Monopoly on Teacher Training

By Nick McDaniels — Recently Baltimore City Public Schools, like many school districts around the nation in this economy, has severely limited the hiring of new teachers. In fact, principals in the district are only allowed to choose from teachers who are alternatively certified or teachers that were considered surplus somewhere else in the district.

You read that correctly: any teacher that wants a job in Baltimore City better either already work in the district or be from either Teach For America (TFA) or Baltimore City Teaching Residency (BCTR).

The severe teaching shortage that spawned a need for alternative certification programs no longer exists. However, these programs continue to expand their influence, and by way of robust contracts, maintain a stranglehold on the hiring of new teachers in districts around the country.

Those of you who know me, know that I had a tremendously difficult time getting a job as a traditionally trained teacher in one of the nation’s most needy school districts. Today, it would be an impossibility.

As consumers in this economy we are encouraged that competition helps to bring us better products at lesser costs. I am concerned then, as a resident of Baltimore City, that I am going to send my daughter to a school where alternative certification programs have monopolized staffing, thus allowing no competition to provide better teachers for my child. For the economists out there, and I am surely not one, I realize that this is more of an oligopoly than a monopoly as TFA and BCTR are competing organizations, though they are no doubt cut from the same cloth. I consider them like Democrats and Republicans, only two of many viable political options, but the only two parties that are allowed to fully participate in our democracy, or, in more consumerist terms, like Apple’s OSX and Windows, only two of many operating system choices, but the only two that most people are aware of.

While I personally believe that traditionally trained teachers are far more ready to make an immediate positive impact on children, I am not advocating for the abolition of alternative certification programs. Quite frankly, I am proud to stand next to alternatively certified teachers in the hallways every day. I have planned lessons with them, broken up fights with them, and learned a great deal from them. In the end, we are all teachers, doing the same difficult work.

I am advocating for choice. Before we get so far along in history that the only teachers poor and often minority children know are alternatively certified teachers, we need to intervene and be sure that talented, eager, invested students from local universities have a fair chance at earning local teaching positions, that they are allowed to student teach in local schools where they might again hope that there could be a job waiting for them at the end of their program.

Parents, students, community members, principals, other teachers should all have a voice in where new teachers come from. As a parent, if my child is going to have a brand new teacher, which is not ideal, I would prefer if it were at the very least a possibility that my child would have a teacher that has been invested in the community, one that has perhaps attended a local university (Morgan State University, Loyola University Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, and Towson University are all just a few miles from my house), and has served field placements in the local school system as an undergrad.

If the teacher matters more than anything else in education, as has been the mantra of the recent education reform movement, why are we not making more of an effort to ensure that the teachers who are the best prepared are given priority opportunity to reach our children?

We need to rethink hiring practices with the best interest of students in mind, and if the teacher is such a necessary component of a good education, then why, with all we know about the evils of monopolization, are we not encouraged to provide parents, students, community members, principals, and teachers, with a free and open choice about who teaches our children?

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