N.J., Texas Eye Teacher-Continuing-Ed. Plans

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New Jersey public school teachers have won major concessions in a plan that, for the first time, would require them to take continuing education courses or other steps to update their skills.

But a similar proposal released recently in Texas has become a lightning rod for criticism from teachers there who contend that the Lone Star State's plan is excessive and punitive.

New Jersey and Texas are among a handful of states in the country that do not currently require continuing education for licensed teachers.

"It's a pattern in other states over time" to adopt continuing education requirements, said Ted Andrews, the co-editor of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification's national manual on state certification. "States set up requirements that help teachers move to a new level of competence."

'Not About Punishment'

Last spring, New Jersey education Commissioner Leo Klagholz proposed linking continuing education and recertification. But teachers opposed the idea, and the plan was sent back to the drawing board.

The new plan, which the New Jersey Education Association helped draft, was unveiled by state and union officials last week. It would require 100 hours of continuing education every five years--10 more hours than in the first draft--beginning in September 1999.

The state school board must now approve the measure, which it will take up in November. "This plan will benefit children ... by giving teachers the knowledge and skills they'll need to help students achieve the high academic standards we have set," Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, said.

But the plan does not call for the automatic revocation of a teacher's license for failing to meet that requirement, as did Mr. Klagholz's first version. And, also unlike the first draft, the new plan does not require teachers to be reviewed by peer evaluators in order to be recertified.

"This proposal is not about punishment," said Peter Peretzman, the spokesman for the state education department. "Our goal is to ensure there are quality professional-development opportunities for teachers."

The state could still revoke a teacher's license for failing to meet the training standards. But built-in reviews by local schools should ensure that each teacher makes progress toward that goal, Mr. Peretzman added.

On the other hand, teachers will have greater responsibility for crafting new and improved training programs. For the first time, a state professional-standards board would advise the education commissioner on staff-development options and standards for in-service training. Ten of the panel's 19 members would be teachers.

"There's no doubt that this proposal puts the ball squarely in the teachers' end of the court," Michael Johnson, the president of the NJEA, said during the plan's unveiling. "I say without hesitation, your teachers are ready."

Texas Turmoil

More than halfway across the country in Texas, the year-old Texas State Board for Educator Certification has yet to reach consensus over proposed first-time recertification standards.

The 15-member board is considering a plan that would require teachers to complete 200 hours of continuing education every five years for recertification. Training could range from university courses to district in-service programs to independent study.

"This is at the discussion phase," said Mark Littleton, the executive director of the board. "But the intent is to ensure that teachers are up to date."

The board was set to begin a series of 20 public hearings on the proposal this week. While new requirements could be in place by next spring, the plan faces strong opposition from teachers.

"We feel that teachers who have lifetime certificates should not have to do this," said Jeri Stone, the executive director of the independent Texas Classroom Teachers Association. "The 200-hour request is wildly out of line with other states." She said that a 90-hour requirement, which is closer to what most states expect, would be a starting point for compromise.

Texas teachers are gun-shy about new state requirements, in part, because of lingering bitterness over a one-time competency test that they were given in 1985 in order to retain their licenses.

And Mr. Littleton said that even the new proposal, which was kept under wraps until its presentation last month, could have benefited from better presentation.

"Typically, when something comes out of the capital, [teachers] see it as a bureaucratic mess," he said.

"I don't know if we were totally surprised" by teachers' reactions, Mr. Littleton said. "But the board and staff didn't do a good job talking about this," he added.

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