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NEA Assails Board's Policy on Prerequisites for Certification

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The National Education Association is calling on its members who serve on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to lobby the board to revise its policy on who is eligible for national teacher certification.

The union's 136-member board of directors opposes the national board's decision to offer the opportunity to become certified to any teacher with a bachelor's degree and three years of successful teaching experience at one or more primary or secondary schools.

Instead, the NEA directors last month approved a motion stating that the union "will take whatever steps are necessary" to ensure that eligibility for national certification is tied to possession of a state teaching license and graduation from an accredited teacher-preparation program.

The union's concerns echo those expressed in September by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. (See Education Week, Sept. 20, 1989.)

AACTE also urged the national board to reconsider its position on prerequisites for certification. However, members of the national standards board declined at their October meeting to reconsider the issue.

The 64-member board, the majority of whose members are teachers, unanimously adopted the prerequisites for certification.

In its initial policy statement last July, the board noted that conditioning certification on state licensure and graduation from a teacher-education program would exclude many talented private- and postsecondary-school teachers from recognition.

The standards board also decided that such prerequisites would run counter to its "fundamental orientation toward performance rather than toward design standards."

At the time, the decision upset some members of the teacher-education community who had hoped that graduation from a school of education would be a prerequisite for the board's credential.

The NEA board's action last month sprang from the conviction that national certification should not be seen as an isolated recognition of advanced teaching skills that is unrelated to other professional standards, said Sharon Robinson, a spokesman for the union.

"There was concern that this not be presented in a way that encouraged people to conclude that the NEA was failing in its commitment to support certification," Ms. Robinson said. "But there was more concern that certification be developed in a manner that complements other quality-control mechanisms in education."

Keith Geiger, the president of the NEA, was unavailable for comment last week.

'A Live Issue'

James A. Kelly, president of the national standards board, said that the topic of prerequisites remains "a live issue," and that he expects the subject to be discussed at the board's March meeting in Miami.

"There is very strong support on our board for the existing policy,'' Mr. Kelly added. "I don't expect any immediate action on this."

Last fall, the board showed its willingness to modify its initial policies by redefining the types of certificates it expects to issue, Mr. Kelly noted.

"We did so not because any group asked us to do it," he said, "but because many members of the staff and board felt it could be improved with further work."

The NEA has reacted cautiously to the idea of national certification since the board's creation in 1987.

At their annual meeting last July, delegates to the union's representative assembly approved a 19-point policy statement detailing the union's position on national certification. The union said it intended the statements to serve as guidelines for its members on the national board.

Twenty of the standards board's 64 members belong to the NEA, according to the union. That number includes members who joined the union under a lifetime membership program and who no longer pay dues.

Nancy Jewell, vice president of the Oklahoma Education Association and a member of the national board, said she would "not even make a guess" as to how effective NEA members' efforts to persuade the board to change its position might be.

"I am prepared to make the strongest case I can for recognition of the state certification and licensure process," she added.

Support Not Eroding

Mary Hatwood Futrell, the union's official representative on the national board, said the NEA position should not be construed as an erosion of support for national teacher certification.

"If there were any indication that the NEA was backing away, I would be very concerned," said the former union president. "But this is a very serious issue."

"The tough issues are yet to come," she added. "We're just beginning to scratch the surface. We all must stay at the table and fight it through."

Both Mr. Kelly and Gary Sykes, an assistant professor in the college of education at Michigan State University who is a consultant to the national board, said the issue of prerequisites for certification was a "minor" one, compared with the development of the complex assessments that the board will use to evaluate teachers.

In deciding who will be eligible for national certification, Mr. Sykes noted, the board faced the dilemma of alienating either "powerful forces" favoring alternate routes into teaching, or educators arguing in favor of "a complete set of professional standards similar to medicine and law."

The board's eventual decision, Mr. Sykes said, was based in part on the fact that it faced a formidable fund-raising task. The national board must raise an estimated $50 million to pay for research and development of the assessments and to begin certifying teachers by its target date of 1993.

"The sentiments among corporate leaders and politicians in favor of relatively relaxed entry standards into teaching certainly influenced'' the board's vote, he said.

Observers noted that a motion by the NEA's board of directors carries less weight than a resolution that would have to be approved by the union's representative assembly.

They also said it is unclear whether opposition from the 2-million-member union would impede the national board's efforts.

'Test of Independence'

"I don't think it's damaging," Mr. Kelly said. "I think the NEA is strongly committed to the national board."

Ms. Robinson of the NEA predicted other members of the national board will join union members in asking that the matter be reconsidered.

But Bella Rosenberg, assistant to the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker, said the March meeting will present "the first real test of the independence of the NEA members on the board."

In contrast with the NEA--which has provided training for its members who serve on the national board and which has now asked them to work to change its policy--the AFT has made it clear that its members on the board are serving independently, Ms. Rosenberg said.

The AFT has maintained that the effort to create national teacher certification--and with it a true profession--will be destroyed if the board is seen as being controlled by a teachers' union, she said.

"The charge of union domination has been hurled before with absolutely no basis," she said. "It would be horrible if suddenly there were a basis."

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