Students in New York State aren't the only ones facing tougher standards. Teachers will be next in line, along with colleges that offer teacher certification, if a State Board of Regents committee has its way.
Under the plan, teachers would be recertified every five or six years, be required to pass tougher tests to gain their initial certification and need additional training to teach in the early elementary grades.
The roughly 120 colleges and universities in New York that train teachers would be subject to more rigorous accreditation procedures and would be required to work with teachers in the early stages of their careers.
"We're raising standards and expectations for students," said Robert Johnson, co-chairman of the Regents committee that will issue its report next month. "We have to do the same thing for teachers."
State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills said the recommendations now being finalized are based on the premise that teacher certification is much too easy.
"Almost none of it is right," he said. "All of it has got to change."
The Regents plan public hearings on the recommendations in November and December, and a vote is expected in February or March, Johnson said.
Some of the suggestions, developed after more than 50 public meetings, would require action by the State Legislature, while others could be enacted by the Regents.
In interviews with The Buffalo News, Johnson and Mills said the report will include recommendations that:
Teachers be subject to periodic recertification, which would require some form of further training and review. Veteran teachers, Johnson said, "are not necessarily staying current" with classroom techniques, rapid changes in subject matter, or with computer skills.
At the same time, he said, state officials are stressing to teachers unions that recertification is "not a back-door attack on tenure."
New classroom teachers complete one-year internships, working closely with college professors. About one-third of the state's new teachers fail to last three years, said Johnson, a former Newsday publisher who lives in Suffolk County.
"They frankly are overwhelmed," he
said, adding that they don't receive the guidance and support they need.
Additional courses be required for teachers seeking certification to teach prekindergarten through first-grade. Those teachers presently need the same elementary education certificate required of a fifth-grade teacher, Johnson said, noting that teaching the early grades calls for fundamentally different skills. The requirement would apply to new teachers and would not be retroactive.
Scholarships, loan forgiveness, bonuses or other incentives be provided for teachers to take and retain jobs in urban or rural districts that have trouble recruiting or in subject areas where there is a shortage of qualified teachers.
The report has not been finalized. Teachers unions, which in the past have opposed changes in tenure and certification laws, have not seen the recommendations.
Mills said the Regents have attempted to minimize objections by seeking extensive input from a wide range of groups and by conducting a thorough review.
"It's been slow and deliberate," he said. "Everyone can see it coming."
The report, which has been in the works for 18 months, also concludes that colleges and universities that offer teacher training are, in many cases, doing a subpar job.
Roughly 120 colleges and universities in New York train teachers. At some colleges, as many as 30 to 40 percent of the graduates fail to pass the three state exams needed to obtain provisional certification, Johnson said.
"We've tried to express to them our sincere belief that they need to do the job much better than they are today," he said.
The report, Johnson said, will recommend that state certification exams be made tougher and that accreditation standards for the colleges also be far more demanding.
To keep their accreditation, colleges would be expected to work closely with graduates as they begin their teaching careers, Johnson said.
Professors, for example, might be required to help teachers during the proposed internship period or to provide seminars at nearby schools.
"Once the students graduate, they (colleges) kind of dust them off their hands and go on with the next," Johnson said.
The plan is widely viewed as the next major step in the Regents' reform effort, following establishment of school report cards and tougher graduation requirements for high school students.
Robert Bennett, a Regent from Buffalo, praised the work of Johnson and Diane McGivern, the committee chairmen, and expressed general support for the recommendations.
He said a public hearing will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 15 on the University at Buffalo's North Campus in Amherst.