Teacher-Licensing Plan on Table In Wisconsin

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Wisconsin educators would be required to submit professional-development plans, work with mentors, and undergo reviews by their peers to obtain licenses to teach in the state under a controversial plan now under consideration in the legislature.

The plan, crafted over five years and unveiled last month by state schools Superintendent John T. Benson, would set up three levels of licensing, for beginning teachers, midcareer professionals, and veteran educators, and replace rules written in 1986. It also would order public and private colleges and universities to scrutinize the ability of their education students more closely. Currently, Wisconsin's higher education institutions are only required to submit outlines of their teacher-preparation programs to the state.

"These proposed rules are designed to advance the teaching profession through shared responsibilities of the [Wisconsin] Department of Public Instruction, our state's colleges and universities, and local school districts," Mr. Benson said in a written statement.

The rules will take effect in 2004 if lawmakers approve them, said Sen. Richard A. Grobschmidt, the Democrat who chairs the Senate education committee. Hearings are now being held and the Senate and Assembly education committees will likely reach their decisions this month, he said.

Critics of the plan say it would burden school districts financially and end collaboration between teachers because they would be worried about losing their jobs. But state education officials counter that the proposed system is designed to evaluate more accurately each teacher's performance.

The Plan

Under the current system, educators are allowed to renew their licenses by taking six college courses every five years, said Peter Burke, the director of the state's teacher education and licensing efforts.

The proposed plan would establish an "initial educator" license, a five-year, nonrenewable certification issued to beginning teachers who had passed their institutions' exams, Mr. Burke said.

Those new teachers would each have to submit a professional-development plan based on one or more of 10 teaching standards outlined by the state. The plan, in turn, would have to be assessed by a team made up of a teacher, administrators, and a representative from a college or a university any time between a teacher's third and fifth year in the classroom. Beginning teachers would have to show progress on fulfilling their plans within the first five years of teaching or they would not receive licenses.

Novice teachers would receive a continuing orientation and work with mentors throughout their first five years on the job, Mr. Burke said. A "professional educator" license would be available to teachers who wanted to renew their licenses; such licenses would be valid for five years. Those teachers, too, would be required to submit professional-development plans, which would have to be assessed by a panel that included at least three classroom educators.

Finally, teachers with more than five years' experience would have the option of earning 10-year, renewable "master educator" licenses. Such teachers would either receive certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards or qualify for the license by earning a master's degree.

Teachers' licenses would be based on the developmental levels of their students, Mr. Burke said. Educators would earn licenses to teach students who were in early childhood, middle childhood, early adolescence, or late adolescence. The current system issues licenses by grade level.

One of the highlights of the plan is the support it would give beginning teachers, said Katie Stout, the director of instruction and professional development for the 85,000-member Wisconsin Education Association Council. The WEAC, the state affiliate of the National Education Association, supports the proposal.

"Without mentoring, teaching can be a very isolated job," Ms. Stout said. "You need to have someone you can trust, someone who can help you with thoughtful suggestions."

Wisconsin officials aren't the only ones looking to change their licensure systems to include professional-development plans and peer review, said Michael B. Allen, a policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States in Denver. About 10 states have programs similar to Wisconsin's plan.

"It is almost always a better way to do things, based on competencies than on a required number of courses," Mr. Allen said.

Chilling Effect?

But many in Wisconsin still harbor worries.

Teachers would be so fearful of the peer- review process that it would have a chilling effect on teacher collaboration, said John A. Matthews, the executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., a 4,700-member local affiliate of the NEA. While the state union supports the plan, the Madison affiliate does not.

Moreover, districts would suffer financially if they were required to pay for mentors under state-imposed revenue caps, Mr. Matthews argued.

Lawmakers are also grappling with wording that would set up alternative teacher-training programs.

"Every ... district or the school boards' association, or Uncle Wally's Fishing Station and Teacher Certification Shop could go into training teachers for initial certification," Joan North, the dean of the college of professional studies at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, said during a hearing in the Senate last month. " 'Teachers R Us' outfits could put as little investment into their 'training' as they choose as long as they can tutor their clients to pass the state tests."

Vol. 19, Issue 14, Pages 18, 22

Published in Print: December 1, 1999, as Teacher-Licensing Plan on Table In Wisconsin
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