This ethics code was developed by teachers for teachers and other educators. It has been used by school systems as part of their teacher training since 2005, when the State Board of Education unanimously approved it as a resolution. After being in effect for four years as policy without a single complaint or problem, the board voted last month 8-0 to make the ethics code a part of the Administrative Law Code.
That brought in the Legislative Council, a group of overwhelmingly Democratic legislators who have the authority to approve or reject administrative laws passed by boards such as the State Board of Education. These legislators — on an unrecorded voice vote — voted to block the code of ethics just a week before it would have become law.
Throughout the meeting, these legislators claimed to be supporters of strong ethical standards. They repeatedly asked the media covering the meeting not to report that they were against this code of ethics for educators. And then, they voted against it.
Influenced by the Alabama Education Association, these legislators said their vote against the ethics code was based on the supposed "vagueness" of it. However, the code repeatedly specifies examples of both ethical and unethical behavior under each of its nine standards. It provides educators with an understandable and clearly defined guide of professional behavior.
Some of these "controversial" standards in the ethics code that the AEA and legislators claim are vague include those that say teachers should not falsify records or reports, should maintain a professional relationship with students, should not use profanity, should handle school money honestly and responsibly, and should not use alcohol or tobacco at school or school-related functions.
Doesn't sound vague to me. It sounds like common sense.
If these legislators and the AEA are truly against "vagueness" in our laws, then how do they explain their support for the Teacher Tenure Act, which allows teachers to be fired for reasons like "immorality," "incompetency" or "other good and just causes"? None of those firing offenses are clearly defined, as state Superintendent of Education Joseph Morton pointed out in defending the ethics code at the meeting.
As I reminded the Legislative Council, the Educator Code of Ethics was proposed by teachers. Teachers recognize the necessity of embodying high moral standards as they help our children succeed. The Educator Code of Ethics provides clear guidance for their peers and assures the public that ethical behavior is at the core of what they do. Teachers want their profession to be honored and recognized for setting and meeting high ethical standards. I applaud them for this, as should all of us.
No doubt, the AEA will continue to hype the "controversy" over the ethics code under the guise of protecting teachers, but I believe most teachers and the public will see through that and realize the AEA is just using it as another tool to raise money for the union. Protecting teachers from teacher recommendations? Now that takes a lot of gall.
Alabama has made incredible progress in education over the last several years, and our teachers are to be commended. With training from the Alabama Reading Initiative and Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, teachers have helped their students increase their achievement by huge margins. Because of their hard work, Alabama leads the nation in reading improvement and doubled the gains in math made by the rest of the nation.
Our teachers are responding to new trends to deliver advanced-level courses through technology with our ACCESS Distance Learning Initiative, where their success was recently profiled in The Economist magazine and on the Fox News Channel. Our teachers are also answering the call to raise rigor in the classroom by teaching more Advanced Placement courses. The result is the number of Alabama students taking AP exams increased by 24 percent in one year, a whopping three times the national increase.
Alabama's teachers are not shying away from these challenges. They are working to be the best, to raise the bar in all areas, including ethical conduct. That's why good teachers don't oppose the Educator Code of Ethics. They've embraced it for the past four years.
When teachers are asking us to raise the bar for their profession, we should listen to them. It's a shame the Legislative Council did not.
Bob Riley is governor of Alabama.