Eagle editorial: License to teach badly?

06/17/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

Kansas is inviting people who don’t know how to teach to take over some of the state’s classrooms. What could go wrong?

Some of the newbies likely will turn out to be naturals.

But any students who end up losing in the gamble should complain first to the Legislature. It pre-empted the State Board of Education’s own work on the issue by including eased licensure among the ideological policy sweeteners in the court-ordered legislation addressing funding inequities. The full education bill passed the Legislature in April, then passed muster with a three-judge panel last week. Earlier this month the state board approved temporary teacher licensure regulations, which are now the subject of a public comment period.

Under the changes, school districts can hire people to teach science, math, engineering, computer technology, accounting and finance in grades 8-12 if they have a bachelor’s degree in any of those subjects and five years of work experience. People can be hired for vocational education who have an industry-recognized certificate and at least five years of work experience in the subject they would teach. Other changes apply to out-of-state applicants.

There’s a lot to be said for bringing real-world experience into the classroom. Some select flexibility may be warranted to help fill certain openings, especially in math and science. But the sweeping change assumes districts will know which wannabe teachers to bet on without the seal of approval of an education degree.

And like the part of the bill that ended due-process protection by removing K-12 educators from the legal definition of “teacher,” the measure looks like a dig at teachers and pedagogy. It wrongly suggests that firsthand knowledge of course content is all that matters, and that anybody can manage and teach a classroom full of middle or high schoolers of varying levels of skill and motivation.

Another likely measure of the Legislature’s low regard for teachers is still in the making: the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission, also created by the school funding bill. House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, last week named two registered lobbyists to the nine-member panel who’ll never be mistaken for champions of public education – Dave Trabert, CEO of the Kansas Policy Institute, and Mike O’Neal, president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. Such a panel needs balance – and educators.

The districts eager for the licensure flexibility will need to exercise it with care, ensuring that the untrained teachers have lots of scrutiny as well as help.

If Kansas had to go this route, the state board should have been allowed to lead the way rather than be forced to implement a Statehouse mandate. And in the future, state leaders might allow for the possibility that such anti-teacher laws, along with the state’s 42nd-in-the-nation teacher pay, have something to do with Kansas’ teacher shortages.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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