Several members of the Kansas Board of Education expressed reservations Thursday about a proposal that would allow the state’s six innovative school districts to hire unlicensed teachers.
Cynthia Lane, superintendent of the Kansas City, Kan., district, tried to allay board members’ concerns, assuring them that the intent of the proposal was not to allow the hiring of less qualified teachers.
Lane said the proposal would allow the districts to hire individuals who have professional degrees and experience but don’t have teaching credentials. She gave the example of a college chemistry professor who has approached the Kansas City district about teaching there.
“We’d love to be able to hire that person,” Lane said.
Marysville Superintendent Bill Mullins said he has a position teaching Spanish in his district that he has been unable to fill, but there are native Spanish speakers who are interested in the job that he can’t hire under the current system.
In addition to Kansas City and Marysville, the state’s innovative districts include McPherson, Concordia, Blue Valley and Hugoton. The innovative districts were created out of legislation passed in 2013, which gave a small group of districts greater flexibility to work outside the state’s regulations to experiment with new policies while still answering to the Board of Education.
Some board members remain wary about the program in general.
Sally Cauble, who represents most of western Kansas, remarked during Thursday’s meeting that she doesn’t “want to fight with across the street (the Legislature), but I want them to let us do our job.”
Lane and Randy Watson, the McPherson superintendent and incoming education commissioner, argued the board should look at the innovative schools as a think tank and stressed that the proposal should be viewed as a pilot program.
“We want to be your pilot, not the Legislature’s pilot,” Lane said.
Several board members raised concerns about allowing the proposal to extend to elementary education.
Kathy Busch, who represents Wichita, remarked that “teaching is rocket science” in her view, and Jim Porter, who represents southeastern Kansas, also raised concerns that someone who hasn’t gone through a teaching program might lack the expertise to handle kindergarten.
“I consider every kindergarten teacher a direct candidate for sainthood because they do miracles every year,” Porter said.
Steve Roberts, who represents Johnson County, was more enthusiastic about the proposal.
“We have a longstanding flaw in the system that suggests that one has to attend a college of education in order to teach any of our kids in any academic setting,” Roberts said. “It turns out you don’t have to.
“There are some instances where someone can come from industry or someone just has natural gifts, and we need to be more welcoming to those people.”
Roberts said he wants to combat the perception that the innovative school districts have been enabled by the board and Legislature to act as outlaws. The Kansas Association of School Boards backs the proposal to allow the innovative districts to waive the current licensure requirements.
“This is a proposal that puts this decision in the hands of local school boards and local administrators,” said Scott Rothschild, KASB’s spokesman. He said he understood that there is some concern about the proposal, but that local school districts would be able to vet candidates to ensure they’re qualified.
The Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has been critical of the proposal. Mark Desetti, the KNEA’s legislative director, said current law allows people to take a teaching job if they agree to go through a teaching program at the same time.
“Let’s say we have an engineer who decides he’d like to be a math teacher, a mid-career change. We’re not telling him he has to go enroll for four years in an education college,” Desetti said. “The state Department (of Education) allows him to be hired now but partner on an individual plan with a postsecondary institution so that he has the training and support to become an excellent teacher.
“Would we say, we have a shortage of dentists in western Kansas right now, so should we allow them to do root canals?” Desetti continued. “We have a shortage of physicians in western Kansas; should we let EMTs do surgery?
“We don’t even let people cut our hair without a thousand hours of practicum.”
Jim McNiece, the board’s chair, whose district includes Sedgwick and neighboring counties, emphasized there was no need to rush on the proposal and that tweaks could be made.