Why real alternative teacher certification matters

Victor Joecks

It matters because genuine alternative teacher certification puts better teachers into the classroom, and as many studies have shown, teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in student achievement.

A great story in Sunday’s Las Vegas Sun shows why Nevada needs more than a “symbolic” alternative teacher certification process.

Ira Madnikoff seemed to be just the kind of social studies teacher the Clark County School District was eager to hire. He came from Florida with four years’ experience and a strong track record, and he had a law degree to boot.

But when Madnikoff went to the Nevada Education Department’s Las Vegas office in 2007 to see about getting a teaching license, he was in for a shock – in the eyes of the Silver State, he wasn’t qualified. The Clark County principals who had expressed interest in bringing him on board were out of luck. …

Until recently, Nevada has not offered reciprocity to teachers who went through alternative licensing programs in other states on the grounds that the expedited process didn’t meet Nevada’s standards.

That’s where Madnikoff ran into trouble.

In Florida, Madnikoff’s bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, completing additional education classes and passing the required competency exams were enough to satisfy that state’s alternative licensing requirements. In Nevada, however, his college classes apparently didn’t qualify him to teach social studies to grades six through 12. His law degree won him no extra credit. And Madnikoff said he never got a straight answer as to what classes would help him make up the deficit.

So where did Madnikoff go? A private school – the Adelson Educational Campus in Summerlin – hired him.

His law degree, and his experience teaching high school honors and Advanced Placement classes, were considered a plus by the private school, which has allowed him to develop advanced curriculum to challenge his students.

The next time someone complains that we’re not spending enough on education in Nevada, remind that person that more money will only encourage poor policy, not change it, and that there are real reforms in place all around the country that improve student achievement and don’t cost more money. Substantive alternative teacher certification is just one of those many changes.