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Published in Print: February 24, 1999, as Riley Outlines Licensure Plan for Teachers

Riley Outlines Licensure Plan for Teachers

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Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley urged states last week to consider adopting a common framework for teacher licensing, raising hopes that his support could lend new urgency to ongoing efforts to improve teacher quality.

In his sixth annual State of American Education Address, delivered Feb. 16 in Long Beach, Calif., Mr. Riley outlined what his department termed a "possible approach" to state licensure that would include "initial," "professional," and voluntary "advanced" licenses.

"This three-part approach ... seeks to strengthen teaching by linking it more closely to high standards. I ask you to consider it and join me in this national conversation," the secretary said, referring to state and local leaders.

Mr. Riley's proposal was just the latest in a series of high-profile education announcements by the Clinton administration in recent weeks. In his Jan. 19 State of the Union Address, President Clinton stressed the need to improve accountability in districts receiving federal dollars.

Education advocates said Mr. Riley hit on an important theme in last week's speech, particularly given estimates that American schools will need to attract more than 2 million new teachers over the next decade.

"I think he's put forward some very good ideas that I hope will have some resonance with the states," Sandra Feldman, the president of the 1 million-member American Federation of Teachers, said in an interview. "The proposals speak to quality and professionalism."

Under the plan Mr. Riley outlined last week at California State University-Long Beach, the Department of Education would encourage states to grant:

  • An initial license after a prospective teacher passed a written exam of content and teaching knowledge and an assessment of teaching performance. The initial license would not be renewable; new teachers should be able to meet the standards of a professional license within three years, according to the department.
  • A professional license based on clear standards developed by states for what teachers should know and be able to do. Earning this license would require teachers to be assessed on their performance through classroom observation by a panel of their peers and a supervisor. Teachers would need to renew the license periodically.
  • An advanced license, such as the voluntary certification now available through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. An NBPTS certificate attests that a teacher has been assessed by peers to be accomplished, make sound professional judgments about student learning, and act effectively on those judgments.

'A National Dialogue'

The proposal also urges states and districts to base teacher pay on the type of license earned, as well as years of teaching experience and demonstrated knowledge and skills.

In a statement, Bob Chase, the president of the 2.4 million-member National Education Association, credited Secretary Riley with "shining a national spotlight on a huge issue for states and for our members."

And, Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers, applauded the secretary's focus on encouraging more rigorous standards for licensing, though he pointed out that the framework is not new. "The basic outline for what the secretary is proposing is very similar to what many, if not most, of the states already do," he said.

Arthur E. Wise, the president of the Washington-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, suggested that Mr. Riley's comments might help broaden interest in teacher-licensure issues.

"There has been a national dialogue within the profession," Mr. Wise said. "What there has not been is a national dialogue between the profession and the general public."

Mr. Riley outlined new steps the Education Department will take on the teacher-quality front, including creating a national job bank and clearinghouse for teacher recruitment; sponsoring a national conference on teacher quality; and establishing a National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, to be chaired by former Sen. John Glenn of Ohio. Mr. Riley also said the department has asked the National Academy of Sciences to assess the current state of teacher testing, recommend ways to improve existing tests, and suggest viable alternatives.

The secretary's focus on teacher quality comes as the issue has attracted increasing attention from policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels.

Framework Emerging

Just last week, former Secretary of Labor Elizabeth Hanford Dole, who is considering a bid for next year's Republican presidential nomination, discussed teacher quality in a speech to the American Council on Education. Ms. Dole urged "zero tolerance" for poor teaching and advocated greater efforts to place "the training of teachers at the center of our higher education system."

James A. Kelly, the president of the teaching-standards board, a privately organized group based in Southfield, Mich., said a tremendous amount of work has already been done in the area of strengthening teacher licensing.

"There is a common framework emerging," he said. "There's strong state cooperation and collaboration, but each state has to decide" how to handle licensure, he added, because the "circumstances are very different in different states."

Among the efforts under way is the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, or INTASC, founded in 1987 to pool state expertise on teacher-licensing issues.

The consortium, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers, includes representatives of more than 35 state education departments, as well as leading teaching organizations and others. The consortium has created a set of model standards for what every beginning teacher should know and be able to do and content-specific standards for licensure in core disciplines.

Rep. Bill Goodling, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has indicated that, in reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this year, House Republicans will look at options to encourage states to set higher teaching standards, create tougher teacher tests, and devise better teacher-training programs.

Last week, Mr. Goodling applauded the focus of Mr. Riley's new plan on teacher quality, but he also expressed some concerns.

"In principle, a new, uniform system of teacher licensing has merit, but anything the federal government does in the areas of teacher training, standards, and testing must respect the work of the states," he said in a written statement. "We must recognize regional needs and differences."

Vol. 18, Issue 24, Pages 1,24

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