A Broken System: Einstein Wouldn't Have Been 'Qualified' To Teach High School Physics

from the time-to-fix-things dept

We’ve argued for years that many professions that require certain forms of “licensing” are often more about restricting supply. That’s not to say those who set up the licensing effort didn’t have the best of intentions, but the end effect often doesn’t actually do much to benefit the public. I’m reminded of this after reading economist Charles Wheelen explaining why Albert Einstein technically wouldn’t have been “qualified” to teach high school physics after retiring from a distinguished career at Princeton. And, for Wheelen, it’s not just hypothetical:

When my wife tried to make a mid-career switch to teaching math in the Chicago Public Schools, I no longer needed a hypothetical example. I realized that licensing had the potential to be every bit as harmful in practice as I’d been saying it was in theory.

My wife Leah graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth. She was a computer science major with an emphasis on math. She worked in the software industry, built a company, and then sold it. She seemed, in every respect, perfectly qualified to teach middle-school math.

She found a job at a school adjacent to a public housing project on Chicago’s South Side. On about day three of that job—after she had met the students, decorated the classroom, and started teaching—the principal informed Leah that she did not have a “middle-school math endorsement,” which the State of Illinois requires.

Amazingly, this happened a second time as well. She did get the “math endorsement,” but then lost a job teaching algebra because she didn’t have a special “algebra endorsement.” And yet, she’s clearly qualified to teach those subjects. And, even more importantly, Wheelen points to research showing that students with “certified” teachers don’t do any better than those with “uncertified” teachers — suggesting the whole process has little to do with making sure students get the best education.

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Comments on “A Broken System: Einstein Wouldn't Have Been 'Qualified' To Teach High School Physics”

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Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Uuuuckkkk ... that stinks.....my eye's just vomited

I did, thank you very much.
“She found a job at a school adjacent to a public housing project on Chicago’s South Side. On about day three of that job?after she had met the students, decorated the classroom, and started teaching?the principal informed Leah that she did not have a “middle-school math endorsement,” which the State of Illinois requires. “

“On about Day three of that Job”. Yes, I read it, and no, I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand what was being said here, that she applied for a teaching job, got it, started work, only to be told AFTER starting that she wasn’t actually qualified to do it.

No, I wasn’t brain-farting. Next time, if you want to comment on a legitimate question, answer with a legitimate answer, instead of insinuating that I was being stupid, which I am far from.

Anonymous Coward of Esteemed Trolling (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: seems a legit response

“Did the woman’s boss tell her she wasn’t qualified only AFTER starting her job?”

The article highly suggests it is YES, it practically states it.
After starting teaching
“the principal informed Leah that she did not have a “middle-school math endorsement,””

#BORING way to answer, amirite

Also YES… It looked like a brain fart, get real!
That makes you human not stupid, we all do it.
If you read all my comments you will get a disease from all the brain-farts polluting your eye balls.
Seriously tho… get a vaccination before reading all my comments.
It was my intention to have a laugh with it, but you took offense.

Maybe I am wrong, and you misrepresented your real question ?
Did the woman’s boss KNOW she wasn’t qualified BEFORE she started her job?
Legit question

There you go, a way out. An accident in asking the question
( not a “stupid implying” brain-fart )

It was no way designed to make YOU look stupid.
It was designed to have a laugh.
Again, not personal.
Don’t think that, it is a comment on the internet.
If you where offend, know it wasn’t my intention.
Do you forgive me ?
I promise to be nicer in the future.

my inner thought… the future is never now…maauhhaahha

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Uuuuckkkk ... that stinks.....my eye's just vomited

Being hired, and then being un-hired, is extremely common within our public school systems (K-12). In the large majority of instances the “data drop” is associated with hiring decisions being made almost exclusively by non-classroom administrators, with subject matter teachers having no input whatsoever. One day faculty staff show up for work and are promptly introduced to a new hire they had no idea was in the offing. Try to imagine what would happen if an engineering company department head learned he/she has just has a new charge added to his/her staff without any prior knowledge or input into the hiring and selection process, or that one was even being considered. Heads would likely roll. Not so in secondary education.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Uuuuckkkk ... that stinks.....my eye's just vomited

Just a slight correction to your post: K-12 is primary, not secondary, education.

Okay, two: Faculty /staff/ are rarely, if ever, consulted on anything prior to faculty /administration/ (the people over the teachers, including the principle and on up) make any decisions. However, faculty administration are rarely told by school board administration of new hires, either.

Many steps in the cycle of incompetence in our public schools.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Uuuuckkkk ... that stinks.....my eye's just vomited

I have what many might call a “quaint” view. Teachers should stand co-equal with administrators (with due consideration being given to those who serve as school principals). Something is fundamentally wrong when teachers are relegated to a subordinate position. Moreover, something is fundamentally wrong when a system is set up where leaving the classroom is the only path to advancement.

gutless coward (profile) says:


I actually think this is a bit cheap of the author to use this forum to rant about his wife not being able to teach. A teacher is more than someone who knows the subject matter, a teacher is someone who can teach children and if you need a license to do that i see no problem, i see a problem with everyone who has the qualification just expecting to bypass the paths to become a teacher in there chosen field. Einstein was many years ago and would probably have got these qualifications to teach and not thought twice about it.

drew (profile) says:

Re: Teachers

Think you may have missed the point here. It’s not about whether having a Comp Sci background means your automatically able to teach maths. It’s about the fact that the school had decided to offer this lady a job, hence they’d decided that she WAS clearly able to teach, but then had to retract that solely because of a missing bit of paperwork.

DS says:

Re: Re: Re: Teachers

I’m tired of public school systems hiring people into the public union just because they have the right paperwork, assuming that they are automatically good teachers.

