Georgia Panel Eases Path To Becoming a Teacher

By Bess Keller — February 25, 2004 3 min read
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Georgia will soon allow residents to get teaching certification on the strength of passing three written tests and earning a college major in the subject they want to teach.

The controversial change appears to make Georgia one of a few states that no longer require at least some training in classroom skills before being fully licensed by the state.

The new rule is part of a package adopted on an 11-2 vote earlier this month by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. The package aims to streamline licensing requirements.

“We feel like we ... opened the door for a lot of qualified individuals,” said F.D. Toth, the executive secretary of the standards commission.

The changes were bitterly fought by the state’s teacher-preparation institutions, but supported by the state’s largest teachers’ group.

University officials argued that the new rules are a harmful quick fix to teacher shortages, which especially plague high-poverty schools.

“What they are doing is creating a revolving door of untrained teachers,” said Ron Colarusso, the dean of the college of education at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Teachers without college training in education are more likely to leave the profession in their first years, he said.

Mentoring Required

Under the new rules, would-be teachers must pass three widely used teacher tests in the Educational Testing Service’s Praxis series—basic skills, subject matter, and principles of teaching and learning. They must also hold a degree in the subject they want to teach, or one that is closely related, and have a job offer from a school district in hand.

Once in the classroom on a full five-year, nonrenewable license, the teacher must be mentored for a year in a way determined by the district. After five years, the teachers with this new certification will need a district recommendation for a renewable license.

But it’s what’s not required that makes the state’s new regulation unusual: no education coursework, even of short duration or during the first years on the job.

The new regulations take effect next month.

Georgia, like many other states, has a number of “alternative” routes to becoming a fully licensed classroom teacher. But, up until these changes, those options included at least a summer’s worth of training in classroom skills and practice teaching.

Currently, teachers entering the classroom without an education degree are initially given a provisional license that would not rank them as “highly qualified” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The new certification will fulfill the licensing requirement of that law.

Human-resource officials in Georgia districts welcomed the changes, although many did not envision hiring someone with the nonrenewable license.

“I think the changes increase flexibility, but haven’t lowered the standard,” said Candace Norton, who heads the human- resources department for the Forsyth County schools north of Atlanta.

For years, the state has been allowing people to head classrooms without education coursework, tests, or a pertinent major, though they received a provisional rather than a standard credential, she said.

“We feel we have strengthened the requirements to get into the teaching force,” Mr. Toth of the standards commission said of the new testing and academic-major requirements.

The 57,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators is also satisfied with the outcome, said spokesman Tim Callahan. The original proposal required the tests but not the college major, which the independent association thought was necessary. Now, he said, it would be up to the districts and the standards commission to show they could use the flexibility wisely. “If school systems use this to cut corners, kids are going to suffer,” he acknowledged.

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