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Dismantle the Teacher Accreditation Cartel

The people least prepared to teach are education majors. K-12 schools should be freed to hire based on subject-matter expertise.

A teacher with two students.
(David Kidd/Governing)
Twenty years ago, when I was hiring teachers for the private K-12 school I founded, I knew better than to recruit certified teachers. That’s right — I didn’t want to hire certified teachers. Why?

Because from my previous work as a college history professor, I knew that the people least prepared to teach a subject were education majors. Required to take an embarrassingly low minimum of credit hours to be certified to teach a subject — just four courses in some states! — education majors encounter the least substance and rigor, but the maximum of racialist theory and left-wing ideology in their program.

If my new school was going to succeed in teaching at the highest levels, then I would have to find subject-matter experts with a heart for teaching. That’s what we did — and what thousands of schools across this country do, because of the humiliating, yet expensive, reality of teacher licensure. Put simply, it’s a cabal.

But don’t just take my word for it; the evidence is unequivocal: Traditional public schools have an abysmal education record. Not only are scores as low as ever on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, but internationally our math scores remain poor and uncompetitive. Much of the blame lies with teacher education programs and state certification mandates that bolster education schools’ enrollment and subject teachers to radical activist ideology.

States tolerate this situation and welcome teachers trained with such "liberationist” pedagogy into the classroom. While states have been offering alternative routes to teacher certification, the vast majority of teachers are educated and certified through university-based colleges of education. This ought to stop.

States should end requirements for prospective teachers to be certified, and instead empower schools to hire based on subject-matter expertise. At the same time, on the national level, we can take the Trump administration’s reform of college accreditation as a model.

In higher education, accreditation is a de facto federal system of regulating the quality of colleges. It has a poor track record of quality assurance, a problem exacerbated by a cartel of so-called regional accreditors that split the country into regions and conspired not to encroach on each other’s territory. There was no competition, so accreditors began abusing their power, which included requiring leftist ideology in their standards.

The Trump administration changed all that. Suddenly, any college could choose any accreditor, and states began introducing market competition into accreditation.

The next administration could follow this model for teacher certification.

Like the accreditors, teachers’ unions have also operated like a cartel. Congress should rescind the federal charter of the National Education Association — the only union that enjoys a federal charter — no longer putting the federal imprimatur of support on the special interest group. It’s a teachers’ union that voted to promote critical race theory nationwide and advocated to keep schools closed during the pandemic.

The National Education Association has deeply damaged America. In its place, Congress could shift that charter to one of the many private, parent-focused groups fighting to right the ship in K-12 education.

Meanwhile, in states that lack the political support to eliminate teacher certification altogether, states should recognize or charter additional private organizations to certify which teachers are ready to teach, outside of the broken system of college of education certification.

Introducing market competition in the validation of teachers will have untold benefits. Some certifiers may focus on patriotism, while others may focus on classical education or the ability to train students for the workforce, science careers, music careers or a variety of life pursuits.

American teachers are almost as vital as parents in educating the next generation. Let’s stop facilitating anti-American activism and instead ensure we recognize those teachers who are best for America.

©2024 Heritage Foundation. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Kevin Roberts is president of the Heritage Foundation.

Governing’s opinion columns reflect the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Governing’s editors or management.
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