Tuesday, February 7, 2017

WI: Destroying the Profession

Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers would like to lower the bar for teachers.

Heading up the Leadership Group on School Staffing Challenges, Evers has teamed up with some members of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators to try to solve the mystery that is Wisconsin's shrinking teacher pool-- veterans are quitting, and the pipeline for new teachers is drying up.  Their solution? Make it easier to become a teacher.

Wisconsin's teacher loss is not unusual-- neighboring Michigan and Illinois have comparable or greater teacher problems, and may well be effectively headhunting in cheeseland. We've seen a national problem with the teacher pool, which might just have something to do with the continued assault on teachers, the profession, and schools. Or maybe it has to do with a reform movement that has tried to reduce teaching to script-reading and clerical work. Some argue, no, that's not it. It's not that we've devalued teaching right out of existence-- it's just the end of the Great Recession has made it possible for people to choose anything other than teaching as a career. Which doesn't really seem to contradict the previous argument.

I don't say this often, but God bless the Daily Beast for this

On top of all that, Wisconsin is the land of Scott Walker's Act 10, the act that effectively ended collectively bargaining for all public unions (it also put a cap on wage increases for teachers, ended their ability to auto-deduct dues, messed with health care, and just generally stuck it to working class folks in Wisconsin. Do you suppose that might have anything to do with the issue?

Lots of folks are pretty sure it does. The wage set-up in Wisconsin is fairly competitive for about five years-- and then any teacher wanting to support a family needs to get out of the state (hence the descriptive career plan, "five and flee.") The website Teaching In Wisconsin ("Act 10 Made Wisconsin the Worst Place To Teach in America") shows, for instance, how a Minnesota teacher would make double the lifetime earnings of a Wisconsin teacher.But five and flee is only problematic if you wanted to keep teachers around, and if you keep them around you might have to pay them more or even provide a pension. It can't be surprising that many Wisconsin teachers got out after Act 10 passed, because the clear message of Act 10 to professional career teachers was, "Get out!"

Some observers say, "No, it's just a random fluctuation and the massive drop-off in Wisconsin teachers that came right after Act 10 was passed? Gee, there's just no way to know if those two things are related."

Folks like Will Flanders, education research director for Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), suggest that we could solve the shortage easily because "We have a lot of folks out there with college degrees."

Which brings us back to the Leadership Group on School Staffing Challenges, and the report they just issued. Here are some of their cool ideas:

* Consolidate certification levels. Everyone will be certified either PK-9 or PK-12, because if you've trained to teach pre-school, you can totally handle 8th grade math, and if you can teach senior AP English, you should be able to handle first graders. Imagine the kind of exciting suspense each year as teachers wait to see what their new assignment might be, because it could be pretty much anything.

* Consolidate certification subjects. Let's crank out teachers certified in math-social studies-music-ELA. Teachers could still specialize, but would be "allowed to teach" in any area of the broadfield license. Again, remember that "allowed to teach" equals "district is allowed to transfer you to." Also, make it easy for someone who has a teaching certificate to "take on new challenges" by just adding more subjects to it.

* Simplify and consolidate multiple pathways to licensure. Get 'em in there any way you can. Create a "clearinghouse" for all the many creative ways we can rush someone into a classroom.

* More interns. Let districts hire pre-teachers as interns, so you can be in the classroom before you have actually gotten your license.

* Reciprocate with anybody who's using edTPA to certify teachers, because that way we'll know the teachers involved have already resigned themselves to helplessness in the face of stupid bureaucracy and pointless hoop-jumping.

* Let pro-teacher students "demonstrate competency" by having a high GPA or by passing a content test. In other words, any college honors student can have a teaching certificate.

So basically, the group charged with finding ways "to ensure the long-term recruitment, retention, and development of Wisconsin's education workforce" has focused on how to get more people into the classroom. So that's recruitment. But retention and development? While some folks might have been inclined to address those issues by providing decent pay, professional respect, some self-determination and power over their own work, Evers and his buddies have got.... nothing. Anybody can be any kind of teacher, because a teacher is a teacher is a teacher and what schools really need are interchangeable widgets so that if you're running a little short on third grade teachers, you can just move your middle school math-science-music-art teacher into the spot. 

This is a recommendation that screams, "Anybody can be any kind of teacher" and you don't get much more professionally disrespectful or destructive to the profession than that. 


  1. OMG. This is truly a common-sense striving for excellence. Well, in Opposites Land alternative reality. What a nightmare.

  2. I'm a teacher from Wisconsin and have always known Tony Evers to be pro- teacher and pro- student. He has been a shining light of hope at the state level, where so much damage is done by our governor and legislature. He has been a principled maverick. It would be interesting to have his perspective, in his own words.