The state Department of Education has designed a proposed tiered, standards-based teacher-certification system that is responsible, reasonable and fair.
It's responsible because it proposes to issue a teacher certificate only to teachers who can demonstrate sufficient knowledge of their subject matter and who can teach that subject matter to children. It's responsible because it's based on professional teacher standards that the state Board of Education has adopted. It's responsible because it gives many teachers an avenue to meet the "highly qualified teacher" provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Our proposal is reasonable because it's practical for our geographically large and diverse state. It's impractical and prohibitively expensive to send master teachers into 500 schools statewide, many in remote locations, to assess the performance of new teachers. A videotaped performance viewed in a central location by trained experts is far less expensive and more reasonably managed.
It's fair because the state is not attempting to change our certification system overnight. The proposal requires only teachers new to Alaska or the classroom to demonstrate knowledge of their content and an ability to teach it to students. Because of feedback from many groups during the nine months this proposal has been on the drawing board, this proposal now grandfathers in the approximately 13,000 current Alaska regular teacher certificate holders.
The proposal creates three levels, or tiers, of certification. First-time applicants for an Alaska certificate would be placed in Tier One if they meet minimum qualifications - such as possess a college degree, pass a criminal background check and pay a fee. Teachers in Tier One - also called the Initial Certificate - would have up to three years to pass an exam in the subject matter they teach and to successfully demonstrate their teaching ability by videotape.
Those who pass the content exam and who demonstrate the ability to teach proficiently advance to Tier Two, also called the Professional Certificate. Here the teacher can stay for the remainder of their career, provided the teacher meets recertification requirements every five years, including earning six units of college credit.
Tier Three, or the Masters Certificate, is voluntarily available to teachers who wish to demonstrate additional proficiencies, such as earning the rigorous national teacher certification.
Our certification proposal - like our current certification system - does not infringe on the legal responsibility of local school districts to evaluate teachers at least annually and to assure that teachers perform up to expectations on a daily basis.
In summary, our tiered, standards-based certification is the right thing to do for children, their parents and Alaska.
I will present this proposal to the state Board of Education on March 10 and 11 when the state board may open a public comment period on it.
Many Alaskans from all walks of life, including hundreds of teachers, have already been involved in developing various aspects of school reform spearheaded by the state Board of Education - academic standards for students, standards for teachers, standards for administrators, standards for schools and more. Many also have been involved in developing the tiered standards-based certification proposal, which is the next logical step in our efforts in building a standards- and performance-based system of schools. Our students already have to meet academic standards and pass a high school exam. Our schools need to meet the standards of No Child Left Behind. Our teacher certification system also should be based on standards.
When and if the state Board of Education advances the proposal for public comment, I invite all educators, school board members, parents, teachers and others to be involved in offering comments on our proposal. But first, it's important to carefully review our proposal on its merits and on its intended results and not rush to judgment.
A large body of research tells us that the No. 1 factor in increasing student achievement is a quality teacher in the classroom. Our proposal is designed to make sure a quality teacher is in each and every Alaska classroom. That means a better education for our children and a brighter future for Alaska.
Roger Sampson is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.