THROUGHOUT THE country there's a rising anxiety over the quality of young teachers and their training. In Virginia, the legislature is now in the process of making an important and healthy change in the basic rules under which people are certified to teach. Notoriously, part of the trouble lies in the courses in education--frequently inane, frequently irrelevant--taught by the states' colleges and universities.
Under present law, in Virginia as in most states, the colleges' departments of education have a monopoly. It doesn't matter how slack the education courses may be, because you've got to take them if you want a teaching job. But conversely, if you pass a sufficient number of them you will be automatically certified as a teacher. A dismaying number of people have been getting certificates without ever getting a good grip on English spelling and grammar. Each college's education faculty is the sole judge of its own product, and some of the judging is demonstrably lax.
On Thursday the House of Delegates passed, by a whopping 79 votes to 14, a bill by Del. George W. Grayson that would make an interesting change. It would break the monopoly. Mr. Grayson, a professor of government at William and Mary College, has been working for some years to strengthen and elevate the whole process of selecting and preparing teachers. Several years ago he wrote the law that now requires all teachers coming into the system to take an examination of professional competence. The bill that has just passed the House would give only a provisional certificate to those beginning to teach in Virginia. They would get regular certificates only on evaluation of their performance after two years.
Evaluation of performance is an idea that many teachers fear, arguing that it can be corrupted into favoritism and patronage if it isn't done honestly. But why shouldn't it be done honestly? Other trades and professions, from medicine to barbering, regulate their licenses that way.
That overwhelming vote for the Grayson bill can be correctly taken as a vote of no-confidence in the state colleges' present process of teacher education. Monopolies usually go slack and inefficient. Ending the colleges' monopoly will probably be good for them. It will certainly be good for young teachers.
Considering the low salaries and the character of the present training, many parents in Northern Virginia will point out that the truly astonishing thing is that so many of their children's teachers are highly skilled and gifted people. But not many school systems in Virginia are as good as those in this area, and even here every parent knows about a few teachers who do not meet any reasonable standard.
Gov. Charles Robb is now pursuing his promise to raise the salaries of Virginia's teachers. In return, Virginia can ask for a higher threshold to the profession of teaching. That is the goal toward which, in the Grayson reforms, the legislature is now carefully moving.