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Open Classroom Doors to Better Teachers

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dear Extra Credit:

I share your concern about the irrational rules that govern teacher accreditation ["Certification of Teachers as Painful Farce," Sept. 7]. I have a bachelor's and a master's degree in computer science and have taught professional development courses to help prep Advanced Placement Computer Science teachers for Montgomery County. So I'm considered qualified to teach teachers but not their students.

What of the resistance from education administrators and unions to alternative certification? Our group, FrederickEducationReform.com, has been pushing for Frederick County and Maryland to adopt the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence process. The nonprofit American Board offers a mostly online approach to preparing for teaching, less expensive and more flexible for people raising families and working other jobs. It is recognized in nine states, the closest one to Washington being Pennsylvania.

Although U.S. teachers are drawn from the bottom third of college graduates, administrators at the local level have shown little interest in allowing highly educated people to be able to be considered for teaching positions unless they have formal coursework. But research has shown that classroom approach to matter very little, if at all. Teacher certification tends to do the opposite of what it should: It erects a low, unnecessary barrier that keeps too many highly qualified people out.

Tom Neumark

Frederick

I just learned that the American Board president, Dave Saba, once worked for The Washington Post's corporate partner, Kaplan. I don't know Saba and don't think his connection has anything to do with my views on this subject, but I thought it worth noting.

Maryland State Department of Education spokesman William Reinhard told me the state "worked several years with the American Board" but could not cut a deal. One of the problems, Reinhard said, was that the American Board wanted a shorter internship than the four to six weeks that the state considers "a vital check on a potential teacher's effectiveness."

Frederick County schools spokeswoman Marita Loose said her district offers several paths to people wanting to move to teaching from other careers. Neumark, reachable at tneumark2000@yahoo.com, sent a response too lengthy to summarize adequately, but his most effective argument, it seemed to me, was that nine states are willing to sanction the American Board process and that there is little data about how much difference an internship makes.

The American Board's challenge to conventional creditation systems will continue to be an important story. I pray for more data to assess the arguments for and against its online approach.

Dear Extra Credit:

Your Sept. 9 column ["With IB Rules, the Fast Track Can End Quickly"] does not compute. My son took advanced math at George Mason University in the late '70s, when his high school had no appropriate math courses that he had not finished.

Warren Repole, the parent who wrote you, indicates that the useless International Baccalaureate program has caused yet more problems for students. IB impedes the ability to take the courses that a student needs (such as advanced math at a university) and is also a worthless distraction from Advanced Placement and interferes with our own Fairfax County school system's curriculum.

IB has zero value. We should eliminate it so we can concentrate on what works. It is a needless waste of tax money to duplicate what AP does better. IB rules should never be allowed to interfere with a student's curriculum, which should be based on the student's needs, not some bureaucratic, politically correct criteria.

I am not sure why you and others like IB so much. There is no defensible case for IB in our schools. If Repole and others would simply forget the IB nonsense, they could get the courses that are appropriate with no hassles.

William Adams

Springfield

It sounds as though you have not had an opportunity to discuss IB with the many Fairfax County teachers and students who think it is the best thing about their high schools. About two dozen schools in the area use IB, including eight in the county: Annandale, Edison, Lee, Marshall, Mount Vernon, Robinson, South Lakes and Stuart. Visit one near you, or check my book about IB, "Supertest," out of the library.

You will discover that college admissions officers almost unanimously celebrate IB as as good, if not better, preparation for college than AP. It is the only major high school program in the country that requires a lengthy research project, filling a deep hole in our standard curriculums. Educators applaud the depth of the IB exams, which have no multiple-choice questions.

IB's emphasis on writing and analysis is in tune with what colleges want, so much so that AP is adjusting its science courses to make them more like IB. A University of Florida study found that students who qualified for upper-level chemistry because of their IB credits did significantly better than other students in the course, and other studies have similar results.

Warren Repole raised a good issue about one IB policy getting in the way of a handful of students on an accelerated math track, but county officials solved that problem, and IB officials tell me they are rethinking their policy. If you still want to dump IB after talking to people who are a part of it, write me again. Very few people who have analyzed this program agree with you.

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number, to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 526 King St., Suite 515, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Or e-mail extracredit@washpost.com.

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