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Public School Teacher ‘Professionalism’: A Myth Exposed

By Lee Duigon
September 01, 2009

“The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience … Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency1…” – The NEA’s 2008 Resolution on Homeschooling

Yes, leave teaching to the professionals. That’s the public education establishment’s party line today, as it has always been.

And who are the professionals?

Those who are licensed by the state to teach—that is, those who are certified to teach, having first passed a number of “education” courses in college, completed a term of practice teaching, earned a bachelor’s degree in “education.” Standards vary slightly from state to state, but all fifty states do have teacher certification standards.

Daunted by the barricade of “professionalism,” many parents shy away from schooling their children themselves. Whatever their misgivings about public education, parents continue to send their children to the public schools. After all, the teachers there are all certified professionals!

But the facts show that such confidence in teacher certification has no basis in reality.

The Harsh Truth

Chris Klicka, senior counsel with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), has written a paper exposing “The Myth of Teacher Qualifications.” We recommend reading the report in its entirety, at http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000002/00000214.asp . (A pdf file of the report, with abstracts of the court rulings cited, is also available.2)

The meat of the report is this:
“[V]irtually all academic research documents that there is no positive correlation between teacher qualifications (especially teacher certification requirements) and student performance.”3

“Virtually all” means literally hundreds of research studies, going back decades in time. All of the studies come to the same conclusion: teacher certification programs simply have no positive impact on teaching.

But the prejudice expressed in the NEA resolution is impregnable. “I have talked with hundreds of school officials,” Klicka wrote, “who cannot understand how a ‘mere mother’ with a high school diploma could possibly teach her own children. These officials literally take offense that parents would try to teach their children and actually think that they will do as well as teachers in public school who have at least four years and sometimes seven years of higher education … What is so laughable about this belief in teacher qualifications by public school authorities are the statistics which show the appalling decline in competency among certified public school teachers and the failure of teacher colleges.”

Dr. Eric Hanushek of the University of Rochester, for instance, “surveyed the results of 113 studies on the impact of teachers’ qualifications on their students’ academic achievement. Eighty-five percent of the studies found no positive correlation between the educational performance of the students and the teachers’ educational background. Although seven percent of the studies did find a positive correlation, five percent found a negative impact … The results of these 113 studies are certainly an indictment on proponents of certain teacher standards for homeschoolers. Higher teacher qualification does not make better students.”

So when we are talking about teacher certification, we are talking about a program which ties up many millions of dollars in public money, involves the full-time efforts of a vast multitude of teachers and administrators … and only works seven percent of the time!

Meanwhile, “homeschoolers’ achievements are ranked above average on standardized achievement tests as demonstrated by numerous studies. Dr. Ray and others found that only thirty-five percent of teaching mothers have a college degree or higher, and yet their children score no higher on standardized achievement tests than those being taught by mothers without a college degree.”

Klicka’s paper cites many authorities and examples to prove a simple point.

Teacher certification does not make for good teaching, and the lack of it does not make for bad teaching. Untrained parents do just as well, or better, than the “professionals.”

A “Right,” and Then Some

Chris Klicka was not available to comment on his paper, so HSLDA President Michael Smith fielded questions.

“I can’t tell you whether public educators honestly believe in public education,” Smith said, “but I think it’s relevant that about half of public school teachers have their kids in private school, or tutored.

“But the point is, you don’t have to have a degree to be an effective teacher. What you need is a desire and an interest to educate a child. And that’s exactly what most parents do have.”

Does the education establishment’s promotion of credentials and “professionalism” deter parents from homeschooling?

“Absolutely!” Smith said. “I hear it over and over again, from parents who are afraid to try homeschooling—‘Oh, I’m not qualified, I could never do it!’ The proliferation of this concept, that only ‘licensed professionals’ can teach, has kept many parents from homeschooling. But that concept is not borne out by the facts.”

Parents, he said, must also understand that they have a Constitutional right to school their own children—even though such a right is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.

