Lowering the Bar for Teachers?
When one of your majors is History, a frequent assumption of the people you talk to is that you want to teach, as though being a professional historian is a fictitious career that no one actually does. Teaching was never really my plan, but I did think it would be fun to try my hand in the classroom for a year at my high school alma mater. I also fell in love with the idea of Teach For America in the 90s and was an evangelist for the program whenever the subject of education reform came up.
My issue with teaching programs is that there seems to be more emphasis on the skill of teaching than on actual knowledge of the subject being taught. I recall a lot of stories about someone majoring in something like Business, getting their Masters of Education, and then teaching Social Studies or high school History. It was a bit infuriating to me that even with a Masters in History I would not be qualified to teach the subject in many districts because I didn’t have a teaching certificate.
Today there are many alternative paths to teaching, but nearly all of them still require some type of certification. A recent change in Kentucky law aims to bring more people into the classroom by removing this requirement. From Insider Louisville:
Kentucky’s Education Professional Standards Board waived a requirement that teachers must obtain Rank II on Monday. Most teachers got to that rank by earning a master’s degree, and were required to do so in their first 10 years of teaching.
The obvious objections are fairly obvious here. A watering-down of professional standards. There are also concerned that this move is designed to help charter schools:
High school administrator and candidate for lieutenant governor Jacqueline Coleman tweeted that Kentucky is “moving in the wrong direction” with the decision.
“At a time when we should be supporting the professional learning of our teachers to improve teaching and learning, the focus is instead on making it easier for charters to find teachers,” Coleman tweeted.
I see both sides of this argument and, going back to the Teach for America model, maybe the solution should have been to create more provisional positions with a structured mentoring program that would grant course credits for time teaching under the guidance of a veteran educator. What I always found appealing with the Teach for America program was the idea of someone putting their career on hold for a couple of years to do some real good, bring new passion to the classroom and then take that experience back to their profession. One could easily imagine a day when there were thousands of TFA alumni around the country, helping their companies make good choices as they relate to society and charitable giving.
The more concerning complaints about the decision come from the actions of our current governor, Matt Bevin. He has shown himself to be openly hostile to most of the educational bodies in the state. He disbanded the Board of Directors for the University of Louisville and put his own choices in places (arguably necessary due to alleged corruption from the old board). A member of his administration is also indicating the need for a takeover of Louisville schools. Governor Bevin is a vocal proponent of charter schools and aggressive austerity programs for state employees.
The move could also depress teacher salaries, as fewer teachers with Rank II would mean fewer teachers earning Rank II pay raises, he said. When asked if lower teacher salaries could be used as a reason to reduce state funding, McKim said:
“That may well be part of the long-term strategy … cut state costs at the expense of the quality of education students receive. And if public education quality diminishes, that helps promote privatization through charter schools, vouchers, and tuition tax credits.
Like nearly every conversation related to education, this one is also complicated. If it brings some new teachers to the classroom, there is good to be had, but it’s also too hard to ignore the warning signs coming from the governor’s mansion.