LEWISTON -- Educators are questioning how an online certification program approved by the Idaho Board of Education can adequately prepare teachers to handle the demands of a classroom.
The State Board of Education, with only state Superintendent Marilyn Howard dissenting, approved the Passport to Teaching certification process in November, which bypasses requirements of state education colleges.
The test is sponsored by the nonprofit American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, based in Washington, D.C. The computer-based course, which includes essay requirements, incorporates video and audio interactive scenarios designed to test candidates' skills and knowledge.
For a $500 fee and one year of study, the board claims its course prepares candidates to meet state teaching guidelines just as well as college-trained teachers who spend an average of five years of study and classroom training with mentors.
"I can't believe that this is even being entertained," said Cindy Bechinski, curriculum director for the Moscow School District, who was on the state committee that developed assessment and accountability standards for students. "All the preparation that teachers have to undergo is so intensive, you could not possibly get the same depth of understanding from sitting in front of a computer."
Idaho is the second state in the country to approve the online certification program. Pennsylvania accepted the program -- but Brian Christopher, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said his state has since backed away from it. "The idea is that we don't want them to depend simply on certification alone," Christopher said. "We believe in a strong internship program as well, and to be in a supervised environment. You really need hands-on training before you take control of a classroom."
There are eight candidates for the program in Idaho. But, so far, no candidate in Idaho or Pennsylvania has been certified.
Members of the state Board of Education say the move does not threaten traditional certification. They say it's an alternative to allow small, rural school districts to fill vacancies. Greg Bailey, curriculum director for Grangeville-based District 241, said rural districts have the option of hiring consulting specialists -- people who have the knowledge base to teach a course but lack teacher certification.