By James V. Shuls and Brittany Wagner
There is a saying that good things never last. Over the course of the past few months, education groups rallied in opposition to Amendment 3, which would have tied teacher evaluations to student data and limited teacher contracts to three years. The battle cry was “protect our local schools.” Organizing teachers and parents to fight against government bureaucracy and intervention in local schools is a good thing; a good thing that will likely come to an end now that the election is over. This is unfortunate, because government intervention in local education decisions did not begin with Amendment 3, and it certainly will not end with its defeat.
From whom they hire to how they fire, local schools are restricted by state rules and regulations on every front. If the collection of teachers’ unions and professional education associations that formed the coalition Protect Our Local Schools would like to continue to advocate for policies that expand freedom and liberty for local schools, here are some areas they might want to address.
Protect our local schools…
… from unnecessary certification requirements that restrict who enters the teaching profession. If local school leaders believe they are capable, a person with a master’s degree in biology should be able to teach biology without obtaining a teaching certification. Restricting these individuals from entering the profession limits the pool of potential teachers, putting our most disadvantaged schools at risk of not finding quality teachers. Moreover, studies consistently show that teachers entering the classroom through alternative pathways are equally as effective as traditionally trained teachers.
… from state regulations that limit a school’s ability to develop pay systems that work for them. Missouri requires public school districts pay teachers with advanced degrees higher salaries than teachers without advanced degrees. This is costly, and studies consistently show that teachers do not improve significantly from earning a master’s degree. Moreover, local schools are forced to participate in the state’s pension system. The system is great for individuals who remain for 25 or 30 years, but this is rarely the case for urban school districts. These districts would benefit from the freedom to restructure their pay systems.
… from state-mandated teacher tenure policies. We know that a teacher can make a significant difference in the life of a child. Yet, mandated tenure policies make it difficult to remove low-performing teachers from the classroom.
… from top-down curriculum standards, such as Common Core. Centrally imposed standards, and the standardized accountability tests that come with them, limit creativity and stifle innovation. Researchers have not found the one best progression of learning, and it is presumptuous to believe a state can mandate excellent instruction through standards and heavy-handed government interventions.
Of course, it is not likely that the various education groups will continue to protect our local schools. At one time or another, they have each supported the intrusive measures listed here. A cynic might believe that the “protect our local schools” mantra had little to do with actually protecting local schools from government mandates; rather, it had everything to do with political posturing and protecting the interests of the educational establishment.
“Protect our local schools” is a message that should last, with or without the support of the various education groups. Missourians should continue to advocate for policies that allow local school leaders to make decisions based on what is in the best interest of their students.
James V. Shuls, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and a fellow at the Show-Me Institute, where Brittany Wagner is a research assistant.