Bill would let uncertified teachers into Utah schools

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    By SETH G. BLAYLOCK

    Eugene E. Clark spent 20 years traveling the world as a research and exploration physicist for Exxon. Now he is working another job at one-fourth the salary. But he loves it.

    In 1993, Clark retired and moved to Utah to share his experience and scientific knowledge with the students of Mountain View High School in Orem.

    Although Clark holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology from BYU, he was not certified to teach high school under Utah law. However, under the Alternative Preparation for Teachers program, Clark was able to get provisional certification until he finished the required college courses needed for a standard certificate.

    Clark, head of the science department at Mountain View, said the alternative certification program benefits students who can learn from professionals.

    “It’s the first time most students have a chance to learn science from a scientist … rather than talk about something, I can show them dozens of examples from around the world,” Clark said.

    Clark’s years of working experience give him and others an edge in the education game.

    “This kind of program allows a school to have professionals … that have worked with the subject they teach,” Clark said.

    Under that reasoning, Rep. Jeff Alexander, R-Provo, is sponsoring a bill in the state legislature that would allow entry for more working professionals to bring experience and knowledge into the state’s schools.

    A clause in House Bill 119 Substitute would give local school boards the power to waive certification requirements when hiring teachers.

    Waivers would be given only on a basis of “outstanding professional qualifications.” The unlicensed teachers would have to submit to a background check and would be considered temporary employees “with not expectation of continued employment.”

    The teachers could still certify through the alternative program, but only if they wish or the district requires it.

    “We want to give flexibility to the districts,” Alexander said.

    Alexander said the waivers would give students the chance to learn from professionals like Clark.

    But the Utah Education Association is skeptical about the results if the bill passes.

    “It really lowers the requirements to have people in the classroom, and that’s not quality teaching,” said Phyllis Sorensen, president of the UEA.

    Sorensen said even though professionals like Clark may have valuable experience from the real world, that experience does not always translate into teaching ability.

    “They don’t understand how children learn,” she said.

    Educators need to be trained in the methods and techniques of teaching, Sorensen said.

    She said current certification laws work well because they allow alternative routes to the becoming a teacher while ensuring quality. Removal of the license requirement does not make sense.

    “I really don’t understand — if you go get your dog groomed … that is done by a licensed individual. Why would it not be okay to license teachers?” she said.

    Sorensen said a new system without certification requirements could be taken advantage of. Schools could easily fill vacancies within schools with unqualified teachers.

    “To just fill slots … it’s ultimately harmful to the children,” she said.

    Marilyn Kofford, president of the school board for Alpine School District, does not think so.

    “We’re not going to hire John Doe off the street,” Kofford said. “If I’m going to make an exception, that person must bring something to the table.”

    Kofford said school boards are responsible and act in the best interests of the community and school children. She said the decision to hire Clark was a shining example of good judgment on part of the school board.

    However, Kofford also said the bill is not necessary. She said current system is working fine.

    Ronald Stanfield, coordinator for educator licensing at the Utah State Office of Education, said he is wary of the bill because “it makes it difficult to ensure that they are qualified.”

    He also said the bill is turnaround from last year’s passage of House Bill 109, which toughened the certification requirements after a state-wide push to increase the quality of teaching.

    The bill made additional training mandatory for all practicing teachers, and suggested the possibility of instituting higher training standards.

    “The system works well here … give us a chance to fully implement the new law,” Stanfield said.

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