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WWL: Teacher Certification
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
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Does "certified" mean the same thing as "qualified"?


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48:15 minutes (23.16 MB)
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Connecticut has plans to tighten it's certification requirements in conjunction with federal standards laid out in the No Child Left Behind law.  Education officials say this means better education for students from more qualified teachers - but does "certified" mean the same thing as "qualified."

Today, Where We Live, we'll be joined by Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan about the new standards.  We'll hear from educators - and we'll learn how some part time arts teachers at a New Haven magnet school worry that certification requirements might force them out of a job they love.  We'll talk about the impact of Alternate Route to certification teachers - leaving their fields of study to teach, mid-career. 

Block photo by Gillian Moy, Flickr Creative Commons

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Listener Email from Brian


Thank you for an excellent program on teacher certification this morning. As a teacher at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, I would suggest that addressing the many challenges facing our magnet schools might merit an episode of its own.
You allowed Commissioner McQuillan to leave the air on something of a misstatement regarding certification for professional artist-instructors. For my collleagues, the route to certification is not easy and the state has been far from flexible in our view. My field, Theatre, is one in which the state is newly requiring certification. There are currently no ARC programs available in Theatre and several other fine art fields. Specific to Theatre, the only certification program which the state recognizes is housed at Western CSU in Danbury. (This information comes from Dr. McQuillan’s representative, Scott Schuler, who addressed our faculty last autumn.) Unlike our colleagues at ECA, according to the on air sampling you provided, we at GHAA are not endorsing the "certification isn’t worth it" argument. We are not saying, "We won’t do it." The majority of us desire to pursue certification, especially as our school moves toward a full time model.
However, for us, there are no reasonable routes to certification which we can pursue in the absence of an ARC program like those offered to our peers who have entered education from other fields. For those of us who live in the centr al and eastern parts of the state, a commute to Danbury is out of the question. As part time employees who must cobble together three or four teaching and professional arts jobs in order to make a living, a two hour round trip to WCSU three times a week for course work is impossible without sacrificing some of the employment which allows us to sustain a living. As one of my colleagues has said, "I want to become certified AND be able to pay my mortgage."
For specialists who work in the arts magnets, the state’s certification requirements appear overly broad. The requirements were developed to support generalists who will serve the majority of Connecticut’s public school students. For such teachers, these requirements represent a significant improvement in qualification. However, to ask an Acting specialist, like myself, to complete course work in Technical Theatre is unnecessary in the arts magnet setting. I have a department full of colleagues who specialize in Technical Theatre. I will never be asked to teach in that capacity. Similarly, they will never be asked to teach Acting, but the state is requiring each of us to complete courses in each other’s fields. These additional content area requirements raise your stated price tag on certification ($9000) closer to $15-20,000 for many of us.
Like our colleagues at ECA, many of us on the GHAA faculty hold advanced degrees in our fields and have 10-20 years of classroom experience. We find the investm ent necessary to attain certification as currently offered by the state to be unreasonable, especially when balanced against our ability to find employment at the college level. All we ask is that the state provide a more reasonable way for us to attain certification. We need classes which are more centrally located. We ask for a certification system that will acknowledge our existing expertise and training in our content areas. We would like some credit for the experience that many of us have gained over decades in the classroom. So far, however, the state has not provided us any such options.
A second issue facing the all of the regional magnets has been the impact of recent developments in the Sheff settlement. In order to comply with the ruling, regional magnets in all disciplines have been required to move toward a blind lottery admissions process rather than considering an applicant’s aptitude as a requirement for admission. This practice has already begun to adversely affect magnet schools’ abilities to deliver the specialized education for which they were established. My colleagues at the Greater Hartford Academy of Math and Science were required to dispense with their entrance requirements several years ago in favor of the blind lottery. Now instead of focussing on high achieving students with a desire to pursue advanced learning, the faculty is struggling to bring students whose primary aim was to escape the Hartford public schools to basic mathematical literacy. Beginning this year, the Arts Academy will no longer audition its candidates prior to admission. Many on the faculty expect a similar decline in student aptitude.
These are just two of the many issues facing the regional magnets today. These schools are some of the gems of Connecticut’s education systems. They have provided superior, specialized education which has elevated the achievement level of thousands of students. They have been models of integration. They represent so much of what is possible in a state that truly values education. Now, many of us who work in the magnets feel as if we are under attack by well meaning individuals who do not fully understand what it is we do. We are rapidly losing hope for the future of our programs.
Thank you again for an invaluable program. "Where We Live" consistently provides a venue for the examination of contemporary issues in their local context. I hope you will choose to look at the regional magnet schools in greater depth.

