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Vermont Chief Eyes A Teacher-Majority Licensure Board

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Vermont's commissioner of education has proposed creating one of the nation's first teacher-dominated state licensing boards as part of a sweeping overhaul in how the state sets standards for teachers and administrators.

But the proposal met with mixed reactions last week from the president of the Vermont affiliate of the National Education Association, who said the creation of a teacher majority on the new board would be "meaningless" as long as the state board of education retained the right to enact or reject the licensing board's policies.

The heated debate over how much authority teachers should have to set the standards for their profession is likely to be replayed in numerous states in the years ahead.

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The nea has advocated the creation of autonomous teacher-dominated boards in every state. But most states have been reluctant to give teachers unchecked power over who can enter and leave their ranks.

In 1987, Nevada became the first state in the nation to create a teacher-dominated licensing board. Like the Vermont proposal, however, its plan gave the state board of education ultimate authority over all licensing decisions. (See Education Week, Aug. 4, 1987.)

Proposals to create autonomous teacher-licensing boards also have been introduced without success in Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, and West Virginia.

California, Minnesota, and Oregon have created autonomous boards, but they have not given teachers a controlling majority.

Arthur E. Wise, director of the rand Corporation's center for the study of the teaching profession and an expert on professional standards boards, last week called them the "sine qua non of professionalization."

"One of the key defining characteristics of a profession is that it has the authority and responsibility to establish and enforce the standards for entry," he said.

But he argued that the central issue is whether these boards are given sufficient scope and income to develop "meaningful standards," and not whether they are advisory in nature.

"It depends on how their recommendations get played out in the politics of their own state," he said last week. "If the state board of education or the legislature defers to the judgments of these committees, then they will have real influence."

'Shared Responsibility'?

Comissioner of Education Richard P. Mills's Nov. 15 proposal would create a 23-member professional-standards board that would include 12 teachers, 5 administrators, 3 teacher educators, and 3 representatives from the public, including two school-board members.

The teacher category would also include "specialized" education professionals, such as school counselors and psychologists.

Mr. Mills said he was trying to respond to the demand from teachers for a greater say in shaping their profession. But he said he "strongly disagreed" with any attempt to make the new board wholely autonomous.

"I do not think that there should be an autonomous professional board that can enact standards independent of the state board of education," he said last week. "Licensing involves a shared responsibility. There is a public interest as well as a professional interest in who teaches and who administers our schools."

But Maida F. Townsend, president of the Vermont-nea, said teachers in the state have an "absolute commitment" to the notion of an autonomous teacher-dominated licensing board.

"The fact that the proposed board is without independent authority in essence renders the teacher majority meaningless," she said. "The state board of education could simply veto or ignore any proposal that the teacher-majority standards board made."

Opposing Fronts

The proposed board is part of a much broader plan to overhaul teacher licensure in the state. It includes:

A "challenge" to Vermont's colleges and universities to develop an alternative, "results oriented" method for approving teacher-preparation programs.

If the institutions propose an effective alternative by July 1, 1991, the state board of education would "selectively deregulate" teacher preparation, according to the proposed standards. If an appropriate alternative is not proposed, however, the state board "should be prepared to adopt a tighter version of the existing system."

A liberal-arts or sciences major for all prospective teachers.

A two-tiered licensing system that would require all teachers to earn a master's degree or 30 credit-hours beyond the bachelor's degree within six years of earning their license. After that, all teachers and administrators would have to complete individual professional-development plans in order to have their licenses renewed.

Creation of local standards boards, also with a teacher majority, to relicense teachers.

The elimination of waivers that allow individuals to teach subjects for which they are not licensed, and strict penalties for superintendents and school boards that knowingly hire such individuals. The state licensing board would have until July 1, 1991, to demonstrate why such waivers should not be eliminated.

A 10-hour training program for substitute teachers.

Mr. Mills also said that he would propose an internship program for principals to the standards board by June 1990.

In addition, he said, the state should support the creation of autonomous certification boards for teachers. These boards would provide voluntary recognition for experienced, talented educators that goes well beyond state licensure.

The commissioner's recommendations grew out of the work of a certification review board, which spent more than a year examining the state's licensing system and holding public hearings on it.

The state board of education will hold four public hearings on the new proposals before voting on them in final form in February. A legislative committee on administrative rules will also have to review the proposals, which will require funding.

Martha H. O'Connor, chairman of the state board of education, last week predicted that the board would approve the proposals without any major changes. If that is true, said Ms. Townsend, president of the union, teachers will try to alter the licensing board's authority through legislative action.

A bill to create an autonomous licensing board died in the legislature last year.

"The nea has said that the bottom line is an autonomous teacher-licensing board," said Ms. O'Connor. "The state board of education has opposed that and will continue to oppose it."

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