Plan Offers Upgrade for Teachers
First nationwide certification system would be a voluntary means of improving the profession. EDUCATION
BOSTON — JOSEPHINE BERNARD knows that her fifth-grade students at Martin E. Young Elementary School in Randolph, Mass., go home and pretend to be teachers in front of a classroom. But she also knows that many of those same students are not becoming teachers when they start their own careers. ``It is unfortunate,'' says Ms. Bernard, ``but today people are judged by how much money they make.'' People making impressive salaries forget that they wouldn't be in those positions without the help of their teachers, she says.
The woefully low status of the 2.5 million teachers in the United States has improved some, but it is continuing to warrant attention.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, created by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy in 1987, has proposed a national program to recognize good teachers and work for an upgrade of the profession. The proposal, announced in July, provides guidelines for the first nationwide certification system. The first implementation phase is targeted for 1993.
``The current teacher certification system is a joke and is not respected by anybody in the field,'' says Arthur Wise, director of the RAND Center for the Study of the Teaching Profession in Washington.
``Education teaching has missed a step on the road to professionalization - a step which every other field which we call a profession has undergone,'' says Mr. Wise, who would like to see professional practices boards set up to oversee licensing standards.
The new credential is intended to raise the status of teachers, increase salaries and responsibility, and attract more talented teachers.
Board certification will be voluntary and is not intended to replace mandatory state licenses for teachers. State licensing sets minimal standards for beginning teachers; the national certification is designed to recognize excellence in experienced teachers. There will not be a limit on the number of teachers certified.
Three education policy issues have been identified by the board for special attention:
Recruiting greater numbers of high-quality teachers, with an emphasis on minorities
Continuing professional development and improved teacher education
Creating effective school environments for teaching and learning
In order to apply for recognition, teachers must have a bachelor's degree and three years of ``successfully completed'' teaching experience in a public or private school.
The 63-member board is composed of teachers, government officials, corporate executives, and education experts. Former governor of North Carolina James B. Hunt Jr. serves as chairman, but the majority of members are teachers.
The first phase of the project focused on defining goals, developing basic strategies, and adopting policies to guide the work.
``1990 will be the gearing up of the machinery,'' says James A. Kelly, president and chief executive of the board.
This second phase will focus on making the concept operational. Its major tasks include defining standards for each of the certification fields, developing assessment methods for each field, and raising about $50 million to fund necessary research.
At an annual board meeting last month, general policies were adopted to guide the development of standards in particular fields. The 29 fields in which certificates will be offered are organized according to different stages of student development.
A standard committee for each field will be appointed and include recognized experts from the discipline - with a majority of classroom teachers on each committee, according to Mr. Kelly.
Developing assessment methods
A research and development program will define a system for assessing teachers.
``The primary promise of the board is that it can sponsor and spearhead a process for developing consensus on the knowledge base for teaching. And that's critically important,'' says Gary Sykes, assistant professor for educational administration at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich.
Various methods of testing are being considered: multiple-choice questions, essays, interviews, simulated teaching exercises, teacher portfolios, and in-class observation.
The goal of raising $50 million to finance research and development of assessments is already in process.
Half the money is to come from the federal government. A five-year, $25-million appropriation bill is waiting action by the Senate. Meanwhile, a $5-million, one-year appropriation has been approved.
A drive to raise another $25 million from corporations, foundations, and state governments is under way.
``We are encouraged by the response we've received to date,'' says Kelly.
All the response has not been positive, however. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), a nonprofit, voluntary association of more than 700 universities, has urged the National Board to reconsider its policy on certification prerequisites.
``You need a standard that's comparable to the other professions or you're not going to gain professional status,'' says David G. Imig, executive director of AACTE in Washington.
The association is in favor of the board's mission to strengthen the profession, but takes issue with its choice of qualifications for certification. The organization views the prerequisites outlined in the July report as ``too broad, loosely defined, and permissive.''
AACTE suggests that the licensure and accreditation procedures that are already in place throughout the states should not be ignored.
``This is a classic case of an interest group protecting its territory,'' says Lawrence Uzell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
The National Board has made a concession of sorts by not requiring graduation from an approved program of teacher education.
``This is kind of a short-term expediency that the National Board has made in order to open itself up to the widest possible number of teachers, whatever their educational backgrounds,'' says Wise. Otherwise, ``they would be closing themselves to the possibility of recognizing teachers who teach in private schools or teachers who have come through alternative teacher certification routes.
Professor Sykes admits that, on philosophical grounds, he agrees with AACTE. However, ``on practical grounds, that position would have proven political suicide for the board,'' he says.
``The strongest argument for AACTE ...,'' says Sykes, ``is that too much weight gets put on a test. The biggest challenge yet may be convincing some teachers that another certification process will really benefit their profession.
``Many of us in the profession feel like we are teaching with our arms behind our backs,'' says Jacqueline Coogan, a sixth-grade teacher at Centre School in Everett, Mass.
Budget cuts have seriously damaged school programs in many states such as Massachusetts. ``We need general recognition of teachers as an important part of the community more than rewards for good teachers,'' she says.
``I think if we are going to do something for the teaching profession,'' says teacher Bernard, ``it should be completely inclusive, not exclusive.''