by Félix Pérez
It’s gotten so bad when it comes to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his allies in the state legislature, that little comes as a surprise anymore. Until now, that is.
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Under a provision slipped last month into the state budget proposal at 1:30 a.m., anyone with a bachelor’s degree could be licensed to teach the sixth- through 12th-grade core curriculum: English, math, social studies and science. Currently, licensure requires middle and high school educators to have a bachelor’s degree and a major or minor in the subject they teach, completion of intensive training on skills required to be a teacher, and successful passage of skills and subject content assessments.
Most alarming, the provision would allow individuals who have not earned a bachelor’s degree, or potentially even a high school diploma, to teach any non-core curriculum subject, provided the district, public school or private voucher school determines that the individual is proficient and has relevant experience.
The deregulation of licensure standards has drawn pointed criticism from educators.
Racine, Wisc., teacher Betsy Kippers, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said in a statement, “We can’t accept the idea that lowering standards is going to bring us better-qualified teachers.” She added, “Requiring educators to prove their skill and ability to teach students is a moral obligation. Wisconsin already offers different paths to become a teacher that still meet high standards, because every child should have a caring, qualified and committed teacher with a solid background in how to teach, along with what to teach.”
Wisconsin’s top education official offered a stinging assessment of the proposed change. In an interview with the Wisconsin Radio Network, Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said:
It’s breathtaking in its stupidity. What it does is it essentially ends teacher licensing in the grand scheme of things. It creates a system that goes against all research that says teachers should be adequately prepared and competent.
Evers said in a statement, “Learning about how children develop, managing a classroom and diffusing conflict among students, working with parents, and developing engaging lessons and assessments that inform instruction — these are the skills our aspiring educators learn in their training programs. Teaching is much more than being smart in a subject area.
“This motion presents a race to the bottom,” Evers continued. “It completely disregards the value of the skills young men and women develop in our educator training programs and the life-changing experiences they gain through classroom observation and student teaching.”
The sponsor of the language, Republican state Rep. Mary Czaja, said the measure will give rural schools flexibility in finding teachers in hard-to-fill subjects. When pressed, however, Czaja could not cite a single rural district that has requested such flexibility.
In fact, Jerry Fiene, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Aliance, told the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, “This totally destroys any licensure requirements that we have in Wisconsin. It’s very concerning.”
Modeled after a proposal by Walker, who is touring the nation in preparation for an expected run for president, the budget provision would give Wisconsin the dubious distinction of having the least stringent teacher licensing standards in the nation. Asked last week whether he supports the change, Walker would not comment.
The state budget proposal is not final. Both houses of the legislature, controlled by Republicans, must pass it, and Walker must sign it.
The teacher licensure provision follows a Republican legislative proposal to expand a voucher program, which would shift $600 million to $800 million of taxpayer money from public schools to private schools over the next 10 years.
“It is so clear that Republicans in the state Legislature are selling out Wisconsin kids, families and neighborhoods to support Gov. Walker’s presidential ambitions and reward the out-of-state special interests that give millions to Republican campaigns,” said state Rep. Sondy Pope.