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Study Panel Backs National Test forAll New Teachers

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Washington--A newly formed group of educators and policymakers that includes high-level representatives of the two major teachers' unions last week endorsed a proposal for a rigorous national proficiency examination for licensing new teachers and the extension of teacher-training programs to five years.

The group met for the first time last week at a daylong "summit on teaching" convened here by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a nonprofit research institute in Washington, and the National Center for Education Information, a private publishing firm also based here.

Participants included such prominent education leaders as Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, who gave the keynote address; Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who attracted national attention in January when he called for a national licensing examination for teachers; and Keith Geiger, vice president of the National Education Association, which has in the past opposed the use of a test as the sole criterion for employment.

At the meeting, Mr. Geiger said that if states want to adopt that standard, then "that is what it will be."

In a later interview, Mr. Geiger said he did not know whether state affiliates of the nea would lobby for or against state legislation to adopt the standard that would be set by a national proficiency examination.

Advocating Teacher Test

The group reached a consensus on advocating Mr. Shanker's proposal for an "American Board of Professional Education" to develop and administer a proficiency examination for new teachers similar to those required by the legal and medical professions.

Mr. Shanker said at the meeting that two foundations, which he declined to name, are in the process of considering proposals to fund the es-tablishment of such a board and that he expects it to be in existence within 12 months.

In discussing the testing proposal following the meeting, Mr. Shanker and the nea's Mr. Geiger disagreed on who should set the passing score on the examination.

'Right of States'

Mr. Geiger argued, as nea officials have in the past, that it is "the basic right of states to determine who is qualified to teach."

But according to several members of the study group, allowing states to set different passing scores would take "the teeth" out of the proposal.

"I don't think most of us were talking about the states adopting a cut-off score," Mr. Shanker said. "I think we're talking about a national standard that the states could either accept or not accept; they wouldn't be setting their own cut-off line--if a person fails the test, they wouldn't be a teacher."

Public Pressure

The pressure on state and local governments to adopt the national standard would come from the public, said Francis A. Champine, a panelist who is a teacher at Poquessing Junior High School in Feasterville, Pa.

States that did not adopt the standard would be "required to say, up front, to parents, 'We really don't want the best, we're willing to take less, an inferior breed,"' Mr. Champine said.

Mr. Champine also said that the examination would make teachers more marketable and that "we will command better salaries and the kind of respect we deserve."

Members of the study group suggested that if the military could promote itself with "Madison Avenue-type" advertising campaigns, the federal government should be able to develop and provide funding for similar campaigns to promote teaching.

The initial draft of the study group's recommendations included a call for a "strong public-information program to convince the American public of the true value and professionalism of teaching."

In an address opening the confer-ence, Secretary Bennett stressed the need for better teaching but said he was "not sure" that increasingrs' salaries would alone produce a "long-term" solution to the problem of attracting the brightest students to the profession.

Status Problem

"I think that salaries of deserving teachers should be raised, raised even dramatically, by all means," Mr. Bennett said. But he also suggested that the public's negative perception and the low status of teachers may be even more of a problem than low salaries. The status problem, he added, is "one dimension that hasn't received sufficient attention."

Although the group did not make any specific recommendation about increasing teachers' salaries, Mr. Bennett's suggestion that the salaries of "deserving teachers" be raised was criticized by Mr. Shanker.

Mr. Shanker told Mr. Bennett that his and President Reagan's comments on the topic sent a "negative" message to the American people about the quality of the teaching force.

"People think that things must be much worse in this field than in any other field if the President and a Cabinet member need to tell local school districts what the salary structure of that occupation ought to be," he said.

Bennett Disagrees

Mr. Bennett retorted that he did not agree with Mr. Shanker that the Administration's endorsement of merit-pay plans sent a negative message.

"I thought you would like my statement to pay very good teachers more," he said, adding that Mr. Shanker may have done more damage by advocating a national examination for teachers.

"The implication of that is that there are a lot of dummies out there," Mr. Bennett said.

Future Plans

If the aei is able to garner support from the private sector during the next several months, the study group will meet regularly to discuss the problems of the teaching profession and develop reform proposals, according to Denis P. Doyle, director of the aei's education-policy program. The group's first meeting was funded by the U.S. Education Department and the Burger King Corporation.

If funding is not forthcoming, Mr. Doyle said, many of the people at the conference would most likely be on the "American Board of Professional Education" that Mr. Shanker has proposed and in that forum could continue the discussion begun last week.

Mr. Doyle said the study group has about three dozen members, including Gov. Charles Robb of Virginia; Edward Meade, education program director for the Ford Foundation; and Richard Lyman, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, all of whom participated in the meeting.


Other members of the group attending the meeting were: Robert Altman, vice president, Educational Testing Service; William J. Baroody Jr, president, American Enterprise Institute; Donald L. Bemis, superintendent, Utica (Mich.) Community Schools; David Berliner, University of Arizona, Tucson, Department of Educational Psychology; A. Graham Down, executive director, Council for Basic Education; William Dunifon, dean, Illinois State University, Normal; C. Emily Feistritzer, director, National Center for Education Information; Martin Galvin, teacher, Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, Md.; state Senator Jack Gordon, Miami Beach, Fla.; Barbara Gothard, director of public affairs, Burger King Corporation; Dennis Gray, Council for Basic Education; Terry W. Hartle, resident fellow, American Enterprise Institute; Michael Hickey, superintendent, Howard County (Md.) Public Schools; Emma Isler, teacher, Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington, D.C.; James Kelly, president, Spring Hill Center, Wayzata, Minn.; Judith Lanier, dean, deparment of education, Michigan State University, Lansing; Barbara Lerner, Lerner Associates, Princeton, N.J.; Charlotte Levendosky, teacher, Crest Hill Elementary School, Casper, Wyo.; Marsha Levine, consultant, American Enterprise Institute; Howard Mehlinger, dean, School of Education, Indiana University, Bloomington; Katherine Merseth, Harvard Graduate School of Education; Kim Natale, teacher, Pomona High School, Arvada, Colo.; Joe Nathan, Public School Incentives, St. Paul; John Rhinethaller, teacher, Sidwell Friends School, Washington, D.C.; Phillip Schlechty, executive director, Gheens Center for Professional Development, Jefferson County, Ky.; Gerald Tirozzi, commissioner of education, Hartford, Conn.; Herbert Walberg, research professor of education, University of Chicago; Arthur Wise, Rand Corporation, Washington, D.C.

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