Kansas Board of Education, building on ALEC law, delivers another blow to teaching profession

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By Amanda Litvinov

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Feel like becoming a teacher? If you apply in certain Kansas school districts, all you’ll need is a college degree and the ability to pass a background check.

The Kansas Board of Education voted last week to roll back teacher licensure requirements for the six districts that currently make up the Coalition of Innovative Districts, which was established by the Kansas legislature in 2013 using model legislation pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Those districts can opt out of most of the laws and regulations that govern the rest of the state’s public schools, which means they can ignore collective bargaining contracts and put teachers on short-term contracts.

Now, they can also hire candidates who have no teaching license as long as the candidate holds a “relevant” degree.

The new policies concern veteran Kansas educators like Mary Williams, who fears the effects these so-called innovative districts may have on students.

“My first concern pertains to lack of training in pedagogy, specifically, working with special needs students and those with exceptionalities, in addition to the increasingly diverse general population of students,” Williams said in her testimony at the most recent Board of Education hearing.

Even if someone has expertise in a given field, learning how to handle the intricacies of the modern classroom takes training, Williams said, “training these professionals do not have and cannot internalize with a couple of days of in-service prior to educating students in our classrooms.”

Studies have shown that certified teachers are more effective than uncertified ones, particularly in mathematics. A teacher’s experience, training, and credentials affect student performance, as evidenced by test scores and dropout rates.

There are no studies to support the idea that allowing schools to opt out of state laws and regulations—and now licensure requirements—create any benefit for students. Despite having no studies or data to work from, the state legislature passed and Gov. Brownback signed legislation that expands the unproven experiment, so now more school districts can apply to become so-called Innovative Districts.

“Real solutions and real innovation begin by ending policy attacks on educators and providing public schools with the necessary support to thrive and attract highly qualified and highly dedicated professional educators,” said KNEA President Mark Farr.

He points out that back in the 1950s, it was educators who clamored for a formal teacher licensure process to heighten professionalism and quality among their ranks. “We put these requirements on ourselves, and that’s why we’re fighting for them now,” Farr said.

KNEA has vocally opposed the rollback of licensure requirements for any of the state’s schools. First, there are paths for alternative licensure for professionals working to earn their teaching credentials. Second, there are better ways to address teacher shortages: by properly funding schools, and offering competitive compensation for educators.

“Other states are literally advertising for our teachers on billboards along the Interstate,” says Marcus Baltzell, KNEA Director of Communications. “The basic message is, ‘Come to Missouri, we’ll pay you better!’”

Teacher salaries and school funding have suffered tremendously under Gov. Brownback, whose priority has been tax cuts for wealthy corporations and the state’s top earning individuals. Education spending in Kansas is still well below 2008 levels, and has been deemed unconstitutional by the state supreme court.

“The most innovative thing that could happen at this point, sadly, is for Governor Brownback to honor the courts and constitutionally fund the schools equitably and adequately.”

Reader Comments

  1. These school take-overs by corporations have stolen almost half of the public schools in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A group of Hedge fund managers attended a conference sponsored by Walmart in New York City last spring to learn how to start their own private/public for-profit charter schools. If you think it’s only conservatives or Republicans driving this movement, you’re wrong. Organizations linked to and admittedly Democratic party members are starting to support these charters, especially in the state of New York, where Governor Cuomo has provided for their proliferation. ALEC is leading the way writing legislation that promotes state government public school take-over legislation called Achievement School District (ASD). These take over school districts already exist in Tennessee, Michigan, and have been proposed in Pennsylvania via Senate Bill 6. The proposal is to develop a new “state board” that is appointed by the governor and legislative leaders that then takes over as many public schools as it wants to based on limited criteria–low test scores. All of us had better start asking our state representatives/legislators if they have supported this legislation . . . and then tell them to vote “NO” on this fraud and public waste of our state taxes. Public schools work: see the book, Why America’s Public Schools Are the Best Place for Kids: Reality vs. Negative Perceptions.

    1. His treatment appears fairly balanced, implicating Democrats are increasingly complicit with Republicans in the move to privatize public schools. But when Mr. Brown mentions ALEC in the same breath with Democratic support, he fails to mention that ALEC is decidedly a Conservative/Republican institution, whose home page touts “nonpartisan membership association for state lawmakers,” but in reality is one of the most partisan organizations in the USA, along with Americans for Prosperity, The Heritage Foundation, The CATO Institute, Free Congress Foundation, etc.
      The fact that Cuomo received substantial sums of contribution from worlds of hedge funds and Wall Street to fund his campaign, strikes at the heart of the $$$CORRUPTION$$$ that is: MONEY FOR INFLUENCE. Keeping elected officials beholden to same $$$moneyed, special interest$$$,” and NOT to “we the people” is the best kept secret of our time, it is a scourge of current national politics, and the party that is benefitting the most from it, it is, without question, the Republican party.

  2. As is our president…sending his kids to private school at the same time doing away with a few scholarships to the same school!!

    Schools don’t fail..the students in them fail! CT once had Economic Reference Groups… Big surprise! Towns in which parents had college degrees, own their own home, have jobs, speak English, receive no welfare services..kids in these schools did wonderfully.

    Schools that “failed” ? Just the opposite. Single parent homes, welfare, no jobs, houses, need free and reduced lunches, ESL services, no high school degree!!

    Arne Duncan and the administration want to blame teachers and the Reps for failing to support education.

    Our president does little to give a hands up to the working poor..he prefers giving a hands out.

  3. THEY will chip away at public education until every parent who can, will abandon the concept of public education for their children, and only the children of the parents who can’t, will remain. And then–THEY will declare public education a failure. And our chief education guy- Arne Duncan, is helping their cause by now sending his own children to private school.

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