“There are enumerated rights—such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, etc.—and un-enumerated rights,” Smith explained. “Those are fundamental rights, the highest kind of rights.

“Over the years, the U. S. Supreme Court has been very clear about fundamental, un-enumerated rights. The right to homeschool is based on U. S. history and common law, and many prior court decisions.

“However, courts can change. So we at HSLDA are advocating for a Constitutional amendment that would establish that parents have an enumerated right to educate their children.”

But there is more, even, than a Constitutional right involved. R. J. Rushdoony addressed the rock-bottom issue in Law and Liberty:

Moreover, the family is man’s first and basic school. Parents have very extensively educated their children before the child ever sets foot inside a school. Moreover, every mother regularly performs the most difficult of all educational tasks, one which no school performs. The mother takes a small child, incapable of speaking or understanding a word in any language, and, in a very short time, teaches it the mother tongue. This is a difficult and painstaking task, but it comes simply and naturally in the family as an expression of the mother’s love and the child’s response to that love. At every stage of the child’s life, the educational function of the home is the basic educational power in the life of the child. For education to cease to be parent-controlled and become state-controlled is deadly to both education and the child.4 [Emphasis added]

More Money Down the Drain

Ironically, in spite of the abundant evidence that teacher certification has no positive effect on education, the U. S. Department of Education is proposing to spend another $58.9 billion—in federal “stimulus” funds—on still higher levels of certification.5

“It’s just a waste of $60 billion,” Michael Smith said. “We already know teacher certification doesn’t work, but this is what happens when you have a runaway government.”

A Personal Note

As someone who has actually participated in a state teacher certification program, I can testify to its sheer uselessness. Although the courses I took at a state teachers’ college had impressive titles like “educational psychology” and “educational technique,” there was not one of them that taught me anything I didn’t already know. Worse, there was not one of them that taught me anything I really wanted to know: for instance, “How do I impose discipline in the classroom?” Questions like that were simply blown off by my instructors.

I soon learned that it was not necessary for me to attend the classes, pay attention, buy or read the textbooks, to pass the courses. All I had to do was show up and take the final exams, which I easily passed—just on general knowledge.

Having taught in both public and Catholic schools (the nuns did not mind my being a Protestant), I can safely say that there was nothing that a junior or a senior in the public high school could do, academically, that a sixth-grader at the Catholic school couldn’t do.

The teachers at the Catholic school, for the most part, were not state-certified; all of the teachers at the public high school were. Additionally, the Catholic school made do with a fraction of the administrative staff employed at any public school; and the yearly tuition was literally one-quarter of the annual per-pupil cost in the public school district where I worked.

The children at the Catholic school were cheerful, well-behaved, and eager to learn. The daily schedule, stripped of the many “prep” periods—free periods—characteristic of the public school schedule, forced both teachers and students to work hard, and the day flew by. Teacher morale—in spite of lower pay and fewer benefits than enjoyed by their public school counterparts—was high, and teacher absenteeism rare. At the public schools, I observed conditions to be generally the exact opposite.

Parents should not be intimidated by public education’s façade of professionalism. The fact is that “ordinary” parents can easily teach as well as America’s highly-compensated certified professionals, and very often better. Don’t be afraid—if you’re like most parents, you can teach your own child effectively.

Whatever any parents’ reason for leaving their children in the public schools, the claim of “getting them a quality education” simply won’t stand. And for Christian parents allowing their children to receive an aggressively anti-Christian public education, it’s no reason at all.


1. http://www.ihen.org/IHEN_Library/about_nea_b75.htm

2. http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/issues/c/custodyresearch.pdf

3. All quotes from the online edition of Mr. Klicka’s paper, on the HSLDA website.

4. R. J. Rushdoony, Law and Liberty (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1984), 79.

5. http://www.nbpts.org/get_involved/american_recovery_and_re/national_board_certifica


Topics: Education, Family & Marriage, R. J. Rushdoony, Culture

Lee Duigon

Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.

Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.

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