I’m equally tired of the teachers union defending all teachers equally just because they have the right paperwork, assuming that they are automatically good teachers.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Teachers

> I’m equally tired of the teachers union
> defending all teachers equally just because
> they have the right paperwork, assuming that
> they are automatically good teachers.

Amen to that.

Here in L.A., we had a teacher who was frosting cookies with his own semen and feeding them to the kids, and because of the union, they couldn’t fire him when he was caught. They ended up having to bribe him into quitting by paying him a large sum of money in exchange for his resignation. And they still can’t take away his pension, even if he’s ultimately convicted and sent to prison.

And of course the union defended this guy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Teachers

They didn’t have to fire him. They just had to book him on felony charges of sexual assault, child endangerment, and child abuse. Could get some food-related charges in there too for adding a foreign substance to the cookies.

In fact, if you are talking about Mark Berndt, wasn’t bail on him set at $1 million for each charge they /did/ bring against him? Don’t know why people think ‘FIRE HIM!’ should be the first response!

Pseudonym (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Teachers

As many others have pointed out in this thread, the best minds don’t necessarily have any teaching skills or training. A good physicist has only demonstrated competency in the material. They haven’t demonstrated competency in handling a class of pubescent kids who don’t necessarily want to be there, or dealing with parents, or any of the other things that teachers do. Giving children information isn’t even the majority of what a teacher does.

Just because you (and by “you” I mean a generic person, not you specifically) have spent a significant proportion of their life in contact with teachers, that doesn’t make you an expert on the teaching profession any more than watching a lot of DVD extras makes you an expert film-maker. Teachers have responsibilities to the students, to the parents, to the school, to the government who sets the curriculum guidelines and to society as a whole. Teachers are even expected to be able to spot potential victims of domestic violence these days.

Larry says:

Re: Teachers

The problem I have with your line of thinking is that colleges do not teach the art of teaching. They only teach subject matter and anyone who can pass the subject is then certifiable to teach. Granted there is a student teaching process which is very short and not a very good metric to evaluate the person’s ability to teach. I also think that comparing student performance to teachers teaching ability is a very poor system.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Teachers

This is not true, in my experience (which consists of multiple family members obtaining teaching certificates and/or advance degrees in teaching fields).

That said, some of the education curriculum (i.e., teaching the art of teaching) is B.S. and I don’ think a piece of paper should be necessary to teach of you can demonstrate your ability.

Jeremy says:

Re: Teachers

The #1 complaint from schools is they can’t hire good teachers. The often cited reason for this is pay. It’s certainly hard to make an argument against pay influencing the typical high school staffing. However pay is not the only reason.

Civil servitude in the U.S. has been turned into a system of arbitrary test taking and licensing. I’ve got friends who have worked at the Port of Los Angeles for years, are well qualified to manage, but they can’t move up. They can’t move up (in part) because civil service tests have nothing to do with qualifications, they’re simply a series of arbitrary questions. So when tests are given they score in the 60s-80s even though they’ve been managing people successfully for years.

The point is, teaching should not require some nonsense test or licensing process as a gateway to hiring. If you want to give our schools the freedom to hire good teachers, take the silly certification processes out of it. These certification processes only encourage young people to go through a process to get a job, relieving them of the responsibility of real learning. This is another reason why teachers today are so under-equipped to teach, they haven’t spent as much time learning as they did getting themselves licensed to teach.

Many of my friends in college (graduated about 5 years ago) were “studying” to be teachers. By and large they were not bright people taking classes that were significantly watered down from most other college coursework. Yet they all manage to find jobs as teachers. Another girl I know and dance with regularly, she has absolutely no science background but because she’s got all her certs lined up she’s teaching science at a local jr high school. She comes to me for advice sometimes.

Cert processes ONLY hurt the freedom to hire the right people, they do not help.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Teachers

“A teacher is more than someone who knows the subject matter, a teacher is someone who can teach children and if you need a license to do that i see no problem”

Except the data indicates that you don’t need a license to do that well, except for the fact that we have put up this arbitrary licensing barrier that prevents people who are able to teach children from doing so.

Fritzr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

They need to be able to apply their knowledge of math in designing procedures.

They need to be able to explain their knowledge of math in training those who have not yet learned it.

Completely different skill sets. The teacher does not need to be able to use the knowledge in real world applications & the engineer/programmer does not need to explain the math concepts to the co-workers who are assumed to already have these skills.

Yes many people who cannot make practical use of their knowledge are qualified to teach others the basics. The reverse equally applies. Many people who can make use of their knowledge in real world applications can be completely unable to teach the concepts to others.

Running a business does not train one to be a teacher
A Computer Science degree and practical experience as a programmer does not train one to be a teacher.
However a good teacher can learn enough of both of these to teach others these skills up to the level the teacher has reached.

You will rarely find 3rd & 4th year college courses being taught to mainstream High School students. Einstein & Hawking would actually be overqualified in terms of knowledge. Hawking has demonstrated an ability to explain & teach. Not sure if Einstein ever demonstrated an ability to teach students.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I’d be willing to say that learning to teach well is secondary to knowing the material you’re teaching. Teaching is a soft skill (has broad utility). Whereas computer science is more of a hard skill (has narrow utility). Someone who has had extensive practical experience in their field will be better off trying to learn to teach than someone that knows how to teach trying to learn a hard skill with no practical experience.

Rich says:

Re: Re:

That’s because Comp. Sci. has been so dumbed-down. When I got my Comp. Sci. degree I was required to take a lot of math and science (several semesters of calculus and physics). A lot of the courses in my major were also math heavy, such as Algorithmic Analysis, Automata Theory, and Computer Graphics. Now a days, you’re lucky if the grads were taught more than how to code in Java.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

But a piece of paper is more important than actual skill, the paper proves you have the skill… to pass tests.

