Fifteen years ago, the United States was declared "A Nation At Risk" by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The alarm was sounded, but fifteen years later many feel that the outlook is still grim. In the recent Third International Mathematics and Science Study, American 12th graders ranked 19th out of 21 participating nations in mathematics; 16th out of 21 nations in science; 15th out of 16 nations in advanced math; and 16th out of 16 in advanced physics. What should we do? Some of the possibilities would be to create smaller classrooms, hire more teachers, implement student uniform policies, provide school choices for parents, build better facilities, implement after school programs, create more teacher development programs, try new curriculums, or just find more money. Needless to say, all of these proposals spark furious debates over how any or all can improve student achievement. However, it is clear what the public thinks teachers are the most important determinant in a child's education.
When asked to rate the importance of specific measures for raising student performance, roughly nine out of ten Americans chose guaranteeing a qualified teacher for every student. Only ensuring student safety ranked higher (Haselkorn 1998). Finding qualified teachers may be the crux of the problem, but as long as qualified continues to be equated with certified, the pool of applicants will always remain limited. Education experts and policymakers have been debating this issue for years, but meanwhile uncertified teachers have already been successful in private schools, and more recently charter schools.