All further school reforms would be superfluous if we knew the secret of attracting outstanding teachers to the classroom. Yet even today, when the pool of educated adults who are eager to teach is larger than it has ever been, most states keep barriers in place that make public-school teaching the exclusive preserve of education majors.
The best college students don't always major in education. Many bright young people want to dig into challenging, intellectually exciting subject matter - not methods courses. Yet after they finish college and survey their career choices, many see teaching as a worthwhile profession - from which they are shut out.A few states facing teacher shortages have started to tap this reserve, notably Texas. But only New Jersey eagerly recruits from this pool as a means of raising the quality of its teacher corps. New Jersey also invites into teaching older people wanting to change careers. Its brilliant success should be copied in every state.
Scripps Howard News Service notes that alternative teachers in New Jersey take 200 hours of carefully tailored professional training during their first year of teaching. Experienced mentor teachers supervise them. The six-year-old program now provides 25 percent of the state's beginning teachers. Their scores on the National Teachers Exam consistently far exceed those of traditionally prepared candidates, and their attrition rate is lower.
Maybe more states will follow New Jersey's lead if Congress passes the Bush administration's new education bill, with its grants to states and districts to develop alternative certification systems for teachers and principals. Citizens concerned about the stagnation of the public schools should let their members of Congress know they support this idea.
Like private schools in most states, public schools could put to good use the freedom to hire whom they please. Recent college graduates or experienced professionals with proven competence in their subject and a desire to teach should be welcome applicants for jobs at public schools.