The world has been “simplified”.
You no longer have to know they are a good teacher, you just need to see the certificate.
Then you can tell the parents they are perfectly qualified, and this allays any fears they might have.

I am sure we have all met people who have all sorts of technical certificates, who we wouldn’t leave unsupervised with a calculator. And then there is the inquisitive guy who knows tons and tons, but lacks the certificate.
The first guy gets hired, the other guy is discounted as not capable… the cert makes it simple.
Of course when the first guy decides to find out what the big red button in the server room does, you question certs a little bit… but not enough to actually find a way to evaluate people on their own merits and not random pieces of paper.

Look at all of the “new” teaching schools, get your MBA by going to school online during the nights and weekends. And there are some schools that are flagged as not being very good so the cert isn’t very good, but everyone who see’s the resume with MBA is impressed.

Haywood (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

My thoughts exactly. I know “lettered” folks who can’t turn on a light switch. I know self taught geniuses who can do virtually anything. It is just more gate keeper crap, ability doesn’t play into it, other than the ability to test well. I have extremely good instincts when it comes to tests, and can test out well above my ability, the most capable people I’ve met seem to be the opposite.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“….just managed to pass the test.”

Amen to that. I have never really been one to be good at tests.


Because in a multi-choice test, usually you can eliminate 2 off the bat. The other 2 choices are both reasonable answers.

The questions are generally worded in a way that guarantees only one answer is right.

In the real world, I would probably ask 5 questions in order to be able to pin down what the meaning behind the question being asked is to come up with the right answer.

I can’t ask a question on a piece of paper more questions to verify what we are talking about.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Amen to that. I have never really been one to be good at tests.

I’m the exact opposite. I have very little problems with tests, even the Microsoft MCSE type tests. Your methodology for tests is spot on, though some times it gets a little harder when they throw two answers up that are almost exactly the same except for subtle differences. Even then, if you know the basics, you can usually deduce what one is “incorrect”. That is, if the source material they use are correct, which is where the entire rub is with certifications.

I can’t ask a question on a piece of paper more questions to verify what we are talking about.

What pisses me off is when my employer believes this gatekeeper stuff and wants me to take the tests. I actually have to dumb myself down and only pay attention to the material the certification authority provided and not include the real world information I’ve learned. Whenever I get questions wrong on a test, it is because I forget what the certification authority says and use my real-world knowledge instead. I’ve argued with certification authorities about questions that had obviously wrong answers which they said were correct, and I provided extensive proof as to why they were wrong, and every time the certification authority said “we only test on the material we provide, and our material says you’re wrong.” I even had experts in the field argue with me and against them, and in one case, the software developer whose software had questions on a test that were wrong argued for me, and the certification authority turned a blind eye to them and continued to argue (I still got every certification, and most of the authorities would say “why are you complaining, you got the certification anyway because you scored very high on the test.”) For me, wrong information is wrong, whether or not it affects me. They should be striving to test on the correct information, but in my experience, they just don’t care.

If the certification doesn’t even care about the accuracy of their tests, how can they expect to have anyone take them seriously, but they do because they don’t have to take the tests.

AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

been there, done that, infact, I once reported some 26 or so errors in a test I was given, as well as reporting flaws in the information given in their learning materials.

the major issue was that some idiot had basically copied an NT4 manual over to 2k with very little changed, then done the same to xp, some of the stuff they mentioned working and how it worked…..didnt work at all anymore or had been replaced with another method under xp….yet i was expected to give the wrong answers to pass the test.

I have also been passed over for jobs due to lack of certs/degrees, then called in to clean up with the new collage grad they hired did…

best one was a firm that had a rack of servers for a very specific application/use, the servers where effectively just overly complicated database servers running on active directory, nothing to complicated….

they also had a server that managed their internet and internal email system…..the idiot kid they hired, who I later found out had admitted he wasnt qualified for the job had taken an idiots guide book and copied the “optimal” settings(see: examples)from from the book to the production servers WITHOUT RUNNING A BACKUP…..or even writing down the proper info….

they called me to fix it, it took close to a week to get it all fullyfuntional again due to all the little shit he “optimized”, they offered me the job after paying me to fix the issues, i told them to “get stuffed” and made it clear i didnt want to work for people as stupid as they where…..

I had the references, I had the skill and experience for the job…..but they hired a dumbass kid who admitted he had ZERO practical knowledge and was just looking for a position where he could learn and gain skill.

gutless coward says:

Re: Re:

I agree 100%, i know more about analyzing a fault than most people that have just finished there degree or have just used there degree to teach in computer sciences.

We need teachers to be involved in the field they are teaching, if history then they must have written books on the period they teach, if science then they must have developed scientific skills , if maths then the fact that they have worked in maths for a few years.
Taking a 20 year old and putting them through a 3 year teaching course is crazy if they are not getting experience using the skills they are trying to teach kids.

But with someone like the above with all the degrees and everything they have studied surely a course teaching them the best way to encourage children to learn is of more importance.

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think a big part of the problem is the schools themselves. It’s too hard for them to determine if a teacher can actually teach. It’s much cheaper, and easier to point to a piece of paper and say that this means they can teach.
It’s a way of outsourcing staff evaluation and training to a third party who does not have to deal with the consequences of mistakes in the evaluation process.

Lennart Regebro says:

Unorthodoxy makes for good teachers

I noticed throughout my education that the best teachers where those who did things differently from the other teachers. Often they had no proper teachers training.

In one case I actually had a fantastic teacher in Junior high. He was a one-year substitute in Swedish and English. He went to teachers university, and a couple of years later I had him in high school as a substitute when he was doing his practice before he got his exam.

