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“Solutions” to Education Problems That Are Not Solutions

Teachers John and Kerry Guerini of Fayetteville, West Virginia, hold signs at a rally at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. Teachers across West Virginia will continue a walkout over pay and benefits for a fourth day. (AP Photo/John Raby)

Arizona teachers have protested because their pay is abysmally low. For the same reason, Arizona has had trouble attracting teachers. Now, I might argue that if you want to attract more and better teachers, perhaps paying them more is a good idea. But Arizona is controlled by Republicans. So how about some voodoo instead?

New legislation signed into law in Arizona by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey (R) will allow teachers to be hired with no formal teaching training, as long as they have five years of experience in fields “relevant” to the subject they are teaching. What’s “relevant” isn’t clear.

The Arizona law is part of a disturbing trend nationwide to allow teachers without certification or even any teacher preparation to be hired and put immediately to work in the classroom in large part to help close persistent teacher shortages. It plays into a misconception that anyone can teach if they know a particular subject and that it is not really necessary to first learn about curriculum, classroom management and instruction.

The legislation was championed by Ducey, who has described it as a positive change that will entice “great teachers” into the classroom and help alleviate Arizona’s teacher shortages.

The state has been struggling with severe shortages as thousands of teachers have left the state in recent years for reasons including low pay, insufficient classroom resources, and so many testing requirements and teaching guidelines that they feel they have no flexibility and too little authentic instructional time.

A new analysis by the National Education Association found Arizona near the bottom of a state list of spending per student in 2015-2016, the latest data available. The U.S. average per-student expenditure was $11,787; Vermont had the highest, $23,557, and Arizona was near the bottom, $7,566. Teachers’ salaries in Arizona were in the bottom 20 percent of states.

The question I have is how this works, even leaving aside the many obvious problems with what happens after you attract the teachers. Who is going to take this job? “I have no training in teaching but I’m an expert in biology and you want me to go teach 14 year old kids for $42,000 a year” sounds like a very unappealing option for, well, anyone with a choice. Why would you do this? It’s one thing for someone out of the business world to teach a college class as a sidelight. It might be fun and you really don’t need the money. But what’s the appeal to anyone to do this?

That of course leaves aside the obvious problem that teaching is a skill that can’t actually be mastered. Teaching is really hard! Students are difficult and that’s especially true before they reach college. What do you do with problem students, for instance? Now, it’s true enough that a lot of education curriculum in the colleges is hot garbage, but at least it’s some kind of training that gives people a clue what to do, not to mention the year of student teaching. This seems like a completely unworkable solution to a teacher shortage and, even if not completely unworkable, terrible if it was implemented.

Seems easier and better to just pay teachers more. But then demonizing and deprofessionalizing teachers has been part and parcel of the Republican and charter school playbook for a long time now. This is just the next logical step.

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