Brian Jennings
Core Faculty in Theatre
Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts

Science Certification Edit

I would like to address caller who said something about foreign students being four to six grade levels ahead in science and teachers not having degrees in their subjects. I teach and hold a BS in Biochemistry and an MS in Science Education and have done additional graduate work in Biology and Chemistry. I work in a department with others who all have similar qualifications (all hold at least a Masters one a Phd.). I very much doubt that these foreign students the caller spoke of could be "six grade levels ahead" in science. That would mean that in grade six they would be ready for physics with calculus, AP Biology or at least to take a chemistry course that teaches quantum mechanics among other very abstract concepts. I have had numerous students from overseas and have taught overseas myself and do not find the large disparity that people who think they no something often talk about. While there are certainly differences, it is more complex than "grade levels" or test scores.

In the US we are busy trying to group all students together regardless of skill level, interest, ability, special needs or what have you. Politicians who generally have no knowledge about what it is really like in a classroom and "Educational Leaders" who spend their days thinking up "new paradigms" and theories seem to subscribe to the idea that every student should be pushed through a college preparatory style high school education. In other countries students are sorted early in their educational careers and tracked into college prep., technical and other kinds of programs. Maybe we should compare our special needs students with those in China and Europe? Do special needs kids even go to school in those countries? Maybe we should focus on meeting the needs of the students whatever those needs may be (rather than ignoring the fact that different kids have different needs which may be best met in different settings)?

People in industry often talk about how they get such great results, such a high quality product. Don't forget, they get to be very selective when it comes to the raw materials.  In the public schools we have to make all those raw materials into something great whether they want to be a great product or not. In far too many cases, the kids don't want to be a great product (and I am talking about regular ed. kids here). Now the powers that be want me to be a scientist, a science educator and a special needs educator as well. They want higher test scores on the CAPT while they continually move the target (change the nature of the test) and fail to provide a clear idea of where it will be next. This is all dreamed up by politicians, lawyers and "Educational Leaders" who have no idea about realities of teaching or have been removed from them for so long they have lost touch.

One really important part of the equation is continually overlooked and that is our culture (or lack of it). Many people in this country do not value the educational opportunity that they are provided. The kids expect good grades for poor work; the parents enable them, make excuses and try to push the schools around (often employing lawyers and advocates as their enforcers). Its all about the external rewards and status ("you have to get into a good college..."). These citizens and media people who continue teacher bashing and the politicians who dream up ways that we will become superhuman with just a little more training need to get a clue and realize there is more to the equation than testing, certification and stupid slogans.

ECA Teacher Certification


I am an actor and current student in the Theatre Department at the Educational Center for the Arts. After listening to the show, Commissioner McQuillan, and my mentors at ECA, it seems that forcing certification on arts magnet schools like ECA would destroy them. Certification for these trained professionals in the arts community is to take a cookie cutter mold to a environment where a spirit of uniqueness and risk-taking thrive. These qualities vital for true arts education are not found in any regular high school classroom. For students like myself, ECA provides the most important part of my education. I thrive on the stage and in the theatre studio, not in the classroom where Mr. McQuillan seems to desire perfect rows of desks in a stale air of conformity. The men and women that teach at ECA are skilled professionals with lifetimes of experience and dedication to their craft. It is impossible for these people to become certified. For this certification rule to be implemented is to deny arts education to gifted young people and thus diminish its importance for students like myself and to a well rounded community. 

I am a graduate of a high quality independent primary school in New Haven. From there I could have attended, with little financial strain, any number of New England Prep Schools with mediocre arts and theatre programs. But ECA was, and is, the only institution at which highly trained professional artists work so intensely with dedicated students. If Commissioner McQuillan continues to insist on certification for these people, whom I consider colleagues and friends as much as teachers, we, the students, parents, and the New Haven arts community will fight it. And if certification is required it probably will be the end of ECA as we know it, which could mean a serious decline in the arts in New Haven. I urge Mr. McQuillan to visit ECA, see that we a community more educationally sound than many academic high schools, and understand that we will suffocate if thrown into the same pile as every other school in the state. I beg Mr. McQuillan to truly look at the matter and not so quickly dismiss the arts, as frivolous as they may seem to him.

