Iowa Ponders Allowing Outside Experts to Teach

Published March 1, 2007

School reform advocates are increasingly calling for schools to allow people with stellar experience and knowledge in fields such as math and science to teach in public schools without education degrees.

It’s an idea that makes many in control of government schooling nervous, if not grouchy. Iowa’s Board of Educational Examiners (BOEE), the state’s teacher licensing authority, is no exception.

The minutes of an October 6, 2006 BOEE meeting note a “significant discussion” occurred when staff suggested creating a Distinguished Fellow License for nontraditional teachers in Iowa. The license would allow people with a bachelor’s degree plus outstanding credentials in the working world to teach in public schools for up to a year before taking teaching-methods courses.

According to the minutes, “Board members expressed interest, but also concern, and they urged caution. This may be a good question to explore with constituent groups and public stakeholders.”


In an October 30 Des Moines Register story, reporter Lynn Campbell discussed a 30-year engineer for a jet-engine maker who now teaches physics, chemistry, calculus, and pre-calculus at the private Iowa Christian Academy. “He was a good fit for a school that wanted to offer students upper-level courses in math and science,” she wrote.

Under current state regulations, however, the engineer couldn’t do that at a public school without taking 12 credit hours of college teacher preparation courses beforehand, having a district mentor, and taking another 12 credit hours of teacher-prep classes the following summer.

The BOEE members who saw some merit in a Distinguished Fellow avenue focused on helping public school districts fill a gap in the absence of a regularly licensed teacher.

BOEE Executive Director George Maurer told the Register, “This would allow a school district hard-pressed to find someone, to get someone into the class, especially in math and science. Part of me understands any reluctance to deal with this because it’s putting someone in the classroom that has no preparation whatsoever. But on the flip side, you have a district in stress.”

In an interview for this story, Maurer confirmed the Register quote “expressed his opinion,” but he said the board would have to meet with constituent groups before the concept could become a motion for BOEE action. He didn’t give a date as to when that might happen.


At the October meeting, a representative of the 32,000-member Iowa State Education Association, the state chapter of the National Education Association, adamantly opposed the Distinguished Fellow idea, saying it would lower teaching standards.

Since then, Judy Jeffrey–chairperson of the BOEE and director of the Iowa Department of Education–has come to believe the issue is moot. At press time it appeared unlikely the state would adopt Distinguished Fellow licensing.

“We already have a program for teacher interns [which] allows an individual with a B.A. in a secondary subject area such as mathematics to become a teacher,” Jeffrey explained. “Thus, my reservations as printed in the paper were not for the concept, but rather that there was already another avenue with an approved program available.

“There really was never a proposal before the Board–it was a discussion item brought forward from a request the director had received,” Jeffrey said. “The Board didn’t believe it held merit, especially since there was already an avenue available.”

Robert Holland ([email protected]) is a senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute.

For more information …

Iowa Board of Educational Examiners,

“Change in the Principal’s Office: The Role of Universities,” by Arthur Levine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 15, 2005,