Pre-service teaching degrees: accountability and control

I’ve thought for a while now that the pre-service teaching degree is one of the few instruments of control the government exercises over teacher quality. They have little ability to control teachers once they are in the job (aside from certification requirements), given the strength of the union and worker rights.  In exercising control, the government determines what is required for a teacher to be qualified and certified. It has attempted, in NSW, to wrest back control of teacher talent from the universities by setting higher standards for certification and entry. Combine this with societal panic over education and the incentive of existing teachers to erect barriers to the profession, and you have an overly cumbersome process of becoming a teacher. Admittedly, the pre-service teaching degree in NSW does a reasonable job at equipping teachers for the demands of teaching, but it is lengthy and lacking in relevance at times. A much more efficient way of training teachers would be for schools to hire them without  teaching qualifications, have them initially engaged in an internship/apprenticeship  program with observation, practise and formal study, the latter provided by an external provider and potentially subsidised by government. The progressive Teacher Wars gave favourable treatment to an American internship-style teaching program. Not only does it get teachers into work quickly and before they commence study, it is also an appropriate way to teach teachers. Practical placements remain the best teaching tools for pre-service teachers.

Ultimately, though, of importance is not qualifications or certifications. It is whether you are a good teacher. The reason we have such a need for certification and qualification is because our students and parents struggle to hold teachers to account. Certification is the means of accountability you exercise when you can’t actually exercise it. A form of ex-ante, attempted  accountability. And it is actually compliance, a different thing altogether than accountability. Further, it is also about government controlling the system. (For example, even private schools must study the NSW curriculum and be certified and qualified as determined by the government, despite parents clearly being able to exit their chosen school if need be and demand higher standards. Thus, it is not solely about the government’s inability to keep the public school system accountable.)

If students were empowered with more options and the means to exercise them, greater accountability would emerge without the need for many regulations. Teachers could be hired without qualifications and held to account by the school and the parents. This would be effective if students had school choice. Teachers could be employed on negotiated terms, not terms dictated by a lengthy and opaque enterprise bargaining process. It would not be perfect. But it would be more incentive compatible than the current system, where accountability is hard to achieve and relevant knowledge difficult to transmit.

As Charles Murray wrote so eloquently in In Pursuit, schooling is just about the most natural thing that could form in a community. Stripping people of the dignity of choice and responsibility does nothing to achieve empowered, responsible citizens. If we want to solve the problem of disengagement in schooling and by parents, consider that their responses to disengagement may well be rational, and that a new type of schooling system would be needed to remedy that. Such a system empowers the student, putting them, not the department, union and teachers, first.

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