A license to teach

April 28, 1994

To hear the Maryland State Teachers Association describe it, a plan for updating the procedures for renewing teaching certificates puts every teacher in the state on lifetime probation. But examine the specific proposals, and it's hard to match that angry rhetoric with reality. Unless you believe in a lifetime license to teach, that veteran teachers never need further training in their fields and need not be expected to demonstrate competence in the classroom, these proposals are eminently reasonable. If teachers want respect, they must also accept accountability. That's exactly what the proposal would help provide.

Under the current system, veteran teachers -- those with masters degrees or the equivalent -- renew their certificates every 10 years simply by paying a fee of $10. Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick says that such a lax system is no longer good enough. We agree. The new plan would shorten renewal time for veteran teachers to five years, require that teachers receive satisfactory performance evaluations for three of the previous five years and mandate some evidence of interest in enhancing their knowledge and skills, through course work or other professional activities.

Teaching is a demanding profession. When teachers fail, students don't learn -- and the consequences are far-reaching. Who will employ these students in future years? How will they become productive citizens? These are questions taxpayers are asking with increasing urgency. Yet, oddly enough, the MSTA has launched an all-out campaign to thwart the plan, especially the requirement that teachers demonstrate competence three years out of five.

Think about it: Why should taxpayers support a teacher who fails to perform satisfactorily 40 percent of the time? What other employer would accept such lax standards? What parent would want a child taught by a teacher who couldn't demonstrate competence every year?

There are some problems to be worked out. School systems, which control their own evaluations and their frequency, will have to agree to some degree of consistency in the process. But those details are manageable.

Under the proposed plan, teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations would have ample opportunity to appeal the verdict. But the larger problem with evaluations is that they are too lax. Some superintendents are exasperated with unrealistically high evaluations, which do nothing to help teachers improve.

Teachers deserve society's respect and taxpayers' support. But they must also accept the accountability on which respect is built.

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