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Connecticut Board Rejects a Proposal For Separate Teacher- Standards Board

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The Connecticut Board of Education, acting on an issue that has been hotly debated in many states, has rejected a proposal to create an independent teacher-licensing body.

Instead, the board agreed to create an advisory panel of teachers and lay people to recommend certification policies. The authority to set standards would remain with the board.

Reacting to the January decision, leaders of the state's largest teachers' union, which had strongly advocated the creation of an autonomous board, vowed to press the issue in the legislature.

"It's unfortunate that the bureaucracy is resisting this," said Mark Waxenberg, president of the Connecticut Education Association, which conducted a $25,000 advertising campaign on behalf of the proposal. ''Now is the time for us to move in this direction."

"The legislature is going to have to look at the issue," he asserted. "Are they going to continue the implementation of reform?"

Nationwide, the movement to enhance teacher professionalism is "pointed at the creation of" autonomous teacher-licensing boards, according to Arthur E. Wise, director of the rand Corporation's center for the study of the teaching profession.

California, Minnesota, and Oregon have had such boards in place for a number of years, although they have not given teachers a controlling majority on the boards.

In the past few years, several other states have created semi-autonomous standards boards, some of which have a teacher majority. However, in most states, boards of education retain authority over licensing.

"Connecticut is a progressive state at the forefront of reinforcing the idea of teachers as professionals," Mr. Wise said. "They have been moving in the direction of establish4ing more meaningful standards for entry into teaching."

"I am saddened to see the state board not willing to take the additional step of helping teaching become a profession," he said.

Gerald N. Tirozzi, Connecticut's commissioner of education, responded that the new advisory panel would enhance teachers' involvement in decisionmaking.

"We're coming down on the side of wanting teachers extensively involved," he said. "But the board is not going to give away licensing. It is not."

'Meaningless Dichotomy'

The board acted last month in response to a report from a committee charged with studying the rationale, cost, and governance of a proposed licensing board.

The 17-member committee, named by the board last year, recommended that such a licensing panel be dominated by teachers, which it defined as certified personnel below the level of superintendent.

"If the policy goal is to increase the input into and governance over their profession," the committee concluded, "then a professional-standards board should be comprised of a majority of teachers, and not be created as another lay board that would take on responsibilities now being met by the lay state board of education."

The committee also outlined four possible roles for the proposed licensing board, ranging from purely advisory functions to policy-setting and administrative roles.

The state board rejected all the proposed models, however, and instead agreed to establish the advisory committee.

Dorothy C. Goodwin, a state-board member who served on the study panel, said that "as the work of the committee evolved, and we developed across-the-board models of all the things a professional-standards board could do, the more we wondered what there was left for the state board and the commissioner to do."

An autonomous board, Ms. Goodwin contended, would create a "meaningless dichotomy between teaching and learning."

"The department [of education] could hardly look out for education interests in the state if that part is given to someone else," she said.

Ms. Goodwin added that board members were also leery of creating a new entity that would be dominated by education professionals, rather than lay people. Such a body could operate as "monopolists" and restrict entry into the profession, as boards in medicine, law, and architecture tend to do, she noted.

"A powerful board could be in a position to operate without regard to the interests of the children," Ms. Goodwin said. "It would lack the checks and balances that are absolutely essential to our whole constitutional system."

But Mr. Wise of rand argued that, on the contrary, a licensing board "made up of members of the profession would, in the long run, create meaningful standards and end up enforcing those standards."

"So far, teachers don't have anything like that," he said. "The current system does not inspire confidence, or reassure the public that those people who pass the tests [to earn certification] are any different from those who don't."

No 'Delusions of Grandeur'

Teacher-union and board officials agreed that the proposal would face an uphill fight in the legislature, which this year must deal with a growing budget deficit.

"We're under no delusions of grandeur," said Mr. Waxenberg. "Our position is, we're willing to debate it and discuss it."

Mr. Tirozzi noted that the legislature had already substantially improved teaching conditions in the state by raising teacher salaries and licensing requirements. At the same time, he said, state officials have committed themselves to seeking teacher involvement in decisionmaking.

"If the structure is not broken," the commissioner said, "why in God's name are we going to fix it?"

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