Monday, March 1, 2010

Credit where credit is due.

I know reporters who won’t go into middle schools because it hits some sort of raw nerve; in my case, two years in middle school (for a newspaper series and then a book) made me want to stay forever. I don’t have many natural gifts, but connecting with children is one of them, and after my book was published, I wanted to become a middle school counselor.

A school near me offered a masters program in school counseling with a middle school specialty. At the program’s end, I was willing to earn far less than I made as a journalist, but three years of full-time schooling gave me pause. I had spent five years studying and writing about education for my job, and had not just already read most of what was on the program’s syllabi but also had spoken with most of the authors. Oh, and I was one. Not Much Just Chillin’ was required reading in at least one class. So I called up the dean and asked if I could get any credit for my knowledge and experience.

He said no. Worse, he said that I would not even be able to get into the program, because I had not taken behavioral sciences in college 15 years before. By this point I knew far more about psychology and sociology—the subjects I had been studying professionally—than I did about international political economy, the field of my bachelors and masters degrees and something I had not given much thought to in ages.

Had the university welcomed me and attributed some value to my prior learning, I am certain I would have persisted, graduated and made a good counselor. So I am not unbiased in saying I think this study of 48 schools by the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning (also not unbiased), highlighted in Insider Higher Education, is worth noting. Students with prior learning credits had a far higher graduation rate than those who did not. Hey, rigid educational bureaucracies: Flexibility can yield success.


  1. But the rigid educational bureaucracies' definition of success entails limiting competition for teaching positions and forcing would-be teachers to spend as much money in their schools as possible.

    The definition of success for everyone outside of the educational bureaucracy is better public education, which entails getting highly qualified applicants like you, and my husband, who has a master's in German and college-level teaching experience but not a teaching certification, in schools as quickly as possible.

  2. Are all colleges this rigid?

    But if I'm interpreting this right, it's the college's rigidity that denies you credit for real-life experience. Isn't that a different issue from the rigidity that means Cathy's husband is "not qualified" to teach (mine too, though he's working as a sub)? And doesn't that come from legislators, not educators? It's legislators who set policies about who's "highly qualified" to teach. I know at least one principal who's considering trying to turn a public school into a charter entirely to allow more flexibility about teachers and what subjects they can teach. All the rigmarole about "highly qualified" teachers under NCLB increased the rigidity too, didn't it?

  3. On a panel last year I heard a college professor talk about how he wanted successful high school math teachers teaching his remedial math classes—since that is what college remedial math is: high school math. But accreditation rules prevented this, which seems silly. These examples are all forms of rigidity that come from all sorts of places that don't seem to be doing us any favors.

  4. When I moved to Long Beach CA years ago, I had a master's degree in education and several years of experience. However, when I called the local university to find out how to get a state credential, the dean of the college told me I'd have to have many additional credits. When I told my husband, he said, "That's ridiculous. Call Sacramento." I did and found out that I was eligible for a credential without additional education.

    Call your state capital to find out about alternative credentialing plans. Remember that the universities are out to make as much money as possible so they might not give any answer other than "come to us."

  5. You bring up a fascinating point, Caroline. Yes, certification requirements for public schoolteachers to "come from" legislators. They make the laws. But they originate with teachers' unions, who are made up of teachers.

    Of course teachers are incentivized create barriers to entry to limit competition for their jobs. Certification requirements also create an artificial "shortage" of teachers so employed teachers can advocate for pay raises to "attract" people to a profession they can't break into without years of schooling anyway.

  6. Can anyone else confirm or elaborate upon this? Teacher-union-bashing sends up all my skepticism red flags:

    "certification requirements for public schoolteachers to "come from" legislators. They make the laws. But they originate with teachers' unions, who are made up of teachers."

    I also find that bashing deeply offensive, by the way. If teachers were so crass and self-serving, they'd have gone into better-paying fields to begin with, and fields where they weren't constantly bashed and blamed for all the ills of society.

  7. Caroline, almost nothing in this conversation qualifies as "teacher-bashing"—only, at most, Cathy's comment about teachers having incentive to create barriers for entry to their positions. I plead guilty to bureaucracy-bashing. Suggesting more openness to other kinds of candidates doesn't malign the teachers who are already there.

  8. I wasn't talking about you, Linda, but about the comment you refer to, blaming teachers' for creating barriers for entry to their positions and blaming teachers' unions for overly rigid certification requirements.

  9. Linda,

    Your story is sad, but still its worked out well - given your influence. During the recession of 1983, which was a depression down here, I was a new phd but I needed work, became a longterm sub in 6th grade, and loved it. The superintendent called me in and asked whether I would teach there if he could arrange for me to get into an alternative certification program. He wasn't able to pull it off.

    Then during the 1991 recession, crack epidemic, and gang war, I was welcomed into alternative certification and I only had to take two classes while teaching. Even then, I got the job because:
    a) I was adept at smoozing the Ed Dept professors who could have interpreted regulations in an exclusionary way,
    b) I barged my way into the HR office when the principal of the hardcore middle school that is one block from my house was in the room. He went to bat for me saying that I had a talent with at-risk kids, and
    c) the director of the alternative ed program for felons called me in, determined that I was serious and for real, and she then discouraged the "must transfers" in line ahead of me from taking the job.

    I've been told that she used up her last political capital on that battle, and changed jobs soon afterwards.

    The union, however, was never an obstruction. Two of our local e-board came from alterntive certification.

    Also, alternative certification was slowed because my class was the first and a lawyer in it became a teacher and sued a district. I never learned the details but the basic story confirmed a broader pattern. Schools want people, usually young people, who they can socialize, often into a culture of compliance. People who have had years of outside experience are too willing to stand up for their rights and ask tough questions.