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Benjamin Wood's recent article (Oct. 13) on unqualified teachers at charter schools is just another example of the Utah State Office of Education's success in perpetrating the myth that qualified teachers come out of teacher education programs approved by the USOE.

Such programs charge students thousands of dollars for methodology courses usually taught by mediocre teachers and divert resources away from deeper learning in the chosen subject area. In my opinion, these programs are tantamount to learning how to be a good parent by sitting in courses about parenting — without ever holding a child.

Instead, future teachers should be required to earn strong degrees in their subject areas, to pass subject competency tests as they now do, and then to teach alongside master teachers, as identified by peers, for a two-year period. Teachers with sufficient knowledge and skill, as determined by master teachers, could "graduate" from these apprenticeships at the end of two years into their own classrooms. Teachers would earn a modest salary during these two years, subsidized by the hosting districts or from the state's resources for teacher development, with the expectation of a commitment of several years from the "new" teacher in return.

Charter schools in Utah can claim to have some of the best teachers in the state because they can replace bad teachers with good ones any time they wish. Unlike other public school teachers who are unionized, teachers in charters must sign yearly compensation agreements and are not guaranteed a position from year to year unless they perform to the standards established by the school.

In other words, charter schools hire and fire people like any other corporation in the real world, but altogether unlike other public schools in Utah where getting a bad teacher fired is nearly impossible, and even when accomplished, takes forever and risks litigation.

I have little to no confidence in the USOE's standards for the certifying and licensing of teachers. Prior to deciding to make a contribution to public education, I held a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees in my subjects and had taught at a well-regarded private school in Utah for 24 years. To become "highly qualified," I spent thousands of dollars and countless hours to obtain a Utah teaching license through Alternative Routes to Licensure.

The first required class was "Transition to Teaching," unavoidable even though I had always been a teacher. Other pedagogical classes of varying usefulness followed. While my license has allowed me to teach for the past six years in public education as a "highly qualified teacher," I learned how to teach successfully on the job many years ago.

The state lacks any review process for licensing teachers that takes into account prior experience in teaching, human resource development, coaching or similar teaching contexts outside of a public school. Similarly, the state has no review committee that can customize licensing in order to capture talented and innovative individuals outside of teaching from both the private and public sector.

By the state's standards, a federal judge is unqualified to teach civics, except under a Letter of Eminence that ensures that his/her lack of "qualifications" does not negatively impact students beyond 10 hours weekly or 2 hours daily. Of course, most of us would "risk" enrolling our own kids in the civics classroom of an "unqualified" federal judge. Ironically, many of those in higher education from whom teachers learn "how to teach" would be deemed "unqualified" in elementary and secondary classrooms because they do not themselves hold active Utah teaching licenses.

To those at the USOE concerned about teacher certification at charters, I say, "Who cares?" Your system hasn't yielded impressive results — beyond the enormous money made in fees to your institution and to higher education. If charters have more "unqualified teachers" than other public schools, that may not mean as much as you think it does. Maybe they are tapping into talented, energetic and innovative people who want to teach, but who do not wish to subsidize the certification racket set up by the state.

If some charters have retention problems, blame certainly rests in part on the state's significant underfunding of charters and their consequent inability to afford the state's benefits, and therefore, to compete with other public schools for the most "qualified" teachers. Regardless of this state-established disadvantage, the yearly evaluation of performance for continued employment may still enable charters to keep the actual quality of their teachers higher than that of other public schools. We can only hope.

Cynthia Phillips has been a secondary education teacher for 30 years and currently is executive director of Weilenmann School of Discovery, a charter school in Park City.