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New York State Chief Seeks To Revamp Teacher Licensing

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New York State's education commissioner has proposed sweeping changes in the teacher-licensure system that he says could mark "a giant step forward," giving teachers more say over the standards for their profession and more decisionmaking power in their schools.

Commissioner Thomas Sobol presented the proposals to the New York Board of Regents late last month. Although some would require legislative approval, others could be enacted through changes in regulations.

The plans would create a professional-standards board for teachers, who would constitute a majority of its members. A similar board would be created for school administrators and supervisors.

'Legally Recognized Profession'

"Making teaching a legally recognized profession is something most people have agreed upon in theory for years," Mr. Sobol said. "But the major educational groups in the state have disagreed on exactly how to do that."

The new proposals, he suggested, "provide the basis for consensus on how to accomplish what we all see as necessary. And if the major educational players agree, it is far more likely the legislature will be willing to take a giant step forward."

It is not clear how much autonomy the boards would have to set licensing standards. Last month, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo used his State of the State Message to propose the creation of a professional licensing board for teachers, with a teacher majority.

Both he and Mr. Sobol said they envisioned structuring the boards along the lines of existing state boards for other professions, such as medicine, nursing, and accounting.

But Jerry Freeborne, executive coordinator for the teaching profession in the state education depart8ment, said such boards are primarily advisory in nature, with all final decisions on licensing standards, professional conduct, and discipline left up to the regents. Just how much authority the proposed boards for educators would have is still being negotiated, he said last week.

Other Aspects of Plan

Some of the other changes that Mr. Sobol proposed include:

Requiring all districts to submit a plan to the education department by July 1, 1992, for involving teachers in day-to-day decisionmaking within schools and school districts.

Creating a new license for teachers who specialize in early-childhood education in pre-kindergarten through 3rd grade. Currently, teachers are certified either for nursery school through grade 6 or for an academic subject in grades 7-12.

The proposal, which would take effect Sept. 1, 1993, is designed to ensure that teachers of very young children are "well versed" in a developmental approach to early-childhood education, said Mr. Freeborne.

Abolishing the separate teacher-licensure systems that now exist in the cities of Buffalo and New York.

Taking steps to alleviate the shortage of teachers, especially minority teachers, in New York City.

The education department estimates that the city will need to fill 2,600 teaching positions in each of the next three years. But during that time, officials note, the city's colleges will annually graduate only some 1,700 prospective teachers, many of whom will not enter the profession.

Follow-up to Task Force

Mr. Sobol's proposals build on the work of a 37-member task force on the teaching profession, which the commissioner appointed last year. Among its other proposals, the panel recommended requiring a master's degree and a one-year4internship for all prospective teachers and creating a new teacher-majority licensing board for the profession.

The commissioner's proposal would retain, "on a temporary basis," the current two-stage licensing system, under which a teacher first receives a provisional license and may gain a full license by earning a master's degree within five years.

But Mr. Sobol noted that the regents would still maintain their "long-term goal of requiring a new teacher to complete all licensure requirements before beginning to teach."

Last fall, Mr. Sobol held a series of 18 meetings around the state to discuss the proposed changes. He also reviewed written testimony and questionnaires and met with representatives of major education groups.

Cost estimates for most of the proposals are still being developed, Mr. Freeborne said. The estimated cost of the one-year internship program, for example, is $75 million.

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