Teacher Preparation

Certification Snafus Ensnare Alabama Teacher of the Year

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 02, 2015 2 min read
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Here’s a great example of the Law of Unintended Consequences: A former Alabama Teacher of the Year submitted her resignation after running afoul of teacher-certification rules, despite having more than 20 years of teaching experience.

Ann Marie Corgill went to work in a low-income school in the Birmingham, Ala. district this year (surely a coup for that district, since policy folks agree that it’s often difficult to encourage the best teachers to work in those schools.) She was moved to 5th grade after initially beginning in 2nd grade.

And that became a problem: Corgill’s current certification is in early education and goes only from pre-K to grade 3. For her current grade span, she needs to hold an elementary K-6 certification. Teaching out of grade level put her afoul of the federal “highly qualified” teacher rules in the No Child Left Behind Act, which require all teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, demonstrate subject-matter competency, and in what seems to be the problem here, to be fully certified.

Corgill also holds National Board certification for students aged 7-12, but that apparently doesn’t supercede the state requirements.

In her resignation letter, Corgill wrote that state administrators said she’d have to pay certification fees and take a test to get an elementary K-6 certification. She told news site AL.com that she faced a “wall of bureaucracy” in trying to get the situation straightened out with state and district officials.

It isn’t entirely clear why no one flagged this problem before Corgill transferred grades.

It’s a messy situation and, although all parties are still trying to work things out, comes as an example of how teacher certification can cut both ways. Although theoretically certification keeps out unqualified candidates, it can also serve as a barrier to great teachers. Research is also fairly clear that being certified doesn’t always mean being good at one’s job.

Teacher certification in the United States is a very insular and even parochial business. Every state has different gradations, age spans, continuing education requirements and so on. Reciprocity across state lines is terribly confusing. (Minnesota was recently in the news, for instance, after out-of-state educators found it virtually impossible to have their training recognized there.)

What lessons do you think this should teach us about teacher certification and how it might be improved? Comments field is open.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.