It’s time for an end to the outdated stereotype that teachers unions are not involved in education reform. The reality is that CEA, Connecticut’s largest teachers’ union, is a constructive and collaborative player in improvement—speaking up for everything from expanded early childhood education to strengthened teacher professional development to closing the achievement gap. 

Unfortunately, teachers and their unions are underrated by too many. It’s why teaching practitioners are seldom included—in more than a token way—in determining what incoming teachers need to do in order to enter and remain a licensed member of the profession.

For licensing regulations, why does the teaching profession have to depend on outside authorities even though they – in many cases – have years of practice in the classroom? Why do teachers have to feel that they are not trusted and need several layers of overseers to keep them in line? Why do teachers have to confront entrenched bureaucracies every time they want to improve teaching and learning?

We are heartened that the Legislative Program Review & Investigations (PRI) Committee is examining what other states have done to give teachers a greater voice in setting requirements for the training and licensing of their peers. Should teachers continue to be simply bystanders to their licensing process? A significant number of other states have responded with a resounding “no.”

It is in the public interest for a legislative committee to be ferreting out the facts about what other states are doing. This is a responsible first step that may provide an opportunity to rethink teaching standards using the best ideas from successful state systems elsewhere. Connecticut legislators are preparing to confront a legitimate issue:  Should teachers’ expert judgment on matters concerning the improvement of their profession continue to go untapped?

While the PRI committee continues to gather the facts, there are things we can be certain of such as the certainty that a Professional Standards Board for Teaching would in no way erode local control of education. And a new board would not interfere with the right of any board of education to hire, supervise, or dismiss any licensed teacher.

As CEA’s executive director, I can also say that the only true path to sustained educational reform and improvement is collaboration with those who are closest to the classroom – our educators. Yes, we are a union that fights for fair wages and a standard of living worthy of a great nation. But we are professionals first who have chosen this path to make a positive difference in every child’s life.

Mary Loftus Levine is executive director of the CEA, the state’s largest teachers’ union.