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Concern Voiced Over National Teacher Certification

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East Lansing, Mich.--Educators at a forum here last week praised the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, but expressed deep-seated concerns about how a national system for certifying accomplished teachers would work.

The meeting at Michigan State University--the first of 24 such regional forums that the board plans to hold in the next two years--was co-sponsored by the board and the Michigan Department of Education.

It gathered 178 state policymakers, leaders of teachers' unions, university professors, and representatives of subject-matter professional organizations to react to the board's initial plans and policies.

James A. Kelly, president of the 64-person organization, said members will consider the comments as they continue their work.

But many of the questions posed here focused on the implications of national teacher certification, rather than on the board's decisions to date. For some such questions, there were no concrete answers.

For example, several participants asked why teachers would want to go through such a rigorous assessment, wondering whether they might receive higher pay, a bonus for achieving certification, or challenging new assignments.

Although such benefits are possible and desirable, Mr. Kelly said, the national board has no control over them.

"We are hoping there are a variety of incentives which will emerge as you and others decide how credible this system is," Mr. Kelly said.

New Roles Envisioned

Many educators here also asserted that nationally certified teachers would have to play roles in their schools that generally do not exist and have been resisted in the past.

"It carries the idea of merit [pay] with it," said Lamont Dirkse, chair4man of the education department of Hope College. "This is something some people are hesitant about."

James L. Phelps, an associate superintendent for the Michigan education department, said that for national certification to be meaningful, school districts must be willing to treat certified teachers as "finds" whose talents should be used in new ways.

Such changes would force districts to rethink longstanding staffing practices, he noted.

"Realistically, I'm not sure it will happen," Mr. Phelps said. "We're asking a lot of something like this in a field not known for change."

Several participants also asked whether national teacher certification would widen the inequities between wealthy and poor school districts.

Joyce Eckhart, co-chairman of the Teacher Examination Advisory Committee of the Michigan education department, predicted that districts with a high proportion of certified teachers would advertise that fact.

"That will be another reason to move to that district," she noted. "Will the federal government fund so many board-certified teachers?"

Impact on Teacher Education

There was general agreement at the forum that national certification will have a profound impact on teacher-education institutions--which some participants found ironic given that formal teacher training will not be required for board certification.

"I'm concerned that the profession doesn't look to the teachers' colleges," said Evalyn Dearmin, director of teacher education at Western Michigan University. "The teachers can't do all the teacher training."

Other educators suggested that teacher-training programs will have to move beyond their traditional roles to support teachers seeking board certification.

Sam Harris, chairman of the teacher-education department at Andrews University, suggested that universities will have a special role to play in preparing teachers for the assessments. Such support, he said, should involve new types of courses that will offer teachers extensive feedback.

"I can envision people in nice settings with good kids having an easy time making it," Mr. Harris said, "and I can envision people in miserable settings who work like dogs and have no chance of making it."

Assessments Questioned

Although several educators were enthusiastic about the concept of new assessments that will gauge what a teacher can actually do in the classroom, others were skeptical about the need for 29 new assessments in different fields.

"In some cases, we run the risk of reinventing the wheel," said Sharon Robertson, associate professor of German at Eastern Michigan University, who noted that there already is an internationally normed test in German. "It seems an enormous waste to start at ground zero again."

Questions were also raised about whether unsuccessful candidates would receive constructive comments on their performance, whether the assessment system would discriminate against minority candidates, and how much it will cost to undergo the assessment process.

Mr. Kelly said board members are committed to creating a "developmentally instructive" assessment system that will be sensitive to minority candidates.

The board has yet to decide whether national certification will be lifelong or renewable, and what procedures might be developed for revoking certification, he added.

Prerequisites An Issue

One of the first questions raised at the forum concerned the prerequisites for national certification.

The board plans to allow candidates with a baccalaureate degreefrom an accredited institution and three years of successful teaching experience in elementary or secondary schools to undergo the assessments.

Some participants said three years' teaching experience may not be enough to pass the board's complex assessments.

Larry W. Chunovich, president of the Michigan Education Association, urged that certification be linked to state licensure and graduation from an accredited teacher-preparation program.

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the National Education Association have formally requested that the board change the prerequisites. (See Education Week, Jan. 17, 1990.)

The board will consider the issue next month.

Judith E. Lanier, who is currently on leave as the dean of the college of education at Michigan State University, strongly disagreed with Mr. Chunovich.

"Until we reconceive the education of teachers to meet the new learning in a new age," said Ms. Lanier, who is president of the Holmes Group, "I would not require it."

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