Wednesday, July 24, 2019

CA: Any Warm Body

California is in the midst of a legislative battle over charters, with the charter business suffering the prospect of a crackdown after years of happy life in the Land of Do As You Please.

There are many issues and voices flying about, but the Pasadena Star-News just chose to speak up for one of the odder old arguments of charter fans-- that charter schools shouldn't have to hire qualified teachers.

The public face of this argument is usually something about flexibility to hire teachers with professional expertise, like bringing in an experienced actor to teach drama class. I understand the appeal of the argument, but the fact that someone has professional accomplishments does not mean that person is in any way capable of teaching others.

Well, this looks harder than I thought it would be
The less public face of this argument is that many charter fans want charters to operated like businesses with visionary CEOs who can hire and fire as they see fit, without being forced to abide by any rules. Teachers-who-aren't-actually-teachers are also great about being paid less than real professionals and are seen as less likely to start making noises about unions and having a voice in running the school and other annoying behaviors that cramp management's style.

The PNS manages to be capture all the ways to be wrong on this issue.

One charter-school official noted to the Union-Tribune that former Gov. Jerry Brown would not be allowed to teach government under current credentialing rules. Likewise, an experienced newspaper editor can’t teach English and a skilled physicist can’t teach science unless they go through a Byzantine process. That’s wrong.

No, that's right. Just because those people have experience in their field does not mean that they can manage a classroom or impart their accumulated wisdom to students.

PNS editors also embrace the myth of market forces driving educational excellence, a fairy tale for which there is no support even after years of trying it out. And the editors also blame the state's teacher shortage on credentialing:

The state has a teacher shortage largely because the credentialing process is so time-consuming and costly.

Many excellent potential teachers – especially those in math and science – would like to teach, but don’t want to spend years going through that mind-numbing process.

Perhaps. But it seems far more likely that excellent potential teachers-- especially those in math and science-- would like a job that doesn't have to be supplemented with a second job. We should probably also factor in that after a proto-teacher goes through the whole process, they are met by the attitude that any mook off the street can be a teacher.

Because the other thing the PNS editors capture is the heavy strain of disrespect that runs through this argument. It is insult added to injury. The PNS editors, I'm guessing, do not decide to go to unlicensed health care providers because any smart person can doctor. The lawyers they keep on call are probably not guys with no law degree who just talk real good, but qualified certified professionals. But somehow, in state after state, all across the country, we find the idea floating around that any warm body will do, that you can just prop up anyone in a classroom and they'll be fine. Teach For America founded an entire movement on the notion that it doesn't take any special training for a smart person to be a teacher (and it doesn't take any depth of experience for that smart person to become an education expert).

Of course, the other factor feeding the "any warm body" movement is telegraphed in the editorial's lead:

California’s teachers’ unions are seeing how far they can go to quash the state’s burgeoning charter-school movement now that Democrats have stronger legislative supermajorities and after a pro-charter-school governor has been replaced by one whose support for such schools is more wobbly. 

Those damned unions. Later, the editorial will even float the notion that background checks are not for student benefit, but to protect teachers.

If we break the hold of professional educators on the classroom, this reasoning goes, we can break the power of the teachers union. If we just kill this myth that teaching requires any sort of training, but is just some sort of calling founded on some sort of inborn power to inspire and do teachy things, then anyone can be a teacher, including lots of folks who are just kind of doing it as a side hustle or a new thing to try for a few years.

It's a bizarrely backwards, foolish argument. Do we not want students to have the very best teachers we can find to put in front of them? Do we not want students to be taught by something more than just any warm body? There have been a variety of arguments made over the years about how to increase the quality of the teacher corps, and while some of those arguments have been dumb, at least they had the admirable goal of getting more teaching quality in classrooms. Any Warm Body proposals cannot even pretend that they are about trying to insure that every student has a great teacher; they are about increasing charter management control, improving profitability, and putting those damned teachers in their place.


  1. The irony is that in many places around the country, including in my district, there aren't even any warm bodies seeking to apply to take teaching jobs. There is a shortage of not just qualified, capable people, there is a shortage of incompetent people, willing but unable to do the job.

    Our district has a shortfall of around 300 teachers for school to open next week, including 240 provisionally certified teachers who were granted an extension last week by the Department of education to have another year to be able to pass their licensing exams, those pesky obstacles to teacher candidates who didn't follow the traditional licensure paths.

    When all you have to offer is low pay and poor working conditions, you can't even get enough warm bodies to walk in the door.

  2. I am grateful to have been able to develop my own curriculum and teach a college application class in the summer. I would have loved to do this at the local public school but they refused me for lack of credentials. I had the flexibility to carry out the class at the charter school across the street and everyone benefited it. I think that all schools, public, private, and charters should evaluate teachers based on their effectiveness and not whether they have a credential.