Experts Debate Idea of National Certification
Racine, Wis--About 50 representatives of the nation's key education groups met here last week to discuss the idea of a national testing and certification system for teachers and to learn how other professions test, license, and govern themselves.
But after two days of intensive discussion, the participants had reached no agreement on what should be done or how to proceed with such a system.
Many said they believed a national system is imminent and a prerequisite to professionalizing teaching. But others, while open to the idea, said they remained unconvinced.
"What this whole thing is all about is the professionalization of teaching," said Arthur E. Wise, director of the Rand Corporation's Center for the Study of the Teaching Profession. "If we don't reach a consensus soon we will have to wait another two decades to have another shot at it."
The principle goal of the meeting was to provide education leaders with the opportunity to see how other groups came to be called "professional" and how they govern themselves.
In education "there is constant reference to other professions, but with few exceptions few of us know very much about how other professions test, license, certify, and govern themselves," said David G. Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. "One of the goals of this meeting is to bring people together to share common agendas, common perspectives on issues, and reinforce others' perspectives."
While there was general agreement that the sharing of ideas is vital, many said they were worried that the opportunity to gain control and set the direction of the teaching profession is slipping away while4the issues are being discussed.
State legislators and policymakers, they said, are proceeding to mold the teaching profession with little participation by the education community, which one participant described as "extremely ununified."
"It may be that many states have already invested so heavily in their own particular form of testing that they will be reluctant to get into some kind of nationalization of the test," said Richard A. Boyd, state superintendent of education in Mississippi.
The meeting was sponsored by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Chief State School Offi-cers, the National Education Association, and the Johnson Foundation. Representatives from these and other education groups, as well as representatives from six outside professional groups, attended the sessions held at the foundation's Wingspread conference center.
The representatives from law, medicine, architecture, pharmacy, engineering, and accounting described in detail their systems of testing, licensure, certification, and induction. The systems described vary, but all are governed to some extent by the profession and involve some form of national testing or licensure that states generally recognize and utilize.
While most of the educators pres-ent said it was informative to hear about these other systems, some pointed out differences between education and the other professions that would make emulation difficult.
No Knowledge Base
Roger Soder, a researcher and special assistant to the dean of education at the University of Washington, said a main difference is that other professions have agreed upon a minimum "knowledge base" for their practitioners and have worked out "a truce" between those practitioners and the training organizations. Education has not, Mr. Soder said.
"Educators posit medicine and law as the apotheosis of ideal training, not for reasons of perceived effectiveness, but because of reasons of status and power," Mr. Soder said in an interview. "But educators have ignored, for the most part, the elements that make for professional power: an agreed-upon body of knowledge."
Patricia M. Kay, professor of education at Bernard M. Baruch College in New York City, said that examining the experience of other professions "throws into bold relief the uniqueness of the education profession."
Besides the lack of agreed-upon knowledge, she cited these differences: Education is publicly financed; its clients, the students, are compelled to accept the services; schools and the teaching profession are essentially controlled by laymen; and since everyone comes into contact with education, "therefore everybody knows everything about it."