Backers of Teacher-Dominated Boards For Licensing Win in Minnesota, Iowa

By Ann Bradley — September 13, 1989 5 min read

Advocates of autonomous, teacher-dominated boards to set standards for and control entry into the teaching profession have scored two victories in the states this year.

In Iowa, the legislature established a board of educational examiners, on which teachers will hold the largest bloc of seats. And in Minnesota, a new law will give teachers a majority of seats on the state’s existing board of teaching.

The National Education Association has made the establishment of such boards a major state legislative priority. The union and other groups argue that their creation is a critical step toward making teaching a true profession.

Despite union efforts, however, progress toward establishing autonomous standards boards has been gradual. Iowa and Minnesota’s NEA affiliates were among 15 that reported some activity on the issue during this year’s legislative season, said Susan Carmon, a professional-development specialist with the NEA.

“It’s a question of turf, of changing the decision makers,” said Ms. Carmon of the slow pace of change. “Whenever you do that, you’re going to run into some opposition. It’s a very overt change.”

California and Oregon have autonomous boards, but they do not have a majority of teachers as members. Nevada has a board with a teacher majority, but some of its actions can be vetoed by the state board of education.

In many other states, an advisory panel recommends policies on teacher standards to the state board of education, which has final authority over licensure.

A “model” board, from the NEA’s perspective, would have the authority to set standards for licensure, issue and revoke teacher licenses, approve teacher-education programs, and determine if and how a national professional certificate would be recognized. (See Education Week, April 29, 1987.)

In addition, the NEA proposes that the members of such boards be nominated by the “majority teachers organization” in a state. Because the NEA represents most teachers in virtually every state, some charge the union is attempting to use the new panels to gain greater control over the teaching profession.

Two Victories

The NEA considers the creation of Iowa’s new board a major success, Ms. Carmon said. The Iowa State Education Association, which drafted the legislation, had lobbied for the board for seven years.

The 11-member panel, established July 1, includes 5 teachers and 4 administrators. The other members are the state school superintendent and a representative of the public. The governor appoints the board members.

The board has the authority to set licensure standards, license teachers through the community-college level, and revoke licenses.

The panel will not have the power to approve teacher-education programs, however. Institutions that train teachers objected to the change, according to James H. Sutton, a union lobbyist.

“We thought it was a sad commentary that institutions producing professionals should have no confidence in them,” Mr. Sutton said.

The Minnesota teaching board has operated autonomously since its creation in 1973. The new law, which was crafted by the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, reduces the number of members from 15 to 11, 6 of whom will be teachers. All will be appointed by the governor.

The Minnesota Education Association also had pushed for an autonomous board for several years, said Robert C. Black Jr., a program specialist for instructional and professional development for the MEA. But the Minnesota Federation of Teachers “got its oar in before the MEA did,” he observed.

The Minnesota board grants and revokes teacher licenses, sets licensure standards, and approves teacher-education programs.

Three Defeats

Along with those successes, however, advocates of autonomous boards also suffered a handful of defeats this year.

In Indiana, both the House and Senate approved a bill to create an autonomous board. The bill was dropped in the last hours of the legislative session, however, after running into opposition from the state department of education, which argued that the current advisory system was sufficient, said James A. Claxton, the Indiana State Teachers Association’s standards-board coordinator.

Instead, the legislature authorized a commission to spend two years studying the concept.

Efforts to create fully autonomous boards also were derailed in Vermont and Connecticut.

The Vermont board of education in February approved new teacher-licensing regulations that included the creation of a 23-member standards board for professional educators.

The teacher-majority board will recommend standards for licensing, professional training, and continuing professional development of teachers. But the final authority for setting those standards will rest with the state board of education.

A bill endorsed by Vermont-NEA that would create an autonomous board is still pending in the House education committee, according to Ellen David-Friedman, an organizer for the union.

The Vermont education department has argued that the establishment of a fully independent standards board would fragment education policy making, Ms. David-Friedman said.

But the union counters that “there’s a difference between regulating the profession and public education,” Ms. David-Friedman said.

In Connecticut, the state board of education rejected a proposal by a 17-member study group to create an autonomous teacher-licensing panel.

Instead, the board agreed to create a 15-member advisory committee, the majority of whose members are teachers. The panel will meet for the first time this month.

Gerald N. Tirozzi, the state superintendent, said he believes the advisory role is appropriate, given that state laws “very clearly” give the state board of education responsibility for governing public schools.

“I have a problem when I hear, ‘We want to be treated like other professions,”’ Mr. Tirozzi said. “We’re talking about a public enterprise, and that’s a very unfair comparison.”

More Activity Expected

Ms. Carmon said she expects to see legislative activity on the issue in the coming year in Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.

“The states that have moved ahead should be applauded, said Mary Hatwood Futrell, the former NEA president. “And those that decided not to have to understand that the issue is not going to go away.”

Mr. Sutton of the NEA’s Iowa affiliate said the new boards in his state and Minnesota “now have to demonstrate whether autonomy, once won, can be kept.”

In addition, Mr. Black of the Minnesota affiliate noted that teachers’ greater role in policing their profession will be accompanied by calls for more accountability.

“Heretofore, it’s been one of the excuses or escapes that we don’t control the profession, so don’t blame us,” he said.

“Now, if we’re controlling it, there will be a greater portion of responsibility we will have to accept.”


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