Somehow, he had been turned into just another teacher.

I have this sneaking suspicion that when you go to university to get taught how to teach, you get taught things that doesn’t work, giving teachers all around the world a completely inadequate toolset, whereas had they just gone with the instincts they would often have been better.

sdfsdkwerj-24b (profile) says:

Re: Unorthodoxy makes for good teachers

Lennart – I suspect that your perceived difference in the teacher’s ‘ability’ had more to do with changes in you rather than the training provided at the teachers’ college.

It could simply be that your teacher was better suited to the younger age group. Or perhaps, as a younger child you were more accepting and willing to engage with the teacher at that time.

I taught Math and Computer Science for many years and had experience with kids ranging from Grade 7 (12 yrs old) to grade 13 (17-18 yrs old). Having done so, it is clearly obvious that some teachers are much better suited for certain age groups. And, I contend that this has a lot more to do with personality than ‘training’ – i.e., the courses taken for the undergraduate degree and the follow-on courses at teachers’ college.

I did not thrive at the lower (gd 7-8) levels – I simply could not relate well with their ranging hormones; but I worked with a number of [fantastic] teachers who could. I found that I was better able to work with the Senior level students. A number of my colleagues did not have the personality, confidence, background, etc. to work with that age group.

I had *tremendous* respect for people with the patience and personality to deal with the grade 9 & 10 non-academic math classes… teaching at that level has a lot less to do with knowledge of the course material than it does with understanding the audience and tailoring the delivery of the material to make it relevant to them. How you teach the course is highly dependent upon who is in the class (and their mood on any given day).

Last thought (I haven’t read all of the other comments to see whether anyone else has raised it) – Einstein most likely would have been the wrong person to teach an introductory high school physics class… he would have had such a innate high level understanding of the material that (I’m guessing) he would not be able to describe it in simple terms to kids (some of whom are more concerned about when they’ll get their next meal).

AG Wright (profile) says:

My dad the unqualified teacher

My dad taught science and math at the college level for over 30 years and was unqualified to teach at the high school level.
He was unqualified because he didn’t ever take the courses that the education department teaches during the block semester, which is the first part of the semester when teachers practice teach.
I can’t tell you how many teachers have told me that they learned more about how to teach from him in the Science for Elementary Teachers class that he taught during the block time for all potential elementary teachers than any other class.
That’s right he wasn’t qualified to teach in an elementary school but he was qualified to teach elementary teachers.
So, in short, Einstein wasn’t qualified to teach anything but college.
Frankly I think it would have been a waste of his time but that’s just an opinion.
He would have had to take about a semester of classes in teaching to get the certifications he needed.
He could have taken those certifications, if he had been interested in teaching at a lower level.
Those classes do NOT make a person a good teacher but they do give them some good techniques for teaching.
Nothing ensures that a person will be a good teacher. Some are, some aren’t and I don’t think that will ever change.

Call me Al says:

Its a legal and a responsibility thing

I think that this comes down to who is responsible for hiring the teacher and who is responsible if something goes wrong.

The idea of licensing is to remove an element of risk for employers. This person has x qualification which means we should be able to assume that they can do such and such a task competently.

Therefore if someone takes a risk on hiring a person without such a qualification then they are admitting that they are making a value judgement on that person and their abilities.

If it proves that they are not up to the task then the responsibility lies with the person who hired them. If a person with a qualifcation is not up to the task then the person who hired them can point to the qualification and pass at least some of the blame onto that for giving a false impression.

So much of what is done these days is about reducing risk of culpability that we also reduce the risk of success from taking a gamble.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

yes, he does mean gatekeeper mentality, he just doesn’t use that word

Read again

We’ve argued for years that many professions that require certain forms of “licensing” are often more about restricting supply. That’s not say those who set up the licensing effort didn’t have the best of intentions, but the end effect often doesn’t actually do much to benefit the public.

he is talking about a gatekeeper system, maybe try a Reading Comprehension class, just make sure they are certified to teach the class

average_joe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Ding, ding. Of course he’s trying to stretch this into some nonsense about artificial restrictions that serve no purpose but to protect the old guard. What hogwash. I’m a certified/licensed math teacher, and I can assure you that the licensing process is about more than ensuring that teachers know the substance of their given field. I also had to take classes on child psychology, pedagogical techniques, classroom management, etc. One can know a lot of math, yet not know how to be an effective teacher. To say it’s about limiting supply is just idiotic, Masnickian, 12-year-old-boy logic. It’s faith-based whining.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“It’s faith-based whining.”

BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! Did you just call MIKE MASNICK out on “faith based whining”?
Dude…seriously. Mike Masnick is the guy who writes constantly about certain legacy businesses who themselves constantly push for new laws all on the business of “faith based whining”. It is faith based because NOT ONCE has their research been shown to have been non-biased, thorough and objective.
If Mike really does the same thing, please…show us where. I’ve been reading every article on this site for the past two years, and not once, have I seen evidence of that.

average_joe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

LOL! Really? Where is Mike’s evidence that the licensing scheme for teachers that this article is about “doesn’t actually do much to benefit the public.” He has zero evidence. He’s just done here like he always does–jump to conclusions.

You can just imagine the “logic” that went into this post:

1. Person who knows some math wanted to teach but could not since she didn’t have a license.

2. OMG, licensing scheme! Old guard! Not in the public interest! Whine! Whine! Rabble! Rabble!

There’s no analysis of why teachers are licensed. No substance at all. Just faith-based, idiotic whining. This blog obviously caters to nonthinkers, N.B., 12 year old boys.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Interestingly, you and some of the other detractors appear to gloss over the fact that this woman WAS hired by the school. It’s fair to say that the licensing operation was put into place to ensure that teachers not only knew the subject matter, but also knew how to teach. But how is a generalized licensing program going to do a better job of assuring that than the school officials at which school the teacher is going to teach? She WAS hired, so the school thought she was qualified. It was only the lack of paperwork that disqualified her.

