Missouri Schools Get New Option for Finding Talented Teachers

Published June 1, 2008

Missouri schools have a new freedom in filling teaching posts under a law signed April 30 by Gov. Matt Blunt (R)–the first bill he signed during the spring legislative session.

The law brings to eight the number of states in which the nonprofit American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) is running its innovative four-year-old Passport to Teaching program, which recruits and certifies talented professionals as K-12 teachers. To date, 1,000 people in Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah have completed ABCTE certification, and another 2,250 are currently enrolled.

The Missouri legislation was sponsored by state Sen. Luanne Ridgeway (R-Smithville) and state Rep. Scott Muschaney (R-Frontenac) and had been long championed by state Sen. Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield). It overcame heavy opposition by the state affiliate of the National Education Association on its way to passage.

“We need to provide the opportunity for highly motivated people with education and experience in these areas to have the training to bring their expertise to the classroom,” Blunt said in an April 30 press statement. “Missouri’s current system of alternative certification of professionals who want to become teachers is too restrictive.”

Rigorous Standards, Efficient Process

The main goal of ABCTE certification is to provide an efficient route into the classroom for qualified career-changers. According to the group, ABCTE certification is designed to eliminate many of the bureaucratic barriers posed by teacher colleges of education, while raising the bar for quality when it comes to teacher knowledge.

ABCTE requires applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree in any subject area, pass a rigorous content-area exam, and pass an exam on pedagogy. Candidates for certification must also pass a background check.

The bill is designed to help address Missouri’s shortage of teachers in critical areas such as math and science. Such shortages are challenging not just in inner cities but also in rural areas, where finding a physics teacher, for example, can be a challenge.

The bill’s sponsors stressed the program is especially convenient during tough economic times–candidates do not have to quit their current jobs as they work toward teacher certification, allowing for a seamless transition of careers.

Diverse Workforce

The program is also expected to diversify the state’s teacher workforce, bringing talented professionals–such as physicists, chief financial officers, and novelists–into the classroom to impart their knowledge.

Under the current system, Muschaney said, those professionals couldn’t become teachers.

“If Harry S Truman were alive today, he wouldn’t be allowed to teach history to 12th-graders,” Muschaney told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for an April 17 story.

Rapid Growth

ABCTE has achieved significant gains since the group’s president, David W. Saba, and chairman, Anthony Colón, took the helm of the organization in 2006. Using innovative marketing strategies to recruit teachers, the group has proven itself to state lawmakers and school districts.

In 2007 ABCTE announced its Teach and Inspire program, designed to help stem the dwindling number of minorities entering the teaching field, and received a $6 million teacher incentive grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

“It is great to see that you can bring common-sense solutions to the states and, after a few years, people take action,” Saba said. “It takes some great legislators who are mainly concerned with great schools to get it done.”

Andrew Campanella ([email protected]) is director of communications and marketing at the Alliance for School Choice in Washington, DC.

For more information …

American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence: http://www.abcte.org