Column: Teachers

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Seventeen national education groups have formed a consortium to counter state attempts to "arbitrarily" limit the preparation of new teachers.

The aim of the new Educators' Coalition for Quality Teacher Education and Preparation is to "protect the right of every child to have access to the best prepared teachers," said David Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Consortium members met for the first time last month.

A Texas law enacted last year limited the amount of education coursework prospective teachers could take to a maximum of 18 hours. Other states have initiated similar, but less stringent, limits.

"You can't expect quality teaching without quality preparation," said Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, who served as co-chairman with Mr. Imig at the May meeting.

Her counterpart at the American Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker, said, "At a time when creative approaches to teaching and learning are key to school-restructuring efforts, it makes little sense to lessen the scope and depth of teacher education."

In addition to aacte, the nea, and the aft, coalition members include such groups as the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Association of State Boards of Education, and the National School Boards Association.

Members plan to work with state officials to shape policy, in part, by holding "awareness forums" on the issue.

Mr. Shanker, in a speech in Washington last month, warned that significant improvements in education will not occur unless new "incentives and disincentives" are introduced in the public schools. He promised to issue soon specific proposals for engineering such changes.

Educators have taken the "first awkward steps" toward genuine school reform, the aft leader said. But they must know they face certain "consequences" if they fail to make needed changes.

"Most people do not move just because it's the right thing to do," he told a conference on participatory leadership.

Mr. Shanker also argued that school systems and teachers' unions must consider "radical propositions," such as a "total lifting of rules on both sides," to encourage reform.

Every waiver, approval procedure, or application that a school must go through in order to change "is a price," he said, that could prevent reform from occurring.

The union leader also criticized recent reform efforts for focusing too much on "process" and not enough on substance. What educators need more than anything else, he suggested, are models of how schools could operate differently "to stimulate the flow of ideas."

In particular, he advocated that teachers look beyond the schools to such groups as the Boy Scouts for different ways of working with children.

The May 11-12 meeting was sponsored by the union's Center for Restructuring, in cooperation with the Labor Department, the American Association of School Administrators, and the National Alliance of Business.

It was attended by representatives from more than 70 school districts.

After several transfers, a lengthy suspension, a six-week hearing, and 6,000 pages of testimony, James E. Johnson, a junior-high-school mathematics teacher, was fired last month by the Duluth, Minn., school board.

His case had become a cause celebre for the state teachers' union and a barometer for some of the changing climate of grading standards.

Mr. Johnson, 58, maintains that he was dismissed because he gave more D's and F's than other teachers in the school system.

"We're in a 'p.r.' age, an age of inflated grades," said the teacher, whose most recent post was at Woodland Junior High School. "Sixty percent of college entrance students have to take remedial math."

Mr. Johnson was charged with inefficiency in teaching, insubordination, and conduct unbecoming a teacher. A hearing officer hired by the school board upheld the first two charges and recommended he be dismissed.

"There's no question that the finding of the poor grades was used against him to prove that he was inefficient," said Roger Peterson, Mr. Johnson's lawyer.

Superintendent Elliott Moeser declined to comment.

At issue in the long-running case, which began 10 years ago with unfavorable evaluations of Mr. Johnson, was the number of complaints by parents and students. His qualifications to teach mathematics were not questioned.

Mr. Johnson's teaching techniques, including requiring students to copy problems from the blackboard into notebooks, "engendered confusion, frustration, and anger in many of his students," wrote Gordon McRae, the hearing officer. "His lack of rapport with parents caused them to insist upon their children being transferred from Johnson's classes."

In September 1987, Mr. Johnson was told by the school administration that his students' grades must not deviate by more than 2 percentage points from grades given by another mathematics teacher--an order he said was "illegal, immoral, and unethical."

He was suspended three months later.

The Minnesota Federation of Teachers, which paid for Mr. Johnson's defense, viewed the case as "an issue of teacher rights," an official said.--lo & ab

Vol. 08, Issue 38

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