Blunt signs teacher bill in Cape Girardeau

Friday, May 2, 2008

Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation Thursday that will make it easier and cheaper for people to become teachers.

The legislation will allow "experienced professionals" to be certified to teach after 60 practice hours in the classroom and the completion of preparing-to-teach workshops. The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, a Washington not-for-profit group, will administer the certification process.

Blunt also ceremonially signed the bill in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield, Mo., Thursday.

Teachers will be required to pass a multiple-choice test, complete 30 hours of professional development within four years, enroll in a two-year mentoring program and attain a "successful" performance-based teacher evaluation. Early childhood, elementary or special-education teachers are not eligible.

During a 15-minute news conference, Blunt said the bill is intended to address a "critical" teaching shortage. "We're clearly not gaining enough math or science teachers. The state gained only five physics teachers last year. For earth science, there were six," he said while at the Cape Girardeau administrative office.

Area superintendents agree there is a shortage, but some question the preparedness and quality of teachers who go through a nontraditional program.

"We understand we have work ahead of us as a school district to support the teachers that come with alternative certification, through training, mentoring and additional time," said Cape Girardeau School District interim superintendent Pat Fanger. "We're thrilled with the expertise the teachers may have in their subject area but are aware of some of the support they are going to need," she said.

When questioned whether 60 practice hours — about two weeks in the classroom — was enough time, Blunt said, "I think it is in combination with the other things such as mentoring." He also responded to criticism that knowledge in an area does not necessarily equate to teaching success, again pointing to the mentoring and professional development requirement.

Cape Girardeau School Board member Laura Sparkman said she won't consider a candidate with alternative certification differently than a traditional candidate when approving new teacher hires. "Look at private schools. They don't have to have a teaching certificate there. I wouldn't have a problem with it," she said.

A current route to alternative certification, which will still be offered, requires teachers complete college-level coursework. Kathy Swan, chairwoman of the Coordinating Board for Higher Education, said the new method will capitalize on the knowledge and experience of professionals looking for a way into the classroom.

Approval of Senate Bill 1066 makes Missouri the eighth state to offer certification through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.

335-6611, extension 123

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