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Massachusetts Abolishes Undergraduate Education Major

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New teacher-certification rules approved last week by the Massachusetts State Board of Education effectively abolish the undergraduate education major for colleges and universities in the state, and instead require prospective teachers to focus on the subjects they will one day teach.

The new rules, which also require teachers by 1994 to hold a master's degree to receive permanent certification, reflect what experts say is a trend toward insisting that teachers be better educated in the arts and sciences.

They also mirror the sense, expressed by some prominent teacher-educators, that it may take more than four years of undergraduate study to prepare a good teacher.

"This is a field that is evolving," said Arthur Wise, director of the rand Corporation's Center for the Study of Teaching, "and Massachusetts has taken a major step in the direction [in which] the field will ultimately evolve."

The need for teachers to know more about the subjects they teach was expressed in two influential 1986 reports--the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy's "A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century," and the Holmes Group's "Tomorrow's Teachers."

Both reports called for extending teacher-preparation programs to the graduate level and requiring students to earn an undergraduate degree in liberal arts.

Although some states, such as California, have long required prospective teachers to earn an undergraduate liberal-arts degree, the reports spurred a handful of other states to beef up the arts and sciences backgrounds of their teachers or to lengthen their teacher-preparation programs.

To date, however, no state has undertaken the task in quite the same way as Massachusetts, which will require prospective teachers to have extensive field experience both as undergraduates and graduate students.

"We felt requiring a fifth year of professional study would be discriminatory against minorities" who might not be able to afford to pay for another year of school immediately after college, said Susan Tave Zelman, the state's associate commissioner for educational personnel. The new Massachusetts plan allows beginning teachers to work full-time while earning a master's degree.

"And we also wanted to capture a 'hot' audience by providing some clinical experience as early as freshman year," she said.

The new rules establish a two-stage certification process.

Two-Step Process

Prospective teachers who major as an undergraduate in the arts and sciences and who spend some time in the field observing classes and student-teaching will be eligible, by 1992, to apply for a provisional certificate. To earn that certificate, they will also have to demonstrate their competence in a wide range of classroom skills.

"We wanted to build in some flexibility for universities," Ms. Zelman said. "It will be up to them to determine how their students should acquire those skills."

The provisional certificate, valid for five years, will enable prospective teachers to get a job in the field at a starting teacher's pay. Over the course of the five years, the new teachers will be assigned veteran teachers who will serve as their mentors. They will also be required to earn a master's degree and to demonstrate their skills in their areas of "pedagogical content knowledge."

"It won't be enough to know history," Ms. Zelman said. "You'll have to know how to teach history."

The beginning teachers will then be eligible for the second stage of the process--a lifetime teaching certificate. The first of those permanent certificates will be issued in 1994.

"When they finish, not only will these teachers have a major in the arts and sciences, but they will also have some work in pedagogy, some teaching experience, and some mentoring," said Norma S. Rees, vice chancellor of academic affairs and policy and planning for the State Board of Regents for Higher Education, which has worked closely with the state school board in the two-year-long effort to develop the new regulations.

Who Pays?

The new rules were praised last week by Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, who said they would help "attract the best and the brightest" to the state's teaching profession.

Critics, however, said the new regulations leave unanswered a number of questions. Primary among them is how--or if--the financially strapped state will pay for the mentor teachers needed to make the program work.

"If they have to leave their class and drive to a neighboring town where there might be a new physics teacher, who will pay their expenses?" said Stephen Wollmer, communications director for the Massachusetts Teachers Association. The union expressed reservations but supported the new regulations.

"Who will pay for the substitute for their class?" Mr. Wollmer added. He also said it was unclear whether mentor teachers' salaries would be increased to compensate for their added responsibilities.

Ms. Zelman said a number of state-level working groups are meeting in an effort to resolve such questions. She said state education officials also plan to press for a state law to lend some legislative backing to the mentor program and possibly provide funding by the time it is scheduled to begin in 1994.

The new regulations closely mirror a 1987 report by a joint task force of the state's higher-education board and the state board of education. The state school board promulgated the new rules after a similar bill in the state legislature became bogged down over concerns about the state's current fiscal crisis.

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