachers, no matter what the setting.” A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he agrees with the ruling. “What’s best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
Teachers’ unions would like to stop being embarrassed by home-schooled kids who continually outperform those taught by “credentialed” teachers in national contests. According to a 2002 article by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy: “Only 2 percent of U.S. students are home schooled. Yet, in the [National Geographic] geography bee, 22 percent of the national finalists and 40 percent of the final 10 students were home-schoolers. Such a showing is nothing short of phenomenal.” Home-schooled kids dominate the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee as well. In 2000, home-schooled kids took first, second, and third place. Last year, home-schooled kids won both the National Geography Bee and the National Spelling Bee.
Meanwhile, we learn that those “credentialed” teachers so prized by California courts and teachers’ unions compare very unfavorably to people credentialed in other professions. To become “credentialed,” teachers have to major in education. According to economist Walter Williams: “Students who have chosen education as their major have the lowest SAT scores of any other major. Students who have graduated with an education degree earn lower scores than any other major on graduate school admissions tests such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT. Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of most any university. As such, they are home to the least able students and professors with the lowest academic respect.”
Clearly, too many “credentialed” teachers don’t know much. Or, to paraphrase Maine humorist Tim Sample: “They don’t even suspect much.” The slow ones – and trust me, there are a lot of slow ones in public education – don’t want any light shining on just how slow they are. That’s why they fight standardized testing for teachers. The first time Massachusetts forced new teachers to take a basic competency test in 1998, an astonishing 59% of them failed. These were college graduates (education majors) taking a test that Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas Finneran said: “a reasonably educated ninth grader could pass.”
Former Boston University President and Massachusetts Board of Education Chairman John Silber wanted to eliminate teacher certification, or “credentialing” as California calls it, because it was keeping really bright people out of the teaching profession. However, teachers’ unions blocked him. Why would unions favor credentialing when they disdain standardized tests? Because it’s easy to pass college education courses and difficult to pass standardized tests which cannot be fudged. I’ll bet a lot of the 59% who flunked the teacher test graduated with honors from their college education departments. Grade inflation there is rampant.
Silber knew there were many mature, successful, college-educated professionals from other fields who wanted to teach and he didn’t want to discourage them by requiring they take two more years of largely useless education courses in order to be certified or “credentialed.” My school district participated in the University of Southern Maine’s “Extended Teacher Education Program,” or ETEP, for several years in which aspiring teachers described above could become certified with only one year of coursework and student teaching. I was on teams interviewing promising candidates for whom I might serve as “mentor teacher” during part of that year. As the teams discussed candidate suitability, a disturbing pattern emerged. Several of the above-described “mature, successful, college-educated professionals from other fields” were naturally confident, competent, and bright – as you would expect. But, as such, they were threatening to the insular academics from the university cloister who would have to supervise them. Some interviewers came right out and said the candidates were “too sure of themselves.” They were not typically obsequious, worshipful, college students enthralled by anyone with a Ph.D who calls himself “doctor,” and so they were passed over.
There are still excellent public school teachers out there, but mediocre ones are increasing and so are the downright terrible ones, thanks to teachers’ union protection. They may be happy now, but California’s decision on home-schooling will touch off a firestorm the unions are going to regret.