Utah Dems Criticize Alternative Teacher Credentialing Plan

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Now that a month has passed since Utah state education leaders created a new pathway toward gaining a teaching certification, 12 Democratic lawmakers are speaking out against the change.

Democrats from the Utah House of Representatives are now saying that the policy introduced in June that would allow more people who are interested in teaching, but do not have degrees in education, to instruct the state’s K-12 pupils is a poor idea, according to The Salt Lake Tribune’s Annie Knox.

The legislators are saying that the plan would result in filling classrooms with teachers who are unprepared and will only add to the current teacher morale problem.

A letter addressing the complaint and signed by the dissenting Democrats was sent to School Board Chairman David Crandall Briscoe, a former high school teacher with a 26-year tenure.

The Democratic group asked the board to hold a hearing for the public on the policy. The initiative, as it is now written, requires non-degreed instructors to pass a subject-area test, pass a background check, complete ethics training, and be mentored by a master teacher over three years. The group explained that they wanted everyone involved in public education to be included in deciding on the program.

The proposal for the new teaching licensure procedure came about because of the shortage of teachers in the state. Within a five-year period, two in five Utah classroom instructors leave the profession, according to a state study.

The Utah Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said on its website:

“Allowing an underprepared, underqualified teacher to ‘learn on the job’ puts student learning at risk.”

The letter sent from the Democratic Caucus to the Board stated:

“Effective teaching requires far more than content knowledge. Learning how to communicate effectively with children in an educational setting on the job is difficult in the best of circumstances and will not place the best teachers in front of every Utah student.”

Stan Lockhart, a board member, told the Deseret News there were fewer students entering the colleges of education in the state, and fewer students were graduating into the teaching profession.

Joseph Williams, a freelance writer, blogger, and essayist in Washington, D.C., writes in an opinion piece for TakePart that Marla Kilfoyle, who works for the advocacy group Badass Teacher Association, calls the initiative another example of “de-professionalism.”

She notes that assessments, standardized test, and top-down decrees are driving people away from the teaching profession. She adds that administrators have “come to believe that anybody can do it.”

At the same time that teachers are dwindling in Utah, the new student population in the state grew by 12,000 pupils last year. Add to that the fact that most veteran teachers in Utah make less than most college graduates earn their first year out of school.

Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, reports that the average wages for teachers make it more challenging to get and retain teachers who are both skilled in the art of teaching and have high content knowledge.

The students who are most affected by these problems are black and Latino young people in urban areas, continued Kilfoyle. These kids are being taught by teachers who get out of the profession quickly and are replaced by poorly-trained professionals who do not know how to connect with these children.

Kilfoyle says:

“At the end of the day, it hurts the kids. All kids deserve a licensed, experienced teacher in front of them.”