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Oregon Panel Urges Shift to Alternative Certification for Teachers

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The Oregon Educational Coordinating Commission, a seven-member panel appointed by the governor, has adopted a plan that would allow college graduates without training in schools of education to teach.

If approved by the legislature and adopted by the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, Oregon's plan would join those of the growing number of states and localities--among them California, Florida, New Jersey, New York City, Texas, and Virginia--that are testing the usefulness of so-called "alternative routes" to certification.

The plan in Oregon would require college graduates without training in schools of education to pass competency tests in basic skills, subject matter to be taught, and other education-related areas.

"We view it as an experimental program," said Bruce Saalfeld, a program specialist with the Oregon Educational Coordinating Commission. ''To be eligible, you would have to have a degree relevant to the subject you want to teach. We would like to admit no more than 100 each year for the next five years--even though we really don't expect there to be 100 [candidates] a year--and then have a final evaluation of the program. If it seems to work, we'd take the ceiling off; and, if it doesn't work, we'd drop the idea."

Other Proposals

The proposal is one of many that has been forwarded to the legislature and the standards and practices commission. According to Mr. Saalfeld, the commission also proposes that tests of professional and subject-area skills also be taken by education-school graduates seeking certification. Currently, prospective teachers take only a basic-skills test.

Other proposals would establish a "master" teacher certificate; require continuing education credits for re-certification; provide continuing education for teachers at the district level; and require principals to return to classroom teaching at regular intervals.

Under another proposal, all beginning teachers would receive an "initial" certificate, which would require that they be evaluated and receive counseling during their first year on the job.

"We believe that there's a crisis of confidence with the public and we feel that many of these recommendations would help assure them that the people teaching their children are competent," Mr. Saalfeld said.

Spurred by Shortages

According to the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, the adoption of alternative routes to certification--while resulting in part from criticism of schools of education--has also been precipitated by the shortage of teachers in many states.

"We believe," Mr. Saalfeld said, "that there are a lot of people out there who would like to start a second career, who have knowledge they would like to impart to students, especially in fields of shortages, such as math and science.

"What stops many of these people," he added, "is that they don't want to go back to college and take three or four more years of preparation before they're allowed to teach. This pool of people ought to be tested."

Negative Reaction

In December 1983, the Council of Chief State School Officers, citing a need to draw more talented people into teaching, urged, among other proposals, that states write new certification laws and regulations that do not require prospective teachers to take undergraduate education courses.

That strategy, however, has been denounced by many educators and union officials.

"I think it could not occur at a worse time because the conditions that most states have established for initial certification are not nearly as rigorous as they ought to be anyway," said David C. Smith, dean of the University of Florida's college of education and president of aacte. "The proper corrective action is to improve and strengthen the programs rather than drop the requirements that are so minimal anyway."

"The fundamental issue is whether anyone should be allowed in the classroom without professional training," said Donna M. Gollnick, director of professional development for aacte "We feel that no matter what, you don't let people in that way. If you cannot find someone qualified to teach a class, then you should not fill the class."

Nevertheless, Ms. Gollnick added, "if shortages continue, I think that more states may develop the nontraditional route to certification. However, I don't think it will take over the country."

State Policies

Among the alternative certification policies recently established:

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Oregon Panel Asks Shift to Alternative Certification

for Teachers

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In Texas, college graduates without education training can become certified if they pass the competency tests required of education gradutates; finish a one-year internship under the supervision of an experienced and certified teacher; undergo teaching-method and classroom-management training prescribed by the state board; and complete the number of semester-hours prescribed by the board in the subject area to be taught. The state board has not yet established those requirements.

In Virginia, liberal-arts graduates who pass the National Teacher Examination can be hired by a school district on a two-year probationary basis. At the end of that time, if the teachers complete nine semester-hours through a school of education and successfully undergo a state evaluation by independent observers, they can receive full certification. The program applies to secondary-school teachers.

In Florida, a state policy has been adopted that allows college graduates with a prescribed Scholastic Aptitude Test score, grade-point-average, and score on the Florida Teacher Certification Examination to be certified to teach. These minimum scores have not yet been determined by the state department of education.

Teachers approved under this program would be required to complete a modified beginning-teacher program that requires that they successfully pass a general-knowledge test, professional education test, subject-area examination, and performance evaluation. The program only applies to secondary-school teachers.

In California, a person with a bachelor's degree who has passed a basic-skills test and a subject-matter test is eligible to receive a two-year teacher-trainee certificate. The certificate is good only for secondary-level teaching and authorizes the recipient to teach in the area in which he or she majored in college.

The teacher-trainee must be guided and assisted by a mentor teacher, and the employing school district must develop a professional-development plan that the trainee is required to complete. At the end of the two years, the trainee, upon recommendation by the school district, is eligible to receive full certification within that state.

Emergency Certification

In addition, Ms. Gollnick said, a number of states allow for emergency certification if a qualified teacher cannot be found to fill a classroom vacancy. She added, however, that such programs are not a "formalized alternative" route to teacher certification.

According to Penny Earley, director of federal and state relations for aacte, little information exists on the effects of alternative routes to certification. Such research should be conducted by individual states, she added. Florida is one state planning to do so.

"There's a provision in the law that says the department of education will set up an experimental program that will determine if persons who complete this program perform as well as teachers as those persons trained in colleges of education," said Garfield Wilson, director of teacher education and certification for the Florida Department of Education.

"Research will be designed," the director concluded, "that will put to rest whether courses in colleges of education make a difference.''

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