Thank you. 

Listener Email

from Lady McCrady, an artist in New Haven,

Most children in the arts succeed academically because they have a richer cultural understanding, a more rounded view. My daughter at ECA loves academics at her high school. But her participation in the dramatic arts at ECA New Haven defines who she is, encourages her to express her unique point of view.

A M.F.A. is the terminal degree for most of the arts. The practicing artists who are also teachers at ECA have eons of experience which translates into inspiration, excitement and passion in an arts classroom. Certification is about practical aspects of teaching, but an arts school is competitive to get in to and has a population of highly motivated young minds. The Gift, and the proof that ECA succeeds is in the many graduates in amazing universities, and in the many current students who perform in the arts in our community and also nationally in commercials and television.

Listener Email from Susan

I am a 20 year veteran teacher.

I agree that the Special Needs services in public education requires updating to more include SN students in regular classroom curriculum as well as having SN students be responsible, have a sense of responsibility for their own learning, as much as possible.

It has been my experience that Special Needs students get pushed through the grades without much acquisition of knowledge. Beefing up the certification requirements to more meet the needs of their student population is admirable if it services the SN students, and better services ALSO the various needs of higher level students. A lot of teacher energy can go towards Special Needs students in the classroom at the expense of the regular population if there is not enough personnel (paraprofessionals) on hand.

Listener Email from Margot

I teach poetry to the students at ECA in the Creative Writing Department. I am a published poet with two books of poetry published by Carnegie Mellon University Press and I have and continue to teach at the University-level in addition to my duties at ECA.

I am deeply concerned about the certification requirements that seem to be coming, because I love ECA's students who are driven, extremely talented, and amazing. I want to continue teaching at ECA, but there is no way I could choose to get certified, even using the Alternate Route to Certification (ARC). I could see that it would be an option if I wanted a full-time position as a teacher in a high school, but for me, someone who wants to continue in my profession as a writer and a college teacher (I have two master's degrees in English), it would be too costly, and I would have to give up ECA in order to take on additional classes at area colleges.

Thanks for the interesting show.

Margot Schilpp
Poetry Teacher
Educational Center for the Arts

Listener Email from Penny

I fear that we are certifying to the extreme and that we are trying to make everyone and every class exactly alike. The fact is the magnet school specifically work with gifted and talented children. Those part-time teachers are asked to GIVE their skills and knowledge to 'special' kids who have honestly been ignored over the past ten years for the 'special students' who need extra help.

This is just one more obstacle to helping to motivate students who are bored in the regular classroom because we are teaching to the lowest and letting that population dominate our thinking about education.

There should be different kinds of certification and these teachers should be guest artists in the schools under a separate certification.

Penny Owen

Listener Email from Noah

My name is Noah Baerman and I’m a jazz pianist and a 1992 graduate of the Educational Center for the Arts. At the time I decided to go to ECA, I was an Ivy-bound honor student in North Haven, and it was a big risk for me to change course and go to study music at a magnet school. I took the gamble because I felt determined to forge a career in the arts and sensed that only that sort of pre-professional training would put me in a position to eventually get there.


Fast forward to today, and I have done pretty well, with a number of CD releases, nine published instructional books and teaching jobs at several universities. I make a decent living practicing my craft (no small feat in this day and age), and I can look back and see that, indeed, the head start that ECA provided me was directly responsible for this success. Much of that came from the specific guidance and instruction that can only come from experienced, working artists.


The world of jazz training has always operated largely on an apprenticeship system, whereby skilled and experienced practitioners communicate their wisdom in a hands-on manner to the up-and-comers. To have access to that as a high school student is not only a gift, but it is in most cases a necessity for those who aspire to professional viability. I needed a mentor who was having real-life experiences in the field to show me the things for which I needed to be prepared in the “real world,” not one who put those pursuits on hold in order to go about becoming certified.


To me, this is not primarily about artists wishing to avoid the time and expense of further training, though that time and expense is substantial, prohibitively so for many part-time instructors. This is about giving tomorrows artists a reasonable shot at success. As part of that, we need to find a sensible compromise that will make secondary arts education a viable path for the very instructors who tomorrow’s artists so desperately need as mentors. While I understand the bureaucratic need for uniformity of certification standards, I do hope that consideration is given to the ways in which this could compromise the education of arts magnet school students. However well-intentioned this certification requirement might be, in practice it is not a policy that would embrace educational diversity, which is one of the main goals of this reorganization process.



