ECS Members Take Closer Look At Teaching as a Profession
Members of the Education Commission of the States voiced more questions than answers on how best to raise the stature of teaching as a profession during their annual meeting here.
ECS members spotlighted the need for high-quality teachers prepared to meet the challenges of new state accountability systems during the July 11-14 conference. The Denver-based ECS is made up of governors and top education officials in 49 states and seeks to help states shape education policy.
At a time when a strong economy is luring many recent college graduates into the private sector, states need to create “true licensure systems driven by high standards based on what we know about what teachers ought to be able to do,” Ted Sanders, the president of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said during one session.
“Status and pay are closely interrelated,” added Mr. Sanders, who previously served as an appointed state education chief in Nevada, Illinois, and Ohio. Mr. Sanders also served as deputy U.S. secretary of education from 1989 to 1991. “We ought to fundamentally think about how we compensate teachers across time.”
Other conference participants said that the onus for reforming teacher education must also fall on the colleges and universities that train teachers.
Schools of education must find specially tailored ways of measuring the abilities of their teacher-candidates, said Jill Tarule, the dean of education and social services at the University of Vermont in Burlington.
In addition to using teacher exams such as the PRAXIS test, education schools need to find ways to determine whether a teacher-candidate has an inquiring mind or the “democratic ability to engage parents” in ensuring that students learn, Ms. Tarule said. “Teaching is in fact a profession that does have some very specific skills and indicators and habits of the mind.”
As the new chairman of the ECS, Gov. Jim Geringer of Wyoming said here that he hopes to work with states in the next year to define what it means to be a good teacher and to guide the states in setting strong teacher-training and professional-development policies.
The Republican governor noted that, as Wyoming has proceeded with school reforms stemming from a 1995 state supreme court decision striking down its school funding system, it has become apparent that state-level reforms take time to filter down to the classroom.
“I characterize teachers as among the most amazing entrepreneurs, and yet they’re the most afraid of risk,” Mr. Geringer said in an interview. “You can start a fight or you can lay a foundation, and I’m picking the latter.”
After a yearlong tenure in which he focused on how to make postsecondary education more responsive to states’ and students’ needs, Gov. Paul E. Patton of Kentucky, a Democrat, stepped down as chairman during last month’s meeting. Governors traditionally lead the ECS for one year at a time, and the chair alternates between parties.
Longtime ECS President Frank Newman also formally stepped down from the post he has held since 1985 on July 15, the day after the annual meeting ended. During the meeting, the organization presented Mr. Newman with this year’s James Bryant Conant Award, which honors an individual who has made an important contribution to education.
Chris Pipho, a senior fellow at the organization who plans to leave the ECS in September, was also honored at the meeting.
--Jessica L. Sandham
A version of this article appeared in the August 04, 1999 edition of Education Week as ECS Members Take Closer Look at Teaching as a Profession