Worried About Turf, Chiefs' Group Faults 2 Teaching Report Proposals

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Education organizations are still digesting last fall's weighty report from the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future. Now, six months after the release of "What Matters Most: Teaching For America's Future," one leading group of policymakers finds parts of its recipe for high-quality teaching unpalatable.

The board of directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers, while supporting most of the commission's general recommendations, disagrees with two points that have long exposed fault lines in the teaching profession. They also encroach on state education departments' territory.

First, the CCSSO board does not support the commission's contention that every teacher education program or institution should be accredited by the National Commission for Accreditation of Teacher Education. A March statement by the board of directors says the chiefs' group supports the NCATE standards, but believes that "these need not be enforced by one accrediting agency. State agencies can also apply such standards."

The commission's report argues that instead of approving teacher education programs--an activity it calls "redundant" because of national accreditation--states should focus their resources on administering high-quality licensing tests that measure candidates' ability to teach.

Second, the chiefs disagree that states should establish independent "standards boards" to make decisions about teacher education, licensing, and professional development. Instead, the CCSSO statement argues that state education agencies should be responsible for both student and teacher standards and for ensuring that they are compatible.

While the leader of the nation's largest teachers' union talks of redefining its role in education reform, education watchers question whether anything will change on the local front.

Supporters and skeptics debated the future of teachers' unions this month as part of the Education Writers Association national conference in Washington.

Bob Chase, the president of the National Education Association, said during the debate that he wants the organization to become more involved in helping states improve student achievement and teacher training.

Mr. Chase noted that his members are "committed to building a new union, but sailing on uncharted waters" and bound to make a few mistakes.

But Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which underwrites K-12 education projects, compared today's teachers' unions to the automobile industry of the 1970s: big, bureaucratized, and heavily unionized.

And for all the NEA headquarters' talk about change, he said, the group's local affiliates have not gotten the message.

But Mr. Chase gave one signal that the union may be serious. He announced that the NEA board had voted to encourage its affiliates to consider peer monitoring and review by teachers. The union's representative assembly will vote on the measure at its annual convention in July.

Mr. Finn said that unions eventually will have to accept proposed reforms, such as charter schools. And if they do not, "we will have education reform anyway, and it will be a lot bloodier."

When it came to mathematics, reading, and science, Kika Wilson was happy with the education three of her children were getting at Woodlake Elementary School in California's San Fernando Valley. But she felt that they were missing out in art class. Although the 600 students at the school were learning arts and crafts, there was little formal instruction in fine arts.

Ms. Wilson, who was a folklore teacher in her native Mexico, decided to do something about it. This year, she organized more than two dozen parents, gathered books and materials on the master painters and art history, sought donated art supplies, and got permission to teach art to each class for at least one hour a week.

"Reading and math and spelling aren't the only things they need to learn," said Ms. Wilson, the mother of five.

Ms. Wilson and Michele Young, a parent who has helped organize and teach the volunteers, provide workshops to help parents create new lesson plans.

While most of the parents teach one or two classes a week, Ms. Wilson teaches five or more. "I just strap my 8-month-old baby on my back and go teach class."

California educators have released a comprehensive strategic plan to recruit critically needed new teachers.

The plan, drafted by a statewide task force of educators, aims to address the vast teacher demand created by increases in student population and the state's class-size-reduction mandate. ("Class-Size Cuts in Calif. Bring Growing Pains," April 30, 1997.)

Created in conjunction with the Belmont, Mass.-based nonprofit group Recruiting New Teachers Inc., the plan calls for expanding the pool of prospective teachers with outreach and assistance activities, an expansion of alternative training efforts, and an easing of transfer restrictions for teachers trained in other states.

One recommendation is the creation of a "one-stop shopping" source where potential teachers would be able to obtain information and counseling about teacher requirements, preparation programs, and job opportunities.


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