June 1, 2004
Arizona’s top education official has jumped the first hurdle in pushing through a plan to allow college graduates in other fields to become teachers after about one month of intensive training.
"I think this is one of the most significant things I’ve ever done," said Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction.
But educators — even some of those who served on Horne’s task force to develop the plan — said they are not sold on the idea.
"We want to make sure this path does not become a dumping ground for second-class citizens," said Carlos Ovando, associate dean for teacher education at Arizona State University’s College of Education. "We don’t want it to become a back door for people who just want to do it more quickly."
Last week, the state Board of Education approved a motion to start the process that could eventually implement Horne’s plan. Afterward, the Arizona Department of Education issued a news release claiming Horne had won "preliminary approval for destruction of barriers to entry into the teaching profession."
But it will be some time before the board votes on the plan. State law requires the board to seek public input before voting, and the proposed change has to be approved by the state attorney general.
Horne acknowledged that the earliest his plan could take effect would be next summer.
His idea would allow people with a bachelor’s degree to take a test demonstrating their knowledge of the subject they wish to teach, and then apply to a school district for an intensive summer training program. Districts would work with universities, county school superintendents or the state Department of Education to provide the training.
Horne said applicants would probably have to leave their current jobs for a month of training. Currently, Arizona has similar alternative teacher certification programs — but the applicant has to leave the work force for about 10 months of full-time training.
Most people, Horne said, cannot afford to be unemployed for that long.
After their summer training, applicants under Horne’s plan would begin full-time, paid teaching jobs, with considerable mentoring from experienced teachers. They would also simultaneously take courses, and eventually, obtain full teaching certificates.
Mike Cowan, assistant superintendent of the Mesa Unified School District, said it’s doubtful that someone would be ready to teach after one month or one summer of training. He also questioned who would pay for the applicant’s mentors and supervisors, and whether parents would be satisfied with their child having an apprentice teacher.
"I would not want an apprentice doctor taking out my appendix," Cowan said. "This is not enough training. Education is not a just-addwater career."
Horne said Arizona has a shortage of bright, talented teaching applicants. He said research has shown there are, on average, four teachers available for each position.
"Quality requires quantity," he said.
John Wright, vice president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, served on Horne’s task force, which included representatives of school districts, universities and community colleges. He said the teachers association has not endorsed Horne’s plan.
"We’re open to a discussion," Wright said. "But the first question should be: What is the need for this and what is it meant to accomplish? The superintendent has not answered that to AEA’s satisfaction."