WEAC submits testimony on proposed teacher licensing changes

WEAC has submitted its official testimony on proposed teacher licensing changes. WEAC President Ron Martin thanked members who also submitted testimony this month. WEAC engaged thousands of educators on our tele-town hall about the proposals, and hundreds of pieces of written testimony were submitted. “WEAC brings educators together to create a better future for our students and to keep our profession and schools strong,” Martin said. “Thanks to everyone who took time to get involved with our union around this important issue.

The DPI will soon present revisions based on feedback, and WEAC will continue to be engaged and keep members informed.

Read President Martin’s testimony on behalf of WEAC:

Testimony
Proposed Revisions to PI-34
Ron Martin, Eau Claire Middle School Teacher
President, Wisconsin Education Association Council

The Wisconsin Education Association Council has taken great steps to collaborate with the Department of Public Instruction and all public education stakeholders around solutions to easing the teacher shortage in Wisconsin. Upon publication of the proposed rules, we have expended great time, energy and expense to inform our members about these proposals, because we believe it is important for our union to bring understanding to how the proposals would impact students, teachers and future teachers of Wisconsin. In our outreach, we have approached teachers with lifetime and provisional licenses in Wisconsin and today bring forward their collective input for your consideration as you take the next steps. Our members believe Wisconsin’s reputation for quality public education is correlated directly to high quality education for students.  Furthermore, there is the collective concern that the changes affecting teachers’ rights will do nothing to attract and retain teachers and in fact will have the opposite effect and a lasting, damaging impact on the overall profession.

 

LICENSURE SYSTEM

Need for Grandfathering First and foremost, the Department of Public Instruction must make clear in the proposed rules that all current license holders are grandfathered or given the option of expanding licensure in any or all forms as outlined in proposed PI 34 changes, similar to the grandfathering that occurred in 2004 when Professional Development Plans (PDPs) were implemented as the vehicle for license renewal

Consolidation of Developmental Levels of Licensure. This proposal, in which licenses would be issued by subject and grade level and not developmental level, would expand the grade levels one can teach. This contradicts the body of research around developmentally appropriate practice and moves toward a focus on content proficiency rather than the current balance of proficiency in content and pedagogy. In a statewide poll, our members who had an opinion about the change were split in their opinions, while the other 56 percent of teachers weighing in said they were unsure. These rules compel major modifications to current preparation programs. Given this, we urge the Department of Public Instruction to partner with PreK-12 educators and higher education in an extensive communications campaign to current teachers and preservice teachers so they fully understand the changes should they become final.

Broadfield Area Licenses. Switching from subject area licenses with multiple subcategories into broadfield area licenses with an emphasis on a specific area of concentrated expertise in these could minimize subject areas. For example, someone with a broadfield social studies license may be trained to be an economics teacher, but be required to teach world history. Likewise, a teacher trained in choral music may not have the skill set to teach instrumental music. Teachers trained in this manner will be ill-equipped to specialize in a discipline and this will become particularly evident for teachers assigned to teach Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Our members find this proposal most troublesome in the areas of music and science and believe this puts undo pressures on our partners in higher education.  WEAC recommends further study prior to implementing rule that would create blanket broadfield licenses.

Four Tiers of Licensure. WEAC believes the consolidation of licenses into four tiers simplifies educator licensing and clarifies ambiguity. We support this change.

Out-of-State License Reciprocity. WEAC supports reciprocity for out-of-state license holders who pass the edTPA or National Board Certification.

License Reciprocity for Speech and Language Pathologists and Audiologists. WEAC supports licensure of audiologists and speech and language pathologists holding a clinical license. This is a logical step to address the teacher shortage and illustrates that the Educator Effectiveness matrix does not fit every educator license category. We encourage the DPI to closely examine testimony put forth by our speech and hard of hearing members and interpreters related to the proposed training requirements put forth in this revision to PI 34.

Internships and Residencies. WEAC supports new and enhanced internship and residency experiences for those not fully licensed as effective methods to address the teacher shortage. Currently such internships require the signature of the local education association, and WEAC seeks assurance that this practice continues.

Testing Requirements. WEAC supports increased flexibility in this area for preservice educators, and believe this recommendation puts a positive focus on core teaching methods courses above standardized testing.

Licensing educators in Tiers 1 or 2 who complete out-of-state programs. WEAC supports this, as long as the out-of-state program included an institutional endorsement and the candidate is competent in the art and science of teaching.

District-sponsored licenses. As released in the DPI proposal, teachers could obtain a license in another area if they hold a Tier 1, 2, 3 or 4 license, have one year of full-time teaching experience, and have the backing of a school district. While DPI staff has noted adding Tier 1 license holders to this pathway in the initial release of proposed PI 34 changes was a typo, we feel we must comment on what was published. WEAC strongly opposes this pathway for a Tier 1 license holders.

WEAC recommends district sponsored licensure be piloted on a small scale and data be collected prior to making this pathway a permanent part of PI 34. Unlike the pilot implemented, tying licensure to Educator Effectiveness in spring of 2017, WEAC recommends there be a systematic plan to implement and capture data that employs the scientific method and the engagement of an entity with expertise in non-bias data collection such the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. It should be noted that there are WEAC members who have attempted to get direction from both DPI and from their school districts to pursue this license pathway, given it is currently in emergency rule, and these members have found there is little to no guidance in how to proceed. A pilot would be most prudent at this time.

Additionally, WEAC is looking for assurances that the DPI or a higher education institute with a DPI-approved teacher preparation program would be involved with any license issuance, so the quality of education isn’t diminished for students.

Appeals process. Finally WEAC recommends an appeals process be implemented to make clear to all parties their rights and responsibilities under such a system including the ability to return to an original or similar assignment.

TEACHER RIGHTS

Sweeping changes to the PI-34 changes impacting teacher rights have generated hundreds of written comments from teachers who stress that none of these provisions do anything to attract or keep teachers in Wisconsin Public Schools. I will address a few of the most troublesome proposals, but first I ask – on behalf of tens of thousands of Wisconsin teachers – for the Department of Public Instruction to pull these proposals from the presented teacher licensing law changes, take a step back, and reconsider their impact on students and the teaching corps.

Expansion of types of discipline. WEAC opposes DPI’s expansion of the types of discipline that may be imposed by the state to include suspensions.  This expansion suggests DPI will take a broader view of the types of conduct that warrant discipline.  While a suspension technically has a more limited impact on a teacher’s license, it will have the practical effect of making that teacher unemployable, especially where a suspension is for a duration of three to five years, as contemplated by the proposed rules.  In other words, employers are not likely to hire a teacher who has received a lengthy suspension.  The end result is that what is called a suspension becomes a de facto revocation.  WEAC believes lesser offenses are best dealt with at the school district level rather than permanently limiting a teacher’s future career options. If an allegation against a teacher is proven to have merit, the teacher will face consequences from their employing school district. A license suspension from the DPI will essentially kill one’s career and drastically impact their livelihood.

 ‘Imminent threat’ suspensions.  WEAC is opposed to the provision in the proposed rule that would allow the DPI to suspend a teacher where it decides the teacher presents an “imminent threat” to the health, safety, welfare or education of any pupil and to keep the suspension in effect until the teacher demonstrates she no longer presents a threat.  The rule gives no explanation of what criteria are used to decide whether a teacher poses an imminent threat and how the teacher can disprove this.  Furthermore, the rule fails to provide any clear right to a hearing related to the suspension.  Subjecting teachers to vague rules with no due process protections imperils teachers and the profession in general.  Moreover, this provision is unnecessary, because in all cases where serious misconduct is alleged, employing school districts remove teachers from the classroom. The DPI’s proposal to apply vague standards to summarily suspend a license serves no legitimate purpose.

‘Boundary violations.’ WEAC opposes DPI’s identification of vaguely defined “boundary violations,” as aggravating factors.  The definition of boundary violations includes conduct like intentionally having one-on-one interactions with a pupil for a non-educational purpose.  Teachers could engage in this behavior for completely legitimate reasons, especially, if they are involved in the local communities where they teach.  Teachers should be encouraged, not deterred from developing healthy, positive relationships with students. In a poll of members on our statewide call to explain the proposals, 70 percent of teachers said they are involved with students outside of the school day in their churches, club and community groups. Creating vague rules that incite fear in teachers will deter community outreach and connections which is contrary to educational outcomes and the public interest at large.

Offering lesser penalties to teachers who report misconduct by other teachers.  WEAC opposes the provision in DPI’s proposed rules offering to reduce penalties for teachers facing disciplinary action if they report their colleagues for misconduct.  This reduces teachers to the likes of criminal informants and encourages license holders facing disciplinary action to raise any remote suspicion about a co-worker to protect that teachers own interests.  Turning teacher against teacher fails to promote a collaborative, collegial environment and will adversely affect educational outcomes.

Administrative suspension. WEAC opposes the creation of a rebuttable presumption that a failure of an administrator to report “immoral conduct” will result in a one-year suspension of that administrator’s license.  The result will be that administrators will err on the side of reporting in all cases and unnecessary, overreporting will become commonplace.  This will result in many teachers being investigated by DPI for no legitimate reason and will have grave effects on the employability of these teachers.  WEAC believes administrators should receive trained and encouraged to make reasonable, good faith judgments in reporting, not coerced into doing so for fear of hurting their own careers.

Mandatory license revocation. The proposed rules must be clarified to more specifically define the offenses warranting mandatory revocation and to ensure DPI will consider mitigating factors when it comes these offenses. Many of the offenses listed as warranting mandatory revocation are not black and white and shouldn’t be treated that way. For instance:

  • the rules call for mandatory revocation where a teacher “physically assaults” a student. We know at times teachers are faced with attacks by violent students.  WEAC believes teachers defending themselves from acts of violence in reasonable and necessary ways consistent with their legal rights shouldn’t face losing their licenses.   
  • the rules call for mandatory revocation where a teacher engages in “grooming” of a pupil or minor. Grooming could be defined as violating more than one of those “boundary violations.” As explained, these “boundary violations” are vaguely defined and include what could be totally appropriate contact with students.
  • the rules also call for mandatory revocation where a teacher possesses a controlled substance while on school property or at a school sponsored activity. Teachers may be lawfully prescribed controlled substances by their physicians. This should not affect their licensure.

 

License Denial. WEAC opposes the proposed rule that provides the DPI may deny a license if it determines granting it could endanger the health, welfare, safety, or education of a pupil.  This seems to allow DPI to deny a license application solely based on its hunch that an applicant could engage in problematic conduct in the future without any evidence to substantiate it.  The current rule provides DPI may deny a license where the teacher has engaged in immoral conduct.  The current rule should not be amended to allow DPI to deny a license application based upon its conjecture about the potential for future conduct by an applicant.

License reinstatement. WEAC opposes changing the standard applied to license reinstatement cases. The standard of proof teachers would be required to meet is, “clear and convincing evidence” –a higher standard than what DPI was required to meet in revoking the license in the first place.   Fundamental fairness requires the same standard be applied to both revocation and reinstatement.

WEAC also opposes DPI’s requirement that a teacher whose license was revoked wait five years before seeking reinstatement.  Under the current rule there is no wait time except in limited cases.  There is no basis for establishing a bright line rule for when an individual may seek reinstatement.  Each case of license revocation is different and the individualized circumstances may warrant far earlier reinstatement.  While DPI would be free to deny reinstatement where an individual has not produced sufficient evidence to support reinstatement, it should not be permitted to preclude application for reinstatement by establishing an arbitrary timeline.

Publicizing discipline decisions. WEAC opposes DPI’s proposal to post discipline decisions on its website. This would put complicated cases and delicate decisions front-and-center for all and effectively harm the careers of teachers wrongly accused who are able to appeal and overturn disciplinary decisions.

Due Process.   A teacher has a constitutionally-protected property interest in the license issued to that teacher.  It follows that a teacher may not be deprived of a license by DPI without due process.  WEAC opposes proposed rules that fail to clearly provide a teacher with a due process hearing prior to the State Superintendent making a decision about whether to suspend or revoke and that fail to mandate a hearing at all by providing that the state superintendent may “grant or deny” a request to a hearing.

Unlike the proposed rule, the current rule does establish a procedure that satisfies due process requirements.   Why would DPI overhaul the current process with one that does not satisfy basic constitutional requirements and open the door to legal challenges?   We urge you to withdraw proposed revisions that deprive our members of their fundamental due process rights.

 

CONCLUSION

The members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council have come out by the thousands to voice their concerns about the sweeping changes to teacher licensure in Wisconsin. These concerns are based on the collective knowledge and experience they have acquired serving the students and families of Wisconsin’s Public Schools over the course of careers. At our core, we believe every child deserves a qualified, caring teacher. If the DPI wishes to address the teacher shortage it must go beyond tweaks to PI 34. WEAC has gone on record, and will continue to compel the DPI, local school boards, and the state legislature to examine 1) salary and benefits, 2) school climate, and 3) professional autonomy as the main factors in attracting and retaining teachers across the state. To this end, we recommend:

1) the exploration of a statewide teacher minimum base salary,

2) statewide minimum planning and preparation time, and

3) holding building and district administrators accountable for school climate.

WEAC’s suggestions for addressing the teacher shortage are supported by the Education Week Research Center (September 2017).

We urge the DPI to reflect on our collective input I share on behalf of WEAC, and on the thousands of letters, statements and forms submitted by classroom teachers on this important issue. This is our profession. It is our responsibility as teachers to let you know how these changes affect students. Please consider this written testimony carefully and make the changes necessary to achieve the goal of easing the teacher shortage while still upholding the integrity of the teaching profession in Wisconsin.