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Teacher Licensing Is in Disarray, Study Contends

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Washington--States' teacher-certification procedures are "a mess" and should be replaced with national certification standards, a Washington-based researcher has charged.

"The numbers of different types of certificates and what is required to get one within a state, much less nationwide, are staggering," writes C. Emily Feistritzer in "The Making of a Teacher," a report containing the findings of a 50-state survey of teacher education and certification.

The survey, released last week, was conducted by Ms. Feistritzer, who is the director of the National Center for Education Information, a private publishing firm that issued the report and also publishes several newsletters in education.

"A person could meet all the requirements for a license to teach every elementary grade in one state and only certain grades in another state," Ms. Feistritzer writes, " ... and some states give broad certificates that allow a person to teach several different grades and subjects, while other states give certificates that are very specific concerning which grades and what subjects can be taught."

The survey also revealed that:

Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia include graduation from an "approved program" among their eligibility requirements for certification.

Although all states require a baccalaureate degree, the credit-hours demanded in general studies, professional-education courses, and clinical experience vary widely from state to state.

Certification from state to state lasts anywhere from one year to "life."

All but two states, Vermont and Virginia, issue substandard, limited, or emergency credentials to people who do not meet all of the criteria for certification. Half of those states will give a substandard credential to people who have less than a bachelor's degree.

All but 18 states already are in some stage of examining alternatives to the traditional teacher-training program route to certification, and Florida and New Jersey are considering proposals for certifying teachers that would completely circumvent teacher-education training.

Disagreement on Process

Based on those findings, Ms. Feistritzer recommends "simplifying the whole process" by establishing national standards for certifying teachers, including a national proficiency examination, such as those administered to doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals.

"Teaching will never be truly a profession until it adopts standards of excellence and sets up uniform, effective criteria for selecting, training, and placing those who are genuinely qualified to embark on this noble undertaking," she writes.

Reaction to her proposal last week, however, suggested substantial areas of disagreement among those who would be most affected by the idea.

"If there was a certain amount of standardization, that would be good," said Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, "but I would allow for differences among states."

The National Education Association "absolutely disagrees with [requiring] national standards for certification," said Keith B. Geiger, nea vice president.

The nea supports the establishment of state level professional-standards boards with teachers as majority members, Mr. Geiger said. In this case, he said, "we believe decisions are better made by the states.''

According to Robert A. Roth, past president of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, simply improving each state's certification programs may be the answer.

"The state offices for teacher education and certification have been stepchildren within many state agencies," he said.

"I think that there is a greater need for providing assistance to states to improve their procedures, in particular the program-approval process," he added.

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