>From the Chicago Tribune

State may ask for proof on teacher skills

By Stephanie Banchero
Tribune staff reporter

October 17, 2001

The Illinois State Board of Education will consider a proposal Wednesday
that would require novice teachers to actually prove they can teach before
being awarded full teaching credentials.

Under the plan, already drawing fire from the state's teachers unions, new
teachers would create portfolios, including lesson plans, student work and
videotaped classroom teaching. They would then analyze their classroom
performance and assess whether students learned anything.

A committee would decide whether the packet met specific standards. If it
did not, the committee could stop the teacher from exchanging the temporary
teaching license for the more permanent one.

The proposal is a dramatic departure from Illinois' current system of
awarding licenses, in which prospective teachers need only pass two
relatively simple paper-and-pencil tests. And it would come with a price tag
that would reach into the millions.

If the state board approves the plan, Illinois would become one of only six
states that bases teacher-licensing decisions on classroom performance.

"Getting a teaching license is a serious moment, and people should do
something to demonstrate they have earned it," said Carolyn Nordstrom, who
heads a Chicago business group, and also served on a statewide teacher
licensing task force.

But officials with the teachers unions object to such a high-stakes
assessment, in part, because it could mean the revocation of a teacher's
right to work in an Illinois classroom.

"The scary part of the whole thing is that we will have people's careers
hanging in the balance and this proposal is so light on specifics," said
Gail Purkey, spokeswoman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

The IFT and the Illinois Education Association, the state's largest teachers
union, will present their own plan, whereby novice teachers would have to
earn 60 credit hours by attending workshops, enrolling in college courses or
developing portfolios. Local committees dominated by union appointees would
decide whether teachers met the requirements to move to the more permanent

"There's more than one way to prove you can teach," said IEA President Anne
Davis. "The portfolio can play a part, but shouldn't be the only measure.
Acquiring additional knowledge through professional development is just as

Creating a new licensing system is part of the state's five-year effort to
ratchet up the demands on classroom teachers.

Until recently, Illinois had one of the most lax teacher certification
systems in the nation. Prospective teachers had to graduate from an
accredited teaching program and pass relatively simple basic skills and
subject matter tests to get a license. They could renew it simply by paying
an annual $4 fee.

In the last four years, however, state lawmakers and the state Board of
Education have cranked up the requirements.

Most significantly, lawmakers developed a two-tiered system, where young
teachers receive a non-renewable four-year license. But under the law, which
goes into effect in 2003, teachers must pass another hurdle to get the
standard five-year license.

The state board is supposed to decide what that hurdle should be. Board
members already gave temporary approval to the portfolio plan, but are now
revisiting the issue after union officials complained.
The portfolio system under consideration is modeled after a highly regarded
one in Connecticut.

Under the proposal, every first-year teacher would be assigned a mentor
teacher who would help with lesson plans and classroom management. Working
with the mentor, the beginning teacher would create and follow a career
development strategy.

By the end of the third year, the novice educator must develop the
portfolio, which would be submitted to a group of accomplished teachers who
would evaluate it and assign a pass or fail mark. Failing teachers would get
a second chance.

Tom Murphy, Connecticut State Department of Education spokesman, said the
program in his state has been a success.

"By setting this high standard, we were able to bring in the best people and
it, undeniably, has contributed to better student performance," Murphy said.
"We've found that when you set a high bar, teachers appreciate it and, if
you give them the support, will almost always exceed it.

Copyright  2001, Chicago Tribune 

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