Tuesday, June 10, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Code to teach by

It is easy to dismiss the adoption of an ethics code for teachers as a feel-good exercise for a profession that either does not need or merit it or else will be impervious to the state’s usual lax policing of business and professional conduct. But the state Board of Education’s approval of licensure and discipline procedures for teachers is an important step that everyone who wants better education should appreciate.

Teacher misconduct is not the most serious shortcoming in education or even the most serious problem in the teaching corps, but a set of ethical standards and a way to enforce them are omissions that most people probably imagine had been corrected long ago. At any rate, they are long overdue.

An act of the legislature last year reconstituted the state licensing board for teachers and administrators and directed it to formulate a code of ethics for educators, the first such standards for Arkansas.

The state has long prescribed standards for getting a teaching or administrator license — course requirements and the like — but never rules for professional conduct.

The rules specify the professional relationship teachers must maintain with students and their duty to make reports according to the law, keep student information confidential, be good stewards of school monies and maintain their pedagogical skills. Accusations will bring teachers and administrators before the state licensing board, which can mete out fines and suspend licenses.

Educators might always have been subject to punishment by superintendents and local school boards, but upon subjective standards that did not always reflect what was best for students. Politics and community relationships are more often the motive. That is still possible but now the profession also has a fairly objective and education-based standard of conduct and a professional board that is supposed to hold educators accountable.

Profession is the key word. Teachers will now join the ranks of the other more-honored, better-paid and more-appreciated professions, like doctors, lawyers, accountants and architects, who find themselves judged by their peers when they flout the rules by which good players live and work.

Educators, whose professional associations helped write the ethical code, supported the new regimen and it was achieved with a consensus that the state education director considered nothing short of miraculous because teacher discipline has always been an intensely fractious issue. This is a good omen for children, too.