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Professionalization and Certification for Teachers in Adult Basic Education

Volume 3: Chapter Six
John P. Sabatini, Lynda Ginsberg, Mary Russell

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In this chapter, authors John Sabatini, Lynda Ginsburg and Mary Russell explore recent efforts to professionalize the field of ABE through teacher certification. The chapter begins with working definitions of the terms professionalization and certification. While there tends to be considerable disagreement among ABE educators about the necessity of certification, as the authors point out, there is consensus on two points: "the desire to improve the quality of teaching and the recognition of how difficult it would be to establish a process to improve it." (p.206). The authors review the experience of the K-12 system, which can offer insights into potential pitfalls and effective strategies in the establishment of ABE certification processes. While noting the variety of certification and teacher preparation models in use today, the authors reveal important issues, such as content standards as a driving force behind certification and definitions of teacher competence, the links between certification and the evaluation and approval of teacher preparation programs, the increasing importance of teacher accountability and incentives, and barriers to improving teaching.

Sabatini, Ginsburg, and Russell then review the experience of the ABE field with professionalization and certification efforts. In doing so, they note the influence of assessment instruments like the GED, the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) Report, the National Institute for Literacy's Equipped for the Future initiative, state-established content standards, and the newly instituted National Reporting System on the development of teaching standards. The authors provide a survey of current state certification or credentialing requirements, highlighting the question of the appropriateness of K-12 certification for ABE educators, and describe efforts to define and employ teaching competencies as a basis for certification. Case studies from Massachusetts and Texas provide examples of real experience with issues raised in the chapter. As the authors note, there exists a variety of obstacles to professionalization for adult educators, including overly ambitious accountability demands and the anxiety that they raise at program levels; attempts at one-size˝fits-all solutions; and the drain on the potential ABE teaching pool created by K-12 teacher shortages. The chapter concludes with implications for policy, research and practice. Among their recommendations, the authors call for state commitment to the value of professionalization for full-time educators, the creation of flexible systems with multiple options for educators, and incentives at teacher and program levels. With respect to practice, they note the need for practitioners to reflect on the knowledge, skills and proficiencies required by adult educators, as well as the learning needs of adults and their embodiment in content standards. Finally, they suggest several areas for further research, including the impact of professionalization and certification efforts on recruitment, retention and morale of adult educators; linking the impact of competencies and certification processes to learner outcomes and program improvement; and the relationship between K-12 teacher preparation and ABE teaching competence. 

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Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL