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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Unqualified, Uncertified Teachers: Where is the Outrage?

To make sure your summer does not go untested, here is a multiple choice question for you boys and girls:

When faced with unprecedented teacher shortages, state education policy makers should do which of the following?

               a.  Raise salaries
               b.  Improve teacher working conditions
               c.  Give teachers more say in what is taught and how it is taught
               d.  Stop trying to remove teacher job protections
               e.  Allow anyone with a Bachelor's degree to teach

The Utah legislature has chosen "e." That's right, when faced with teacher shortages the state of Utah has decided to join Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Alabama in declaring that preparation for a teaching career doesn't matter. Education reformers like to say they are following a "business model" in their reform plans. I would like to see the business model of any successful company that says, "Let's forget trying to make the job more attractive to top candidates, we can just hire someone who is unqualified for the job."

The move to get unqualified people into the classroom gives the lie to the real goal of education reformers. On the one hand we hear that "the teacher is the the most important single in-school factor in student achievement." This is generally followed with breathless treatises on how teachers suck and how we need to improve teacher performance in the classroom, get rid of bad teachers and measure that performance with standardized tests. On the other hand we hear, "Well everybody has been to school, so everybody should be able teach. Let's pass legislation that makes it easier to get warm bodies in the classroom."

All of this "who needs qualified teachers" baloney, of course, began with Teach for America, an organization that started out with a laudable goal of filling hard to fill teaching positions with temp teachers and morphed into the employment recruiting arm of the the charter school industry. Placing unqualified temp teachers in front of children, especially poor children, has been a practice of the reform movement from the beginning.

What I would like to know is this: Where is the outrage from education reformers when states continually lower the bar for what it takes to be a teacher? If good teachers are so important, why is there no hue and cry about this most obvious lowering of standards? If education of the poor is the "civil rights issue of our time", why are reformers comfortable with having poor kids exposed to unqualified temp workers? Why isn't Campbell Brown tweeting about states allowing people off the street to teach?

The answer is, I believe, that the reform movement doesn't want highly qualified, creative, autonomous professionals in the classroom. True professionalism is too messy for reformers. Autonomous, independent thinkers may rebel against employing draconian discipline policies, teaching to the test, and inhuman work hours. They may even, God forbid, want to start a union. What reformers want are compliant worker drones who take orders well, work like slaves and don't question or complain. How else to explain the lack of concern for the lowering of teacher qualification standards?

How can we possibly be surprised that we have a growing teacher shortage in this country? For the past 15 years the profession has been stripped of its autonomy, told it is failing the children, vilified in public, deprived of its health and pension benefits and subjected to wrong headed evaluation schemes. What young person would look at all this and say, "Gee, I want to sign up for this low paying profession!"

As Peter Greene, over at the Curmudgucation blog, has said, "If you are having trouble filling a teaching position, make a better offer." Right now teachers are getting a bad offer and young prospective teachers are noticing. Schools of Education around the country are suffering large dips in enrollment. How do reformers respond? They seek to lower standards and let anyone who can draw breath into the profession. Can they not see the irony in that?

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