On another note, those that think this is a baseless complaint clearly don’t live in Chicago or have a working understanding of the state of CPS education here. Whatever the red tape, this woman almost certainly should have been welcomed with open arms….

Anymous Coward says:

Other organizations are the same

There are other organizations that are the same. In the Boy Scouts of America, you can have their credentials to be the director of a one-week resident camp, but you can’t be the director of a 1 day non-resident camp unless you have their day-camp certificate. If you can be the director of a camp where the campers stay, you should be able to be the director of a camp where they go home.

Robert says:

Certification/Degrees - Don't mean much

I have an employee who studies to get all the certifications for computers (CompTIA, MS, Cisco, etc). Once he passes the test, he forgets everything he studied for. Sure, maybe he’ll remember a bit of it, but not everything. I’ve already had to come up behind him and correct his mistakes because he forgot what he learned. And with all these certs., HR values him more than those without the certs.

Bernard Gilroy (profile) says:

Not so fast

Full disclosure: I am a high school physics teacher. I teach in a private school, so I’ve not had to get certified. But I still call BS on this complaint, at least as written:

>>She was a computer science major with an emphasis on math. She worked in the software industry, built a company, and then sold it. She seemed, in every respect, perfectly qualified to teach middle-school math.

All that tells me that your wife can code. It says absolutely NOTHING about whether she can teach. Anyone who’s not in the profession says “Oh, heck, I can do that. Those who can, do and those who can’t, teach, right?” But in fact content knowledge is a small part of what a teacher does — and that is more true the younger the child. A person who has succeeded in a career path is, in general, only able to prepare students who naturally follow along that same path. It takes real skill — skill of a different sort than, say, coding or doing physics research (which is what I did before I switched over) — to engage and educate.

The fact of the matter is, from what I’ve read, Albert Einstein WASN’T qualified to teach high school physics. He understood the physics part; not so much, the teaching part.

And that’s what annoys me about the recent spate of anti-licensing furor sparked by the NY Times article. Sometimes, licenses are arbitrary hoops erected by gatekeepers to keep out competition. And sometimes — believe it or not — they are standards set to protect the citizen and the consumer. Painting with a broad brush doesn’t really help us highlight the ones that should be changed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not so fast

exactly, how dare those gatekeepers put up educational and certification restrictions on people, why that 25 year old immigrant from Nigeria says he is a doctor in his country

who is America to say he isn’t qualified to be a Doctor here, crazy gatekeepers and their legacy training requirements
doctors, nurses, lawyers, all these legacy systems need to go, let anyone with any degree or no degree teach and do the job they want, crazy gatekeepers

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not so fast

Come on now guys! You are here railing against the anti-licensing idea (licensing – just a piece of paper that proves to some bureaucratic system that you ‘know your subject’ most likely through a multiple choice test) and the actual abilities of the somebody who was interviewed and screened proving their actual ability to teach. Licensing made some sense to prevent amateurs failing at a job that had life saving or extreme safety concerns. Now we license florists…seriously! Really the licensing thing has gotten out of hand. A tool to help grow the bureaucratic government and money grab. A tool to keep out competition. And maybe we will prevent the next florist from bouquet-ing up poison ivy.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Not so fast

And that’s what annoys me about the recent spate of anti-licensing furor sparked by the NY Times article. Sometimes, licenses are arbitrary hoops erected by gatekeepers to keep out competition. And sometimes — believe it or not — they are standards set to protect the citizen and the consumer. Painting with a broad brush doesn’t really help us highlight the ones that should be changed.

How does getting an arbitrary piece of paper protect the consumer or citizen? I am seriously curious. I work with the state, I develop applications that allow for people apply and reapply for such certifications and licenses. I am well aware that about 90% of the licenses the state requires are pointless. They are 1) a way for incumbent businesses to restrict competition or 2) Just a way for the state to extract and additional tax from the working class.

If getting a license to work only requires paying money to the state, why have it?

If getting a license to work involves getting years of training in skills and other areas that fall outside your area of expertise, why have it?

In the case of teaching, getting a piece of paper does not prove you can teach. It proves that you can follow instructions on how to get a piece of paper. Getting a piece of paper does not protect anyone either.

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not so fast

Yes! At my work we like to have somebody signed up as a notary. I decided to do it for a few years. As an engineer with absolutely noooooo legal training, all I needed to do was fill out a one page form, send in $30 to the state and wait for my certificate and five page instructional brochure to show up. Renewal. Just send in the fee. No training…at…all. This is basically a fee to be attest that somebody actually signed paperwork.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not so fast

Do we seriously have to explain this to you? What, no drivers licenses? No pilots licenses? You are “seriously curious” or just defending this article? I actually agree with the criticism of this article. If you don’t like the licensing model, what else would you suggest to verify skills? Screw the teachers license and just audition every teaching applicant in the class for 2 weeks? How does that help kids?

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not so fast

Do we seriously have to explain this to you?

Sure go ahead. You haven’t yet.

What, no drivers licenses? No pilots licenses?

I don’t think I mentioned anything about drivers and pilot licenses. I also qualified my statement with a “90% of the licenses the state requires are pointless”. So I don’t think all licenses are bad.

You are “seriously curious” or just defending this article? I actually agree with the criticism of this article.

I am always curious to learn why some people defend state licensing requirements. Sometimes it helps me to understand a real need to ensure that people know what they are doing and are competent enough to prevent unnecessary harm. Other times I learn just how backward their thinking is and how much they hate competition.

