What About Teacher Certification?

By Brian D. Ray, Ph.D

I recently wrote … about the difference between “education” and “school.” Schooling, I operationally defined, is the practice of teachers instructing, teaching, or drilling students (i.e., children and youth) in specific knowledge or skills such as reading, language, mathematics, and arts in a place away from the home and, allegedly, only secondarily in manners, philosophy, and morals. Education is a more encompassing process that involves the bringing up and instruction of children and youth to enlighten their understanding, instill their philosophy, develop their morals, form their manners, correct their tempers, give them knowledge and train their skills such as in reading, language, mathematics, and arts, and fit them for usefulness in their families, associations, and communities.

Some ask the following: Even if your definitions are correct, does it not require a professionally trained, state-licensed teacher to properly and effectively instruct children and youth in fields such as reading, language, mathematics, and arts?

You might be surprised at the answer. Consider first the research evidence about teaching and student academic achievement within the institutional public (state) school realm. Here it is, put succinctly, by researcher Dr. Herbert Walberg: “Overall, it appears that certified teachers perform very little or no better than those who are uncertified.” (reference 1) Researchers Goldhaber and Brewer write it this way: “Although teacher certification is pervasive, there is little rigorous evidence that it is systematically related to student achievement.”(2) Further, investigators Buddin and Zamarro recently revealed that “…measured teacher characteristics explain little of the difference” in students’ scores. (3)

Research on home-educated students suggests the same thing. In our most-recent nationwide study, we found the following: “… whether either parent has ever been a certified teacher explains less than one-tenth of 1% of the variance in test scores.” Hold on, however: homeschool students having neither parent ever certified performed slightly better! (4)

Simply put: Even in the public school system, researchers have a hard time finding any significant evidence that university-school-of-education training and state licensing are related to public school students’ achievement in reading, writing, and arithmetic and other academic fields. Furthermore, there is no evidence that teacher certification is related to home-educated students’ learning.

It appears there is a lot of reason to think that regular parents – without any professional training in “education” or “schooling” – who decide to give their children a basic education in a parent-led home-based environment can and do see a lot of success in their students, their children.

This is the kind of research information that is often needed in courts and legislatures to make sure sound decisions and policy are made. Thank you for helping us keep track of this research at NHERI.