Educators throughout the state are expressing alarm over a measure that dramatically lowers teacher quality standards in Wisconsin, after it was slipped into the state budget bill in the middle of the night last week without a hearing.
WEAC President Betsy Kippers and other education leaders said it appears the measure would give Wisconsin the lowest standards in the nation when it comes to teacher licensing.
“We can’t accept the idea that lowering standards is going to bring us better-qualified teachers,” Kippers said. “And this doesn’t solve the real problem facing schools – adequate funding that allows schools to find and keep the best teachers.
“Education isn’t just a job, it’s a calling,” she said. “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.”
The measure was added to the state budget by the Joint Finance Committee, which will pass its budget on to the Senate and Assembly for final approval. The committee, like the entire Legislature, is controlled by Republicans. The teacher licensing measure was added to the budget at 1:30 a.m. after it was offered by Rep. Mary Czaja (R-Irma). It is based on an earlier proposal outlined by Governor Walker.
The measure deregulates licensing standards for middle and high school teachers across the state, according to the Department of Public Instruction. In a news release issued Wednesday, DPI says:
The legislation being rolled into the biennial budget would require the Department of Public Instruction to license anyone with a bachelor’s degree in any subject to teach English, social studies, mathematics, and science. The only requirement is that a public school or school district or a private choice school determines that the individual is proficient and has relevant experience in each subject they teach. Traditional licensure requires educators in middle and high school to have a bachelor’s degree and a major or minor in the subject they teach, plus completion of intensive training on skills required to be a teacher, and successful passage of skills and subject content assessments.
Additionally, the JFC motion would require the DPI to issue a teaching permit for individuals who have not earned a bachelor’s degree, or potentially a high school diploma, to teach in any subject area, excluding the core subjects of mathematics, English, science, and social studies. The only requirement would be that the public school or district or private voucher school determines that the individual is proficient and has relevant experience in the subject they intend to teach. For both provisions in the JFC motion, the DPI would not be able to impose any additional requirements. This may preclude the fingerprinting and background checks required of all other licensed school staff. The standard also is lower than that currently required for teachers in choice and charter schools, who must have at least a bachelor’s degree.
“We are sliding toward the bottom in standards for those who teach our students,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “It doesn’t make sense. We have spent years developing licensing standards to improve the quality of the teacher in the classroom, which is the most important school-based factor in improving student achievement. Now we’re throwing out those standards.”
Evers went on to say:
“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. 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. This JFC action is taking Wisconsin in the wrong direction. You don’t close gaps and improve quality by lowering standards.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said Czaja claimed she pursued the measure “to help rural schools find and retain qualified teachers in hard-to-fill subjects.” But it quoted Jerry Fiene, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance as responding:
“Heavens no. This totally destroys any licensure requirements that we have in Wisconsin. It’s very concerning.”