The first major proposal to change teacher certification requirements in the 12 years since current standards were implemented may not improve the quality of teaching in Virginia if teachers' salaries are not upgraded also, education officials said last week.
"It's a gusty move to make . . . and one that proposes changes in every area and every component of the teacher-certification process. However, what we're saying to the public is that we can ensure that people in the classroom are qualified and competent in fundamental skills, but that you (the public) need to know that there are consequences of ensuring those qualifications and that includes paying for them," said William Bosher, director of personnel development for the Virginia Education Department.
"Currently, there are no incentives in higher education to bring about quality education. When you demand more quality and rigor, but don't offer more money, then the gate shuts down."
The proposed revisions follow closely on the heels of an interim report issued last week showing that Virginia college students who become public school teachers score markedly lower on college entrance exams than do students who enter other fields. The report from the state Council of Higher Education noted that in a study of 15 public colleges in Virginia, graduates of teacher-certification programs scored 121 points lower on the standardized Scholastic Aptitude Test than did graduates in other areas. The combined SAT score for teachers was 892, compared to 1,013 for other graduates.
Although not specifically tied to the council's report, education officials said the proposed revisions should theoretically make teachers better prepared in concentrated areas. In nearly every field, the number of hours required in college-level courses would be increased. In some areas of math and science, the number of hours would be almost doubled. Local education officials complain, however, that the higher standards, while technically admirable, could reduce an already limited pool of qualified applicants.
In Fairfax County, for example, four teachers applied this year for an earth science position, but under current certification standards they did not qualify, a jammed gathering of more than 100 educators at George Mason University was told last week.Instead, the science class was staffed by substitute teachers for nine weeks. Teachers currently seeking a speciality in earth sciences must complete 24 semester hours of science study. Under the proposed revisions, that would be increased to 42 hours.
"Certainly, under the new requirements, science teachers, who are presently difficult to find, would become impossible to locate," warned Warrent Eisenhower, assistant superintendent in Fairfax County.
Other local teacher representatives were even more acerbic in their criticism of a public and a state legislature that they feel keeps demanding more but offering less.
State officials estimate that the average annual teacher salary in Virginia is $13,000 and about $20,000 in Northern Virginia. Educators, however, say that figure is paltry when compared with incomes for professions that do not require advanced degrees. For example, they say, the average salary nationally for truck drivers is more than $16,000; for postal workers, more than $17,000; for coal miners, more than $18,000.
In addition to the increased number of hours for certification, state Superintendent S. John Davis last week suggested to a consortium of eductors that teachers be required to undergo a licensing examination.
Presently, the only additional testing a new teacher in Virginia must undergo is the National Teachers Examination. The test, which analyzes the teacher's fundamental skills, however, is used merely as an additional diagnostic tool in hiring.
State education officials said they hoped to present the proposed changes to the state board of education by May.