A Certifiable Strategy

Wanted: Teachers. No experience, very little education required

Get ready for the first of a new breed of teachers in Arizona's public schools this year. They haven't taken any education courses. They haven't worked on their teaching skills in front of students. All they have is a bachelor's degree. Actually, if they've spent five years working in a field that's relevant to subjects taught in middle school or high school, they don't even need a bachelor's. A high school diploma will do. Or a GED. Hell, if you read the law passed during the last legislative session literally, they could be elementary school dropouts and teach.

But their lack of teaching qualifications isn't what makes them a new breed. Except for the elementary school dropouts, all those people could teach in Arizona's public schools on a temporary basis before the new teacher credentialing law went into effect. The difference is, for the first time, they will be presented with the newly minted Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate, making them full fledged, credentialed teachers who can teach until they retire if they wish without ever taking an education course or having their proficiency in subject matter formally assessed.

The Subject Matter Expert Standard Teaching Certificate effectively de-professionalizes public school teaching in Arizona. It's the Un-credential. It's like the certificates little kids get when they participate in "everyone gets an award" races. If you gave your teenage babysitter a Child Management Certificate when she or he walks through your front door, it would mean as much. It's a teaching credential granted for showing up, yet it's the equivalent of 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.

The standard definition of a "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 complete relevant coursework and training. But teachers with nothing more than a bachelor's degree, or just a high school diploma or GED plus some work experience, do not qualify as professionals.

But we had to do something to combat teacher shortages, right? According to Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican state legislators, that's why they created the Un-credential. The problem is, that's simply not true. The new law is in lockstep with the conservative crusade to de-professionalize the teaching profession. It's part of their long-standing effort to devalue, degrade and dismantle public education. 

Before the new law, Arizona's public schools already had a way to hire teachers with minimal education and training if they needed to. People could teach with nothing more than a bachelor's 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, through which they can only teach 120 days, not a full school year. It can be renewed with a little coursework in any subject.

So 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 until this year, the state made it clear it didn't like the idea. The certificates were for emergencies only. Before hiring minimally qualified 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 so they could return for another year as short termers.

What used to be for emergencies is Arizona's new de-professionalized normal. If you've been reading what's been coming out of the conservative wing of the "education reform"/privatization movement, you know this has been coming for a long time. They've advocated for lowering the standards for teaching credentials for years through alternative credentialing programs whose shorter, undemanding programs speed people through the process. Some of them have been asking quietly, "Why do we need credentials at all?" And lately they've begun raising their voices, like in an article in Forbes magazine a few weeks ago, Teacher Certification Makes Public School Education Worse, Not Better. Arizona has broken new legislative ground by bringing the conservative dream of an uncertificated, de-professionalized public school teaching corps closer to reality.

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