Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the 1.8 million-member National Education Association, said this week she will urge her union to make a "major philosophical shift" and endorse the idea of a new national board to set standards for the teaching profession and certify elementary and high school instructors.
Futrell said she will call on NEA members to modify their opposition to a national standards board at the annual convention next week in Louisville. "I believe the delegates will support that position," Futrell said in an interview Monday with The Washington Post.
Creation of a new national board to set standards, define curricula and certify teachers was one of the recommendations in last month's landmark report by the influential Carnegie Commission, which announced plans to establish a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Futrell said she has accepted an invitation to be on the board.
In the interview, Futrell also said:A special committee is expected to recommend opening up the union's process of deciding which political candidates to endorse. The committee was formed at the request of delegates at last year's convention, who asked for a review of the process following the early endorsement of Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale in 1984. The committee is expected to recommend public hearings by every NEA local before any endorsement. Union delegates will again be asked to extend the term of NEA presidents. Futrell is limited to a four-year term, and has been seeking to extend it to six. The measure won 62 percent of the vote from convention delegates last year; a two-thirds majority was needed. The NEA board is expected to propose a new two-step policy for evaluating classroom teachers, including a "self-help" program for teachers to assist one another in honing their professional skills, and "summative evaluations" under which administrators decide reassignments and firings. The NEA often has complained that peer evaluations are employed to punish teachers unfairly. The new policy, the NEA's most comprehensive statement on what types of evaluations it would support, would make clear that peer review could never be used for reassignments and firings.
NEA endorsement of the national standards board would provide a significant boost to the Carnegie proposal, and could in the long run dramatically alter the composition of America's teaching force. Supporters of a national board -- patterned after those in the medical and legal professions -- hope that schools eventually would give preference to nationally certified teachers in hiring, promotions and salaries.
The NEA traditionally has held that states should be primarily responsible for certifying teachers. Futrell said that states still should be primarily responsible for licensing, but that a national board should be established in conjunction with state and regional boards.
The Carnegie proposal also would create a two-tiered credentials system -- a simple teaching certificate for beginners and an advanced certificate for those who take further education and training. Futrell said this would avoid the pitfalls of a merit pay plan -- which the NEA opposes -- as long as every qualified teacher was eligible to apply for the advanced national certification.
Futrell was a member of the initial Carnegie panel that issued the wide-ranging 140-page report, "A Nation Prepared," which laid out plans for the national standards board. But when the report was released May 16, Futrell expressed reservations, saying, "While I have no fixed position about the proposed national standards board, I do favor strengthening currently existing state standards boards . . . . " There are now about 15 such boards, most of them advisory.