Wait A Minute...

March 01, 1990 4 min read

But the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, has called on its members who serve on the national board to lobby this month for a change in policy that would tie eligibility to possession of a state teaching license and graduation from an accredited preparation program. Last December, the NEA board of directors passed a motion stating that the union “will take whatever steps are necessary’’ to bring about the change.

The concerns of the union’s 136member board echo those expressed in September by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. AACTE, which represents more than 700 colleges and universities that train teachers, also urged the national standards board to reconsider its prerequisites for certification. However, members of the board declined at their last meeting to reconsider the issue.

The opposition to the national board’s position reflects the deep division between some educators and policymakers over what kind of training teachers should receive. Many argue that the profession possesses a body of knowledge that teachers must be exposed to before entering the classroom and can only get in a formal preparation program. Others maintain that practical experience and limited pedagogical study is at least as effective in preparing teachers.

Denis Doyle, a senior research fellow at the Hudson Institute, says the decision not to make state licensure and graduation from a teacherpreparation program prerequisites for national teacher certification was “a very exciting policy decision by the national board.’'

“Most good teachers,’' Doyle argues, “learn how to teach on the job, working at the elbow of an accomplished master teacher.’'

The 64-member national board, the majority of whose members are teachers, unanimously adopted the prerequisites; it explained that its “fundamental orientation’’ was toward performance--not credentials-- in setting eligibility for national certification.

The NEA’s decision to push for reconsideration of the issue sprang from the conviction that national certification should not be seen as an isolated recognition of advanced teaching skills that is unrelated to other professional standards.

Keith Geiger, the union’s president, says the action is “in no way an indication that the NEA is interested in breaking with the board.’'

“In the discussion we had at the NEA board level,’' he adds, “never once did anyone say that this is a litmus test for whether the NEA should continue with the board.’'

James Kelly, president of the national standards board, says the topic of prerequisites remains “a live issue.’' However, he adds, “There is very strong support on our board for the existing policy.’'

Last fall, the board showed its willingness to modify its initial policies by redefining the types of certificates it expects to issue. “We did so not because any group asked us to do it,’' Kelly says, “but because many members of the staff and board felt it could be improved with further work.’'

The NEA has reacted cautiously to the idea of national certification since the standards board’s creation in 1987. Last July, the union’s representative assembly approved a 19-point policy statement detailing the union’s position on national certification. The union said it intended the statements to serve as guidelines for its members on the national board.

According to the union, 20 of the standards board’s 64 members belong to the NEA. That number includes members who joined the union under a lifetime membership program and who no longer pay dues.

Nancy Jewell, vice president of the union’s Oklahoma affiliate and a member of the national board, says she would “not even make a guess’’ as to how effective NEA members’ efforts to persuade the board to change its position might be. “I am prepared to make the strongest case I can for recognition of the state certification and licensure process,’' she says.

Both Kelly and Gary Sykes, an assistant professor in the college of education at Michigan State University who is a consultant to the national board, say the issue of prerequisites for certification is a “minor’’ one, compared with the development of the complex assessments that the board will use to evaluate teachers.

In deciding who will be eligible for national certification, Sykes notes, the board faced the dilemma of alienating either “powerful forces’’ favoring alternate routes into teaching, or educators arguing in favor of “a complete set of professional standards similar to medicine and law.’'

The board’s eventual decision, Sykes says, was based in part on the fact that it faced a formidable fund-raising task: “The sentiments among corporate leaders and politicians in favor of relatively relaxed entry standards into teaching certainly influenced [the board’s vote].’'

Bella Rosenberg, assistant to the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker, says this month’s meeting will present “the first real test of the independence of the NEA members on the board.’'

In contrast with the NEA--which has provided training for its members who serve on the national board and which has now asked them to work to change its policy--the AFT has made it clear that its members on the board are serving independently, Rosenberg notes.

The AFT has maintained that the effort to create national teacher certification--and with it a true profession-- will be destroyed if the board is seen as being controlled by a teachers’ union, she says.

“The charge of union domination has been hurled before with absolutely no basis,’' she adds. “It would be horrible if suddenly there were a basis.’'

--Ann Bradley, Education Week

A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 1990 edition of Teacher as Wait A Minute...