Noah Baerman, Middletown, CT

Certification for ECA faculty.

After hearing first-hand the argument from Mr. McQuillan about why ECA teachers, and other artist/teachers need to be certified was quite discouraging.  I'm a writing teacher at ECA.  I also teach courses at Yale University and other colleges, and I have been teaching at the college level for over 15 years.  I'm also a professional freelance writer, and put a significant amount of time into my professions.  I'm very dedicated to ECA, and our students, by any measure, are tremendously successful.  Over 95% of them go onto college, many to top institutions.  Last year 4 of our writing students won awards at the national level for the prestigious Scholastic Writing Awards.  Only 25 of these awards were given nationally, and there were thousands of submissions.  We provide a unique and dynamic educational experience for students with special talents in the arts.  Our qualifications as practicing artists and college-level teachers is a fundamental reason why the school has been so successful for so long. 
What Mr. McQuillan doesn't seem to understand is that it's not that we're simply saying "no, we won't do it, and we want a special exclusion from what other public school teachers are required to do..."  Rather, we are saying we can't do it.  We all spend a considerable amount of time as practicing professional artists in our careers, and mos of us also teach at the college level and design classes at ECA under the college seminar paradigm.  1. We simply don't have time to take from 20-30 credit hours more given our very busy schedules--piecing together a range of part-time teaching assignments to assist us financially as we pursue our art as professionals. 2. We couldn't afford it.  ECA pays us for 10hrs./week at a very modest hourly rate, and we receive no benefits.  The cost of getting certified would roughly equal 1/3 to 1/2 of a year's salary. 
Another critical issue that Mr. McQuillan doesn't seem to understand is that if/when new faculty needed to be hired, the new requirements--practicing, professional artists with extensive college-level teaching credentials (my MFA took 4 years to complete--it's a 60 credit degree with a language requirement, thesis and oral defense), AND state certification--would simply not be workable.  No one in the education workforce has these kinds of credentials, since you are now seeking people with essentially professional training in two areas.  It would be something like wanting to hire a lawyer who is also a dentist.
The bottom line--ECA is and has been doing tremendous things for young, gifted artists.  Requiring its professional artist/teachers to be certified will spell the end of this amazing place. 

Teacher Cert

I agree teacher standards need to be improved.  However, I'd like to know what the plan is to eliminate ineffective teachers- regardless of tenur?  Also, are the assessment tools for teachers going to incorporate mulitple intelligences?

Certification for part-time arts teachers

I will be unable to listen live to “Where We Live” tomorrow. However, I would like to comment on certification and part-time arts instruction.

I’m the parent of a child who is flourishing at New Haven’s ECA, and I am quite concerned about the potential impact of a broad-brush movement to interpret “highly qualified” to be synonymous with “certified”.

Certification is more appropriate for some kinds of teaching positions than for others.

Full-time classroom teachers would be at one extreme. The benefits of the training associated with certification are surely highest here, and the costs associated with certification least burdensome. I might be at the other extreme. New Haven public high school students can take classes for credit at Yale, where I teach economics. I have not heard of any initiative to insist that my colleagues and I become certified before we can teach courses in which these students enroll. I could no doubt benefit from some of the training associated with certification, but the costs would be extremely high for me, and because I teach few high school students, the overall benefits from such a requirement would be low. So it is sensible not to insist upon certification of Yale professors before high school students can enroll in their classes for credit.

The part-time arts teachers at ECA fall somewhere in the middle of this range, and thus the appropriateness of certification should at least be open to question. It is clear that the cost of certification is extremely high relative to the part-time pay of these instructors. And the benefit would be relatively low, because the philosophy of ECA is to create professional mentoring relationships between the faculty and students. This is a very different interaction than is typical in a high school classroom. And in order to succeed in this kind of mentoring, these professional artists have built their qualifications through a different path. On balance, a certification requirement threatens the very foundation of ECA: its ability to attract dynamic, skilled professional artists to work part-time with highly motivated student-artists. I would imagine that similar considerations would come into play at other arts magnet programs in the state, and for other kinds of vocational and professional education.


Chris Udry