Friday, January 26, 2018

Does This Really Solve the Teacher Shortage?

Virginia has very high standards for the issuance of a teaching license. In fact, we have some of the highest requirements in the country. High standards are important. High quality teachers, who have proven competence in not only subject matter but also of the science of teaching, lead to higher levels of student achievement. Teachers with a solid foundation of pedagogy (the science of teaching) stay in the profession far longer than those teachers lacking this foundation. So it should be the goal of the Commonwealth to maintain very high standards. But we have a shortage of teachers and we are no longer producing enough teachers through our traditional teacher education programs to fill the need. So what can we expect legislators to do?

Fixes to the teacher shortage aren't cheap and they aren't quick. We didn't get to this place overnight, and we need to create, and commit to, a long-term, resource-heavy approach to first, bring young people into the profession and second, keep them in the classroom once they get there. We need to look at programs like Delegate Krizek proposes in HB380 that would establish grants for school divisions with high rates of low income students, to implement a "Grow Your Own" program to build interest in the profession. We need big action on various scholarship programs like the Virginia Teaching Loan Scholarship Program. We need investments in Teachers in Residence programs. We need HUGE investments in teacher salaries. We need HUGE investments in increased resources for our public schools and our public school students. We need to protect teacher retirement, and we need to bring down the cost of health care for our school employees.

Some of these fixes are being addressed this session, but the main "fix" we see in legislation this year is to make it easier to earn a teaching license in Virginia, or worse, letting people be contracted to teach without having a license or working towards one. These "fixes" have no fiscal impact on the state's budget, but they have huge impacts on our students and their ability to succeed.

The VEA is following nine bills in the House and six in the Senate that propose changing how we license teachers. Ultimately we are hearing that all the bills will roll into one bill in each chamber. Delegate Landes' HB1125 will be the House vehicle, Senator Peake's SB349 will do the work in the Senate.

We will need to rally the troops on these bills as I expect some troubling things in both bills. The most troubling would be to allow a superintendent to waive a license requirement, in ANY teaching area, for someone with high levels of content knowledge. That's right- no license needed at all! No course work in pedagogy, no assessments of their teaching competency, nothing. To be clear, just having lots of knowledge in math won't make you a good math teacher. Knowing history backwards and forwards doesn't mean you have the skills to teach it. If you have lots of content knowledge of first grade material, do you get to teach first grade? No worry that you have no course work in the methodology of teaching reading and how to differentiate that instruction to meet the needs of all students... I gave birth, can I get my license to deliver a baby? Of course not, but some of our legislators seem think teaching is easy and anyone can do it. We will need to fight this line of thinking.

If you are interested in reading the bills on teacher licensure and see who is carrying them, visit Virginia's Legislative Information System to search bills. Click here to go to the web site. You can search for these  House Bills (HB): HB2, HB80, HB215, HB317, HB318, HB320, HB334, HB1125, and HB1156. Here are the Senate Bills (SB): SB257, SB349, SB409, SB558, SB723, and SB863.

We appreciate Senator Favola's SJ6 that would require the Department of Education to study how we license teachers and to assess the process for any inherent biases that prevent minority teacher candidates from entering the profession. This was a recommendation the VEA brought to Senator Favola's Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on the Future of Public Elementary and Secondary Education in response to VEA's Teachers of Color Summit last February. We are very hopeful that study moves forward.

As educators across the Commonwealth leave their "easy" jobs this Friday to enjoy a weekend "off" let's be ready to fight for our profession.