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N.E.A. Gives Qualified Backing to 'Alternative Certification'

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Top officials at the National Education Association have approved a draft report that gives a qualified endorsement to the growing number of programs that allow teachers to become licensed without graduating from a traditional teacher-training program.

The policy paper, approved this month by the executive board of the teachers' union, marks a departure for NEA officials, who in the past have criticized so-called "alternative certification" programs as placing inadequately trained teachers in the classroom.

Though the union's leaders have softened some of those criticisms in recent years, the new statement signals the first official attempt by the entire union to show some support for the concept.

Keith B. Geiger, the president of the union, said the paper takes a middle ground between outright opposition to alternative certification and the view, espoused by some proponents of the idea, that any college graduate can teach school.

"It recognizes very clearly that, with adults changing jobs four, five, and six times in a lifetime, we potentially have a lot of mid-career people coming into teaching," he added.

'Fully' Licensed

The eight-page document sets down 15 principles designed to guide the creation of credible "nontraditional" routes to teacher licensure.

The paper maintains that teachers prepared in nontraditional programs should be expected to meet the same standards as their colleagues graduating from traditional training programs.

"We're not talking about a substandard license, such as an emergency license, but a different preparation route to get a fully licensed, qualified individual to be in a class8room," said Barbara J. Yentzer, director of instructional and professional development for the teachers' organization.

She said that might include the growing number of "fast track"master's-level programs for teachers entering the field from other professions, or comprehensive, statewide programs that provide both professional training and field experiences for teacher candidates.

In any case, she said, all teachers should pass the same pedagogy, basic-skills, and subject-matter tests to earn a license.

Moreover, the paper states, prospective teachers should not be given sole responsibility for a classroom full of children until they have done so. This view contrasts with the practice, in some existing alternate-route programs, of allowing individuals to teach while they are still in training.

The document says professional training for the neophytes should include studies in pedagogy conducted in cooperation with an approved teacher-training program. And some of that instruction, it says, should come before a teacher candidate steps into a classroom--even as an intern or student teacher.

In the classroom, the paper says, prospective teachers should be supervised by a veteran educator or "mentor" teacher, who is given a reduced workload in order to spend time working with trainees, until they are ready to be on their own. The mentor must also be trained, supported, and appropriately compensated, the paper emphasizes.

And any statewide "nontraditional" route program should be the joint creation of all those who have a stake in the process--practicing teachers, the union, administrators, teacher educators, state legislators, the state education agency, and the state teaching-standards board.

The report, which echoes some earlier statements on the subject by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the Association of Teacher Educators, was the product of a year's work by the organization's standing committee on instruction and professional development.

It now goes to the organization's 8,500-member representative assembly, which is scheduled to vote on it during its annual meeting in Kansas City in July.

"For us," said Douglas Tuthill, a Florida teacher serving on the committee, "this tells the education community that the NEA intends to become a major player in the restructuring of teacher education."

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