Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Arizona's Un-Credential. Is It the Beginning Of the End Of Teaching As a Profession?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 1, 2017 at 2:44 PM

I've written a number of posts about SB 1042, which created a new Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate. But recently I realized I was so wrapped up in the details of the bill, I missed the big picture, which is that, thanks to the new law, education courses, teacher training and student teaching are now optional for public school teachers. You could even say they're even a waste of time and money. Teaching in Arizona has been officially de-professionalized. People can now get a standard teaching certificate with nothing more than a bachelors degree in a subject taught in middle or high school. Or if they've worked in a relevant field for five years, all they need is a high school diploma or a GED, or less. If a school district is willing to hire them, they immediately become full-fledged teachers who can work until retirement without ever taking an education class or having their subject matter proficiency formally assessed.

The standard definition of "profession" is a paid occupation that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification. Doctors fit that definition. So do lawyers. Teachers also make the cut when they're required to take relevant coursework and go through training in the field of education along with demonstrating a proficiency in the subject matter they will be teaching. But when all Arizona teachers need is a bachelors degree, or a high school diploma or GED plus some work experience, they no longer qualify as professionals.

But we had to do something to combat teacher shortages, right? That's what Ducey and Republican state legislators tell us: necessity was the mother of the new certification rules. The problem is, that's simply not true. The mother of SB 1042 is the conservative desire to devalue, degrade and dismantle public education.

Before the new law, Arizona's public schools already were able to hire teachers with minimal education and training if they needed to. People could teach with nothing more than a bachelors degree by getting an Emergency Teaching Certificate, which is good for a year and can be renewed by taking a few education courses. People could also teach with nothing more than a high school diploma or a GED by getting an Emergency Substitute Certificate, though with that certificate they can only teach 120 days, not a full school year. It can be renewed with a little coursework in any subject.

That means Arizona already had a low bar and an even lower bar for gaining the right to teach a classroom full of kids in a public school. But before SB 1042, the state made it clear it didn't like the idea. The certificates were for emergencies only ("In case of emergency, break with best practices"). Before hiring emergency teachers, districts had to demonstrate they had tried to find more qualified people. And the emergency hires were short termers. If they wanted to stay longer, they could take some coursework, then they could return for another year as short termers.

But now, courtesy of SB 1042, the low and lower bars are the new normal. Qualifications that were previously suitable only for emergencies turn people into instant, full fledged, credentialed teachers. The Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate is the Un-credential. It's a certificate granting full teaching status for nothing. Little kids get certificates like that when they participate in "everyone gets an award" races. If you give your teenage babysitter a Child Management Certificate when she or he walks through your front door, it would mean as much. Yet Arizona's Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate is equal to a standard teaching certificate people earn by going through a teacher preparation program, passing subject matter and professional knowledge exams and teaching for two years.

Arizona didn't invent the idea of de-professionalizing the teaching profession. It's been a conservative goal for years. Every year a few more alternative teacher credentialing programs, which are generally shorter and less demanding than the standard teacher education programs, are added to the ways teachers can get their credentials. Sometimes articles about the value of the alternate programs sneak in a paragraph near the end asking the question, "Really, why do we need teaching credentials at all?" Gradually, the idea has moved to the forefront, until now, you can read an article in Forbes magazine titled, Teacher Certification Makes Public School Education Worse, Not Better. It came out last week. Expect more commentary of that kind to push its way up the media ladder toward mainstream news outlets until we start hearing "very serious people" saying the best way to fix our "failing schools" is to get rid of teaching credentials—and get rid of those pesky, teacher-protecting unions while we're at it.

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