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.”