The Kansas State Board of Education on Thursday will consider whether to allow some school districts to hire unlicensed people to fill teaching positions.
The Coalition of Innovative School Districts – a group created by Kansas lawmakers in 2013 to allow a small group of districts to work outside some of the state’s educational red tape – has proposed a “specialized teaching certificate” that would allow those districts to hire people without teaching licenses to lead classrooms. The certificate also would allow licensed teachers in those districts to teach outside their licensed subject areas.
“We think that local administrators and boards are best situated to determine the needs of their classrooms,” said Scott Rothschild, spokesman for the Kansas Association of School Boards, which supports the proposal.
“The whole innovative (districts) law was passed to kind of try these things. That’s the purpose of it,” he said. “So this would be a pilot. … They’re looking at very selective uses of this.”
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The state’s six innovative districts are Blue Valley, Concordia, Hugoton, Kansas City, Marysville and McPherson.
The state’s largest teachers union opposes the plan, calling it a “slippery slope” that may be convenient for districts but would be harmful to students.
“There’s a lot more to teaching than just knowing your content area,” said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association.
“Let’s take an engineer who decides ‘I want to teach math now, in high school.’ He’s clearly going to be a math content person, but is he able to convey that content in meaningful ways to students?”
Of particular concern, Desetti said, are at-risk students, such as those for whom English is not their primary language, ones with developmental delays or children who lack the motivation to learn.
“That’s what pedagogy is about. That’s why we do teacher training,” he said. “As a parent, do you want them experimenting on your kid?”
Rothschild said rural districts like Hugoton think relaxing certification requirements would help them better attract and retain teachers. Urban districts such as Kansas City, Kan., say more flexibility could lead to innovation and better teaching.
“The superintendents of these districts would surround these people with pedagogy and assistance to help them learn how to teach,” he said.
The proposed certificate requires that anyone hired without proper licensure would have to pass a background check and receive approval from the local board of education and the Coalition of Innovative School Districts. The certificate would have to be renewed each year.
Last year, as part of a sweeping school finance bill, Kansas loosened teaching requirements for some subject areas. New regulations allow school districts to hire people with expertise in science, technology, engineering and math fields – but no education degree – to teach those subjects in middle or high school.
Desetti, the union lobbyist, said he understands the challenges districts face in recruiting teachers and filling positions. “But there are solutions to that already in place, and we need to respect the (teaching) profession,” he said.
Alternative certification programs, such as the Transition to Teaching program in Wichita schools, allow people with degrees in certain content areas to teach for up to two years with a provisional license while they complete education coursework. In the meantime, they are paired with a peer mentor and get help from district mentors and university faculty.
“We have a shortage of physicians in western Kansas, but we don’t tell nurses and EMTs that they can practice medicine,” Desetti said. “We do tuition forgiveness programs, recruit people, we pay them more to bring them out there. … There are solutions already in place.
“We want people who are committed to kids and committed to staying with the district for the long-term benefit of our students.”