Last week Rep. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, introduced legislation to eliminate the requirements that force teachers to complete additional college courses to retain the teacher certification mandated by the state. Removing such requirements would be a good idea for a number of reasons.

Under current law, public school teachers have six years from the start of their teaching career in Michigan to complete the 18 semester credits necessary to advance their teaching certificate from a provisional level to a professional certificate. These additional course requirements come at an inopportune time, forcing a young teacher to divert valuable resources from teaching students to yet more pedagogical studies. This mandate can also present a financial burden to teachers (many of whom are still repaying student loans) or to districts that agree to reimburse employees for these tuition expenses.

And the costs don't end there. Completing the continuing education requirement leaves teachers only a few classes away from earning their master’s degrees. Since nearly all school districts base their teachers' pay only on longevity and graduate degrees, most teachers take the few extra courses needed for that degree and receive a corresponding pay bump. This, of course, saddles districts with permanently higher employee costs. 

It may seem like having more teachers with advanced degrees would be good for students, but education research says otherwise. The Mackinac Center’s “A Teacher Quality Primer” highlighted some of this research a few years ago, and a September 2011 report from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research summarized the most recent evidence:

Not a single one of the 34 studies that used a “high-quality” methodology (i.e., methodology that accounted for previous student test scores) evaluated in a recent review of the research by Eric Hanushek and Steven Rivkin found a relationship between a teacher’s earning a master’s degree and student achievement.

Education research suggests that teaching is often as much an art as it is a science. High-performing teachers can’t be concocted in a lab by adding the right number of graduate degrees and professional development courses. Eliminating state requirements would allow teachers and local school districts to spend less time jumping through hoops and more time improving student learning.