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Clinton Proposes High Standards For Teachers As Well As Students

President Clinton will call for stronger efforts by local schools to weed out incompetent teachers, in a speech today to the North Carolina Legislature in Raleigh.

White House officials said Clinton will point to local programs like ones in New York City and Cincinnati - both run in cooperation with the local teachers union - as models for every locality in the country to emulate in holding teachers to standards of competence.

In addition, the president will announce that Defense Department-run schools serving some 115,000 children will participate in his drive to give national-standards tests for reading to every fourth-grader and for math to every eighth-grader.

Raising U.S. education standards by encouraging voluntary adoption of such tests is a driving theme of Clinton’s second term as president. His Raleigh speech will be his third address on this subject before state legislatures in the past five weeks.

North Carolina Gov. James Hunt is expected to announce that his state, too, embraces Clinton’s call and will administer the tests to fourth- and eighth-graders. Hunt is widely hailed as one of the foremost advocates for education reform among modern U.S. governors.

The president plans to put new emphasis today on holding teachers to performance standards as well, Mike Cohen, a domestic-policy adviser to the president, told KnightRidder.

In that vein, Clinton first will commend Gov. Hunt for proposing a 12 percent salary bonus for teachers who win certification for excellence from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a private organization that recognizes “master teachers.”

At the same time, Cohen said, Clinton will issue a message that “we have to get serious about removing weak teachers from the classroom.”

The president made that general point in his State of the Union address on Feb. 4. While Clinton does not plan any federal involvement in this effort, his Raleigh speech is expected to spotlight programs in New York City and Cincinnati to illustrate what he means. Both programs are run in conjunction with local units of the American Federation of Teachers, a national union.

The National Education Association, a rival teachers’ union, operates a similar program in Columbus, Ohio, that Clinton also may cite as a model.

In New York City, when a tenured teacher is identified as floundering or at risk of disciplinary action, “master teachers” are assigned to work with the troubled instructor in the classroom for up to a year. School principals determine whether the problems have been corrected, in consultation with the union.

“Usually they get them back on their feet,” said Sandra Feldman, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the AFT unit in New York, which negotiated this “peer-intervenor” program with local school authorities.

The program is about five years old, works with about 75 teachers a year, and has helped ease out about 20 percent of instructors deemed to be problems. “We tell them quite frankly, ‘it’s time to leave teaching,”’ Feldman said of the ones who fail to improve. The program then helps them find other jobs. If troubled teachers fail to leave voluntarily, school administrators step in.

Independent experts vouch for the programs.

“I’m not aware of deep research into them, but anecdotally speaking, yes, they are effective programs,” said Kathy Christie, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States, a non-profit, nonpartisan research institute in Denver. “The only problem is they are expensive because you’ve got to free up that other (master) teacher.”

“The criticism I’ve heard is resistance from teachers who may not want to be held accountable for evaluating their peers,” Christie added. “It’s a hard spot to be in when you’re teaching in the same building with someone. So usually they’ll bring in someone from another school.”