Opinion Columns & Blogs

John Richard Schrock: Can’t trust innovative districts

“It will be possible to hire a certified electrician to teach high school English under the innovative districts proposal.” That was one charge made during open forum at this month’s Kansas State Board of Education meeting.

Later that morning, incoming Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watkins spoke for the Coalition of Innovative School Districts (CISD) and asserted that was not the intention.

But we run schools (and other government enterprises) based on the letter of the law and not intentions. So, yes, CISD schools could hire electricians to teach English.

CISD invited the Kansas deans of education to a place at the table as a stakeholder. However, in the April 15 letter of invitation, CISD made clear in bold type that “a public innovative district shall be exempt from all laws and rules and regulations that are applicable to school districts.” So, yes, the education deans are invited to the table, but they will be eating what the CISD serves up.

The 2013 state law pretty much makes the involvement of any “stakeholders” moot. That includes teachers who are concerned with having incompetent colleagues, or parents worried about their child’s teachers.

The intent of CISD members varies greatly. The two big districts at the east edge of Kansas want the money that comes with being “innovative.” One superintendent was very clear in her request for funds to pay for concurrent enrollment course work for poor students. For these two districts, it is a disadvantage if the number of innovative schools grows, as it would dilute the innovation money.

On the other side is the original proposal by the Hugoton school district that reflects a completely different widespread shortage of qualified teachers in rural areas. If Hugoton administrators got permission to “grow their own” teachers and license them locally – so a teacher could not teach in any other district – half of the rural Kansas districts would be eager to join in this ability to hire non-licensed and even non-degreed “teachers” and keep them from leaving.

Why would any superintendent want to hire an unqualified teacher? A shortage is growing nationwide. Nearly every state is issuing permits and emergency teaching licenses to staff classrooms. However, these states do not declare the permit teacher to be a fully qualified teacher, making the shortage go away on paper. Kansas will.

Advocates for CISD declare that these school administrators will be held to higher standards, and the CISD bylaws talk of “meeting the standards for math and reading” as well as “showing improvement in the percentage of graduates enlisting in the military or completing postsecondary programs.” Not only is this more “teaching to the test” in two narrow areas, it ignores science, music, art, social studies, special education and other areas.

The Coalition of Innovative School Districts is claiming that it does not intend to deprofessionalize teaching, saying “trust us.”

But its proposals on paper say the opposite.

John Richard Schrock of Emporia trains biology teachers.