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Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as Teaching & Learning

Teaching & Learning

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Mass. Union Suggests Ways
To Improve Teachers
: As a storm continues to rage around the state's new licensing exam for prospective educators, a Massachusetts teachers' union is calling for a broader approach toward improving teacher quality--including an end to the traditional undergraduate education program.

In a 14-page policy paper circulated last month, the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers recommends requiring teacher-candidates to complete a graduate program in education after earning a bachelor's degree in another major. Teacher-preparation programs also need to provide candidates with more practical skills and classroom experience, the paper urges.

"From our perspective, teaching is the most complex and hardest job in the world," said Kathleen Kelley, the president of the 15,000-member union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. "You need to not only be well-grounded in your discipline, you also need a huge repertoire of pedagogical skills."

The proposal is one of 20 offered in the paper, which contends that recent discussions about teacher quality in Massachusetts have focused too much on the failure rates of would-be educators taking the state's new licensing test. The state announced last month that among the latest round of 1,700 test-takers, 45 percent of the prospective teachers did not pass.

Other state initiatives called for in the paper include: restricting the number of waivers allowing districts to hire noncertified teachers; allocating extra money to school systems that provide mentors for new teachers; and encouraging colleges and universities to administer the state licensing exam to teacher-candidates while they are freshmen, and assisting those who fail early on. But the document argues against plans to give competency tests to veteran teachers.

The union called on acting Gov. Paul Cellucci to appoint a task force on teacher quality to take up its recommendations.

Teaching About Religion: While many parents and teachers agree that children should be exposed to moral lessons in the classroom, the lack of religious context in public schools has made those lessons sterile and evasive, the American Textbook Council argues in a report set for release this week.

"Learning About Religion, Learning From Religion," which marks the culmination of the New York City-based council's six-year study of religion in schools, examines the tension over religion reflected in textbooks and curricula. The 29-page guide concludes that, although teaching religion in public schools is a sensitive and sometimes explosive issue, its exclusion from the curriculum impairs character development.

Children should study not only the history of religion, but also the questions that religion raises about human life, it says.

The council's examination of textbooks found that when the topic of religion is broached, it is usually portrayed as a "repressive" or "backward" force in the nation's history.

The report provides basic guidance to help schools infuse religion into the curriculum in a substantive way while staying within legal boundaries. It also includes a list of basic readings in religion, philosophy, and history.

The American Textbook Council is an independent research organization that reviews social studies textbooks and works to improve the quality of instructional materials in history.

Copies of the report are available for $10 from the council at (212) 870-2760; or by e-mail: atc@columbia.edu.

A Million Strong: Thanks to the urge to merge in Minnesota, the American Federation of Teachers is now 1 million strong.

Membership in the AFT has risen steadily in recent years, but it took the recent merger of the union's Minnesota affiliate with that of the National Education Association's to push the organization over the 1 million mark. The merged affiliate, Education Minnesota, is the only such state organization made up of members of both national teachers' unions. ("Merged Unions in Minnesota Get Blessing of National Organizations," Oct. 21, 1998.)

Sandra Feldman

In announcing the new figures, AFT President Sandra Feldman said the "milestone shows that the AFT is healthy and continues to grow."

Although now one of the five largest members of the AFL-CIO, the AFT still has a long way to go to catch up to the NEA, which counts some 2.4 million individuals on its rolls and is the nation's largest labor organization.

Peer Reversal: The California Teachers Association, after much study and debate, has dropped its opposition to peer review.

The decision by the 285,000-member union's policymaking body brings the state affiliate in closer alignment with its parent National Education Association, which embraced peer-assistance and -review programs last year.

In the past, the powerful California affiliate had approved of peer assistance, but drew the line at peer review, which gives teachers a role in making employment decisions about their colleagues.

"This is a new development for CTA," Lois Tinson, the president of the union, said in announcing the recent shift. "It marks a new direction for our teachers and sets forth some new guidelines for CTA local-association affiliates."

Although the state organization doesn't dictate what its locals can do, its policies do influence them. Specifically, the union's guidelines say that peer-review programs shouldn't exist without peer assistance. Under peer assistance, consulting teachers help new and veteran teachers improve their knowledge and skills.

The CTA's State Council of Education, its 660-member policymaking body, also recommended that local associations thoroughly study existing peer-review programs; provide for discussion among members about the consequences of peer-review programs; negotiate all elements of such programs with their local districts; ensure that all participants in the programs receive fair treatment; protect teachers' due process rights; and ensure "full funding and ample training for all parties."

The policy is the result of a peer-assistance and -review task force, appointed by the union's board of directors. It was debated at two previous meetings of the council.

Election-Year Summit: Because education played a role in last month's elections, advocates of mathematics and science education are working to put their issues on the agenda in 2000.

An ad hoc group of science associations, government agencies, corporations, and education groups is tentatively planning to hold a summit during the next election year to discuss how best to improve science and math teaching.

The goal is to "get a groundswell going so everyone knows we need a literate society in science, math, and technology," said Ann Korando, the director of development and public relations for Science Service, a Washington nonprofit organization that runs science competitions.

The wide-ranging groups are responding to recent data from international studies that show U.S. 4th graders outperform most countries' students in science, but that this country's 8th graders fall to the middle of the pack. ("4th Graders Do Well in Math, Science Study," June 18, 1997.)

Ms. Korando convened the group with representatives from the National Science Teachers Association, the National Science Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Council, Intel Corp., and others.

The consortium is looking at 2000 for a summit when its members as well as other U.S. leaders would convene to talk about math and science issues.

The biggest task in preparing for such a gathering will be to find a way to unify the separate agendas of the groups, Ms. Korando said.

Animal Appreciation: Many children naturally develop a love for the dogs, cats, ponies, squirrels, and other animals that are often portrayed as cute and cuddly in picture books and cartoons. But children of all ages should be taught how to treat animals humanely, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The New York City-based organization, which was founded 132 years ago to promote proper treatment of animals, now has a variety of curricular materials to help teachers do just that.

In addition to providing lists of age-appropriate books that positively portray animals, the ASPCA has several programs of hands-on activities that blend in with ongoing lessons in the classroom.

The "Web of Life" shows the links and interdependence among people, animals, and the environment. "Animaland Classroom," a teacher-membership program, offers ideas for integrating lessons about animals into existing curricula.

For more information, call the ASPCA at (212) 876-7700, ext. 4410; or see its World Wide Web site: www.aspca.org.

-- Jeff Archer, Ann Bradley, David J. Hoff,
& Kathleen Kennedy Manzoinclass@epe.org

Vol. 18, Issue 14, Page 7

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