The Iola Register

State educators pulled back last week from giving non-licensed individuals carte blanche to teach in certain Kansas schools.

Just because you may know Spanish, doesn’t mean you can teach it was a prevailing sentiment that swayed State Board of Education members to put on hold a decision to allow the state’s six innovative school districts the ability to hire laymen as professionals.

Proponents say allowing non-licensed teachers would help fill employee gaps. 

Opponents say though these people may have a good understanding of a subject, they lack the training to teach it. A significant part of getting a degree in education, after all, is learning how to effectively teach. 

The state’s six innovative school districts — Blue Valley, Concordia, Hugoton, Kansas City, Marysville and McPherson — have been given special permission to deviate from state regulations in exchange for experimenting with new ways to improve student performance and outcomes. The districts were set up in 2013 under Gov. Sam Brownback’s efforts to overhaul education. 

The change would have expanded a law passed last year that allows those with experience and skills in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — to teach in Kansas middle and high schools without a state teacher’s license.

Sitting in the far reaches of the state, Hugoton administrators say current rules are too restrictive. Requiring every teacher to have a college degree puts an undue burden on those who live hundreds of miles from the nearest college or university.

Meanwhile, urban school officials contend there’s a wealth of untapped knowledge at their very doorstep being denied to students because of strict licensure requirements. 

The Kansas Association of School Boards also supports the hiring of non-licensed teachers, saying it could help a school district better tailor curriculum to a community’s needs and wants. 

The state’s teachers’ union, naturally, begs to differ, calling it the “deprofessionalization” of teaching and setting the state’s education system on a “slippery slope,” according to Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the KNEA.

The deans of the state’s schools of education also spoke out against the measure. 

As reported in the Lawrence Journal-World, “No known country has positively impacted student learning by decreasing teacher qualifications and standards,” according to Kenneth Weaver, dean of Emporia State University’s Teachers College.

If approved, Thursday’s decision would have granted a specialized teaching certificate good for one year and renewable. Applicants would be subject to background checks and meet the approval of not only the local school board but that of the Coalition of Innovative School Districts. While no degree or specific experience was stated as required, Coalition members say that is an oversight they plan to address. 

The intent is to not lower the bar, said Cynthia Lane, superintendent of schools in Kansas City. 

Educators view the Coalition as a pilot program for how student outcomes can be improved. 

Far be it from us to put down innovative and creative thinking. 

Data show Kansas is on the horizon of a severe teacher shortage, especially in the STEM fields. 

Easing licensing restrictions may help recruit teachers. Even more important is ensuring they are well paid and made to feel welcome.

 —  Susan Lynn

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