If you don’t like the licensing model, what else would you suggest to verify skills? Screw the teachers license and just audition every teaching applicant in the class for 2 weeks? How does that help kids?

Why is that a bad Idea? Perhaps we could implement and audition followed by a 1 or 2 semester long qualification period followed by a performance review.

A lot of occupations follow that path of hiring on people who show that they have the required skills and then regularly audit their real performance. Is it really that hard to do for teaching? I don’t think so. If the teacher is so bad that they are hurting the students’ education, we need to have ways of monitoring that consistently.

My point is that not all “consumer protection” systems require the state to be involved in any way. For instance, cosmetology. Why do people need to be forced to go to school for 2-3 years, pay hundreds of dollars to the state all in order to cut hair or apply make-up? Its insane. On average, cosmetologists spend more time in training and spend more out of pocket than EMTs. Often as much as 10 times. If that is not insane, then what is?

Check out this bit of research on the crazy licensing systems throughout the US. Doesn’t delve into general teaching but there are some teaching related licenses studied.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Not so fast

My point is that not all “consumer protection” systems require the state to be involved in any way. For instance, cosmetology. Why do people need to be forced to go to school for 2-3 years, pay hundreds of dollars to the state all in order to cut hair or apply make-up? Its insane. On average, cosmetologists spend more time in training and spend more out of pocket than EMTs. Often as much as 10 times. If that is not insane, then what is?

Judging from Masnick’s haircut, I’d say you were wrong.

Steve (profile) says:

Actually, he would have been a terrible teacher

My MSc supervisor had a Post Doc supervisor who was taught physics by Einstien during WW2 (he couldn’t work on the Manhattan project because he was German).

He said that Einstein would miss lectures, read directly from his notes, repeat the same lectures he’d given the day before and didn’t mark the work they submitted.

I’m not arguing the point made above – this had nothing to do with his qualifications, and more to do with the fact that he just didn’t care – I just think it’s interesting.

Anonymous Coward says:

What is the “licensing” requirements for teaching in america?

Where I’m living now, aside from getting a degree in the field which you wanna teach, a license requires 1200 hours (2 years) of pedagogy courses – usually provided together with every graduation course, though you can do it alone later and usually free in government offered courses – for qualification.

My sister is going through that qualification system here now and she asked help to study so I had some contact with the materials – a lot of books on theories about child psychology, cognition, learning process, building of knowledge and etc that a good teacher will apply when elaborating his lessons and handling his classes.

After seeing all that she is doing, I wouldn’t let my children be taught by someone who is unlicensed.

Anonymous Coward says:

How much of these license/certification requirements are really about making the teachers qualified, and how much of it is because of the profit to be made in that space? If the process works to improve education, then good. But more and more it feels like this stuff, including college degrees, is more about setting up required channels to careers in order to make a buck.


Nothing new here.

When I went to school, long, long ago, qualified people were unable to teach because the salary was so low it was a job of last resort. Some teachers were single old maids who could live on next to nothing. Some of them were breathtakingly ignorant, even a little kid could that. Teachers unions raised the pay and also the job requirements. Now you couldn’t teach unless you had a relationship with the union. To counter the unions, the government got involved and now you couldn’t teach unless you placated them. I suppose that now a potential teachers career depends as much on her attitude to politically correct policies and an unblemeshed past history as it does on her knowledge of the subject she will teach.

This sort of thing is not limited to the teaching profession. A mastery of the skills associated with a job is frequently only the beginning of a successful career. I’m not sure it was ever any different.

Preposition Joe says:

The idea that knowing a subject is the same as being qualified to teach that subject might seem logical at first glance, but they are not the same thing at all. In fact that assumption is an insult to teachers everywhere.

Knowing something and being able to transmit that knowledge into the brain of other people are two profoundly different things.

The employers in this case seem to have done something very stupid. But the teacher-licensing authorities haven’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“The idea that knowing a subject is the same as being qualified to teach that subject might seem logical at first glance, but they are not the same thing at all.”

They are not the same thing, but one is an obvious prerequisite for the other. And the higher the level of the class, the more the knowledge of the teacher becomes important. If you are teaching first grade math, it probably doesn’t matter if you know calculus (although it’s likely that you’ll be required to take it to get your certification.)

“In fact that assumption is an insult to teachers everywhere.”

I don’t care if they feel insulted. Teachers have existed long before teaching certificates.

If someone gets a teaching certificate to teach grades 1-8 and proceeds to teach 8th grade for 20 years, are they more qualified to teach 1st grade or 9th? The certificate would say 1st. I’m sure the teacher would disagree. But a combination of layoffs, education laws requiring the certificate, and union rules may well result in that teacher being put in the 1st grade classroom.

I guess the bottom line is: There are people with a teaching certificate who are lousy teachers, and there are people without a teaching certificate who would make great teachers. But the system won’t allow the consideration of anyone without the certificate.

Medbob (profile) says:


This is merely an extension of the “Zero Tolerance” mentality.
Critical thinking and decision making can sometimes be as hard as it is essential. Invariably, someone makes a mistake. Instead of calling it a mistake, it is labeled as a “failure”, and being polite, what failed is not the person making the decision, but the “System”.
That then means that you need a procedural element to remove the decision making aspect to the process. You need a “Certification” or an “Endorsement”, or a rule, or a policy, or a (Insert your stupid function here).
This attitude has taken hold in the Educational Domain as it has in many other places.

