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Teacher-Majority Boards? Not Yet

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During this year's legislative season, affiliates of the National Education Association have continued to press in several states for one of the union's longstanding priorities: the creation of autonomous boards to set and enforce standards for teachers.

Those efforts have been largely unsuccessful, although bills that would create such boards were still alive late last week in three states--Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

Similar bills introduced this year in Kentucky and West Virginia died in committee.

And in Iowa, a bill that would have created a standards board with a teacher majority was passed by the Senate but failed in the House.

"The House leadership had a limited amount of floor time left, and the debate that was required to perfect the bill was far in excess of the time available,'' said James H. Sutton, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Education Association.

But the NEA scored a small victory in Oklahoma, where lawmakers approved a measure that significantly increases teacher representation on a panel that advises the state board of education on licensure issues.

"Not every state can achieve a model standards board,'' Susan Carmon Gewirtz, a program-development specialist for the NEA, said last week. "Any incremental steps that states can take in this effort will be beneficial for the teaching profession.''

The N.E.A. Model

A model board, as envisioned by the union, would be empowered to set standards for teacher licensure, approve teacher-preparation programs, and suspend or revoke licenses. Such a board would have its own budget and be directly responsible to the legislature, with no other state agency or official able to veto its actions.

Although representatives from a range of education interests would sit on the board, classroom teachers--appointed by the governor--would constitute the majority.

The union's leaders argue that such boards are the "centerpiece'' of professional self-governance. (See Education Week, April 29, 1987.)

"The issue is one of professional legitimacy, that we have the same right to set standards that all the other professions in the state have,'' said Mr. Sutton. "Until teaching is treated as a profession, the public has no right to expect professional results.''

The American Federation of Teachers, which has fewer members than the NEA in most states, has remained ambivalent about proposals for state standards boards. Its leaders have asserted, along with others, that the NEA's pursuit of such boards is a veiled attempt to gain control of state licensure.

The AFT leadership has argued that the profession's top priority should be the establishment of high national standards through the newly constituted National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Last month, however, a task force in New York State, an AFT stronghold, released a report that recommended a broad range of programs to restructure the state's schools and teacher preparation, including the creation of a standards board with a teacher majority.

Most of the task force's members were teachers, and it was co-chaired by the president of the New York State United Teachers, an AFT affiliate. (See Education Week, March 30, 1988.)

Minnesota Initiative Fails

No state has established what the NEA considers to be a model board. Although California, Minnesota, and Oregon have created autonomous standards boards, they have not given teachers a controlling majority.

A bill introduced in the Minnesota legislature this year would have created a teacher majority on that state's board, but the measure died in committee, according to a state union official. Last year in Nevada, lawmakers established a teacher-licensure board with a teacher majority.

But to get the bill passed, state union officials agreed to a compromise that allows the state board of education, under some circumstances, to veto actions taken by the standards board. In addition, the board of education retained the authority to revoke or suspend licenses and to approve training programs.

'Accountable to Public'

In most states, the final authority for setting standards and issuing licenses rests with the state board and education department.

Efforts to establish autonomous boards in some states have been stymied to a large degree by the reluctance of education officials--and lawmakers--to transfer this authority to an independent body.

"Teachers are public servants and need to be accountable to the public as represented by the state board of education,'' said Lawrence A. Shulman, president of the Maryland Board of Education. "We don't see that any benefits would come out of creating a dual system.''

But the "real issue,'' according to Michael A. Butera, executive director of the Maryland State Teachers Association, is "whether or not they are going to permit teaching to become an empowered profession.''

"Policymakers see this as losing control,'' he said. "They don't want to believe that people inside the association are truly interested in improving the profession. They think that the only thing we want to do is put dollars in the pockets of our members.''

A bill that would turn an existing advisory panel to the Maryland board into an autonomous licensing body was overwhelmingly approved by the House last month. As proposed, the new panel would not have a classroom-teacher majority, however.
Late last week, the bill was still stalled in the Senate finance committee with only days left in this year's legislative session.

In Massachusetts, a bill that would create an autonomous board with a teacher majority is being considered by the joint legislative committee on education. A hearing has been held on the proposal, but as of last week no other action had been taken, according to a state union official.

And in Vermont, a Senate panel has created a task force to work this summer on the details of a bill that would establish a teacher-controlled licensure board, a union official reported last week. A similar bill has been assigned to a House committee, but has not moved, the official said.

Union officials in the other three states where bills were introduced this year said that fiscal problems had forced them to concentrate most of their lobbying efforts on economic issues. As a result, they said, their groups were unable give standards-board measures the support needed to push them through.

They all added, however, that the measures would be reintroduced in the next legislative sessions.

"I am already talking with folks about what we can do next time,'' a union official in Kentucky said.

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