Congressional hearings are supposed to provide lawmakers wth information they need to make policy and legislative decisions. But sometimes, when you look at the witness lists, it is hard to figure out why legislators bother to hold them.

Take the hearing being held on Tuesday by the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter from California. It is called “Education Reforms: Discussing the Value of Alternative Teacher Certification Programs.”

The official media release on the hearing lets you know that the committee members already think there is a lot of value to alternative teacher certification routes. It says in part:

“Many schools have turned to teachers certified through alternative routes to help fill shortages in particular geographic areas, fields, and classrooms with unique student needs. Each year, approximately one third of teachers obtain their certification through alternate routes. These capable educators often bring a wide range of real-world experience that strengthens the overall quality of the teaching profession.”

The hearing is designed to allow panel members “to learn more” about these programs, but will they with the witnesses they have chosen to listen to?

Here’s the witness list:

* Jennifer Mulhern, vice president for new teacher effectiveness, TNTP (The New Teacher Project, which was led for 10 years by Michelle Rhee), Baltimore, MD

* Maura O. Banta, director of citizenship initiatives in education, IBM Corp., Armonk, NY

* Cynthia G. Brown, vice president for education policy, Center for American Progress, Washington D.C.

* Seth Andrew, founder and superintendent, Democracy Prep Public Charter Schools, New York, NY

These witnesses surely are highly knowledgeable people, but they have hardly been at the forefront of research and practice about the kind of prepration teachers must have to be successful with children, especially special-needs students.

If the panel is really interested in understanding teacher certification, you’d think they would have brought in a classroom teacher or two, some experts on special education, a state director of certification, and/or researchers on teaching such as Stanford University’s renowned Linda Darling-Hammond.

Of course the panel would actually have to want to hear something it doesn’t already know.


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