How about a radical idea: You empower people to make decisions, you back them, and you understand that they will make mistakes from time to time. People take responsibility for their decisions, and organizations both empower and hold accountable those that make decisions.
In such an environment, a principal interviews and accepts a Math Teacher. A Principal talks to a student who has put a frog in Annie’s desk. There is no “Zero Tolerance for Pranks” or “Automatic Expel for Bullying”, it’s just the Principal, the Child, and the Parents.
Ooooohhh. Danger Will Robinson! Such a system would reward Competence and skill, and would punish incompetence.
Is that such a bad thing?

Anonymous Coward says:

The system only works if we have protectionist rules that give rise to special interest groups that can lobby for even more protectionist rules. It is not about the kids and it is not about ability it is about maintaining the status quo and creting as many hurdles as possible to protect the lowest common denominator. If you do a really good job of it you can get the government to enforce it under the premise of protecting society when every modern study shows that premise is false. Every other occupation organizes this way and has for a thousand years or more. Law, Medical, teaching, trades, etc. It drives down supply and gives rise to demand and thus a fatter check at the end of the day which a portion goes to creating more regulation. Most of the public believes it too, probably will never change.

Andrew E.M. Baumann (profile) says:

The Misdirection in the Article

The article is correct in pointing one of the problems within the system: I taught English five years at the collegiate level after first taking necessary pedagogy courses to that end: in essence being ‘certified’ to the arena. Yet I can not teach high school? (Honestly, though, not that I’d want to.)

But there is a rhetorical misdirection in the articles worth pointing out (not to mention two rhetorical failures: 1, Einstein would have been a terrifically bad high school teacher; 2, the real world example does not brace the argument). Should the issue be about the presence of certification, or the value of the certification? I have no problem with teachers being certified, and considering that contemporary pedagogy (especially coming out of language/writing) is difficult enough that it requires it being taught — it is not intuitive for 95% of people, you have to be introduced to it — I might actually say it is a necessity. (That is, if you are going to say ‘we have a commitment to quality education in our schools.’)

But, most of the comments above are correct: the current level of certification is laughable. Two examples:

1) In GA, in the 90s, they had to pass a law to prevent undergrad ed students from taking the qualification exams before being upper class. The reason, too many were taking them at first opportunity, however many they could afford (in money and time). So, there was quite a large number of entering college sophomores who were already deemed competent by the state to teach math, English, history, and a couple others, all at once. (In case you miss my point: the qualification exams essentially said a I school education was sufficient knowledge to teach a subject.) Notice the cure that was applied: not make the tests more difficult, but make a law to create the appearance that the tests have value.

2) While in graduate school in both GA and FL, it was the openly held opinion (throughout campus) that the education departments had fully replaced business as being the bottom of the intellectual barrel. The old adage had come true: if you were not smart enough to actually be a history, English, math, or whatever major, never fear! You were still smart enough to get an education degree with a focus in history, etc. (In fact, at the university I attended in Georgia, while I was taking undergrad classes to shift me into 4th gear in prep for grad school, they began a program to force ed. majors to take upper level classes in the fields they were teaching. A program applauded in spirit, but bewailed in application, because we all knew that the intellectual levels of upper level classrooms were about to plummet. And our fears were proven true, without qualification. [To be blunt, it was, in our classrooms, a gross embarrassment for the education department].)

Lots of words, here, but examples I believe that shore up my point: Let’s not let the question of ‘whether’ certification get in the way of the ‘but what if’ of making certification valuable to the educators (as well as the students). (Part of which includes making it easy for people with experience to prove that they are already qualified to teach.)

Anyway. My rant for the morning.

Anonymous Coward says:

Licensing for the most part is a joke. I am required to hold a license as a social worker to practice social work. All I did was pass a test that says I memorized some stuff. It in no way addresses my actual ability to apply that to the job. I’ve known licensed psychologists that were absolutely horrible at their jobs, and I’ve known people with no degrees do better ‘social work’ than licensed social workers.

To follow that thought, I’ve had horrible HS teachers that were certified. Just because you have a certification or a license doesn’t mean you’re good at it.

But to echo the post: I can teach college level courses (which I do) but I can’t teach high school because I don’t have an Education degree and a teaching certificate. Yet I do have real world experience in my field that could brought into the classroom.

Lord Binky says:

Why isn’t the licencing a psycholigical exam to see if you 1) WANT to teach. 2) Have the mental dexterity to approach problems from different view points,the vital part to teaching well is rephrasing the information in a form the student understands. Licencing at best is a competency check, which the hiring process should have already decided… I wonder if they have an teacher interviewer certification, otherwise there’s another huge problem with the process..

DanZee (profile) says:

Government Involvement

This is what happens when the government gets involved. Rather than actually looking over someone’s qualifications, it just demands a certification whether that certification means anything or not. A lot of these regulations were also pushed for by teacher unions to try to keep the number of applicants down. It’s been so effective that many large cities actually can’t fill the number of teacher openings they have.

In Massachusetts the requirements have been increased to the point that someone who may already be teaching would have to take full-time courses for a year to obtain certification. Many people don’t have that luxury.

For a lot of people, the only option is private schools where they prize knowledge and experience over how many education courses someone has taken. Discipline is also much better at private schools since the schools can actually kick out disruptive students, so working at a private school can be easier although the pay is usually less.

Also, like a lot of commenters, I don’t see how Mike’s wife was hired by the Chicago Schools without all the necessary paperwork. In fact, I don’t see how she could have even applied without submitting all the forms I’m sure they required her to submit.

Tom Teshima (profile) says:

Don’t blame the teachers or the unions on this one. This is all the gov’t trying to make teaachers “accountable” and the whole asinine education reform BS thats been going on for the last decade. It’s all about superficial requirements and not about educating students. This is all the state and feds trying to make things look good without addressing the real issues in education. Just more BS from the state.

Jay (profile) says:

Rahm Emanuel

I can’t help but feel that the mayor has a lot to do with this. Like his brother Ari, he’s rather clueless on the skill sets needed and when you listen to his plans, they seem rather superficial. Who cares how long a school day is when the one thing that people need are skills and better budgets in schools?

Further, he’s arrested individuals for illegal drugs and feels that the poor should be fined for these offenses instead of not arresting people or ticketing them for drugs in the first place. How are expensive tickets actually going to help children learn?

What I’m seeing is a town that doesn’t have a focus on what’s best for children and seems instead focused on what’s best for their bottom line.

All in all, I still like Garrett popcorn downtown, and maybe the pizza, but I sure don’t want to live in a city where education is not a major concern to the people in the city.

Brian Schroth (profile) says:

Teaching requires more than just knowing the subject matter

I don’t know what it is about teaching that makes everyone think they can do it. Particularly when it’s clear that most people are absolutely terrible at it! Think about the last time someone tried to teach you something- whether it’s how to cook, or the rules of a game, or anything. The person might have been an expert on that subject, but I’ll bet their explanation was not very good. People are terrible at teaching.

To become certified to teach, teachers go through extensive training. Not on subject matter (we know that already) but on teaching techniques. On learning styles, brain development, classroom management… to effectively teach the subject.

So no, this woman was not “clearly qualified to teach those subjects”. In fact, she would probably do a terrible job at it if she tried. Chances are she would have no idea how to handle misbehaving kids, become stressed, and quit after a year muttering how “kids weren’t like this in my day!”.

DNY (profile) says:

Monopolies and Oligopolies granted by the state

Techdirt is a great bastion of good sense for folks of all political persuasions who see the downside of state-granted monopolies (patents and copyrights) now passed off as “property” rights with the incessant use of the phrase “intellectual property” by those pursuing monopoly rents.

A similar problem exists with state-granted oligopolies, such as the right to produce “qualified teachers” granted to colleges of education, or licensing requirements for virtually any category of jobs (be it physicians, dieticians, school teachers, plumbers, or interior decorators). The state restriction on supply stifles competition and innovation, and encourages rent-seeking behavior on the part of its beneficiaries.

In some cases, physicians, and perhaps dieticians (provided this isn’t extended to trying to suppress diet testimonials by ordinary folks) and plumbers working in the context of new construction, the up-side in terms of quality control out-weights the downside. (Though arguably the state restriction on competition ought come with state regulation in the public interest of rates such professions can charge, by analogy to what is done with state grants of utility monopolies.)

In the case of K-12 teachers, I see no up-side. American higher education functions without state-imposed oligopolies being granted to Ph.D.-granting departments to produce “qualified professors”, and is the envy of the world, esp. in mathematics and science. American K-12 education labors under such oligopolies and lags the entire developed world, esp. in mathematics and science.

Steerpike (profile) says:

More and more States are introducing alternative routes to certification, which I think is a good thing.

Using myself as an example here: I’ve taught both law and science at the University level. I’ve given talks on both subjects to high schools and junior high schools in the U.S. and Canada. I’m good at it (if I can toot my own horn for a moment). I’m particularly good with junior high and high school students, mostly because those are the age groups I really enjoy working with, and I can teach the subjects in a way that seems to connect with them.

I am not currently “qualified” to teach at a junior high or high school full time. I’ve started the process to become qualified, but it will be slow I think. The truth is, I could do it tomorrow and do it well, but even though we have a great need for good science teachers here I couldn’t get hired (and it certainly isn’t about money; I’d be taking about a 75% pay cut).

My personal view is that many of the requirements for getting a teaching certification are great when dealing with younger children. I wouldn’t be comfortable teaching first graders, for example, without knowing more about child development specifically as it relates to that age group.

Once you get to junior high or high school, however, I think training in the subject matter is the most important in terms of formal education. The ability to connect with the students and teach them seems to me to be something that is inherent in the person. I know people who have Ph.Ds who are not qualified to teach in high school, but who would be brilliant at it. I also know certified teachers who teach in high schools who hate the job and frankly are not very good.

I think an alternative route to get people who would be great teachers into the school is an idea that is long overdue. On the whole, I view the obstacles regarding certification (when it comes to that level) to be more about protectionism than about ensuring that good teachers are in the classroom.

DNY (profile) says:

Teaching requires more than just knowing the subject matter

Classroom management I’ll give you, though that’s only really necessary because the courts have made real discipline in schools nearly impossible to impose and most folks can’t keep order by charisma alone, but learning styles? There is no empirical basis for any meaningful instructional improvements based on “learning styles”. Everyone learns best by doing, better by both seeing and hearing, and least well by only seeing or hearing. Brain development? Give me a break. I’ve taught ed majors (or “pre-service teachers” if you want the PC phrase), and the 85% of them who picked the major because it was the easiest on campus will forget whatever facts they memorized about brain development for the final before the start of the next term.

Most of American “teacher education” is indoctrination in Dewey, Vygotsky, “look-say” or “whole language” in place of phonics, the notion that self-esteem is a virtue (it’s a vice — read St. John Cassian or try teaching self-esteem-riden college students if you want to see why), and the latest baleful enthusiasm in math education, and is almost assuredly harmful to pedagogy.

Anonymous Coward says:

teaching certificates

Though there is every reason to believe your wife could teach rings around the average teacher, the purpose of certificates is not to keep out the bright (notwithstanding the collateral damage), but to keep out the masses of idiots that self-select in droves for teaching careers. Most of them would gladly pick up a piece of chalk to teach something they are unqualified for. After all, it’s an ordinary occurrence as it is. That school systems tolerate mediocrity only proves that they are run by… mediocre teachers! No wonder the state legislature has to step in.

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