July 23, 2022

Mercedes Schneider: Arizona’s Teacher-Prep in the Classroom: College “Enrolled” Is Good Enough.

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Mercedes Schneider looks at Arizona’s latest move to deprofessionalize teaching. Reposted with permission.

In an effort to address teacher shortages in Arizona classrooms, the Arizona legislature passed a revised version of AZ SB 1159, which Arizona governor, Doug Ducey, signed into law on July 05, 2022.

This revision allows for Arizona school districts and charter schools to apply to the state to operate classroom-based, teacher-prep programs in which participants need only pass a background check and be enrolled in an accredited bachelors degree program before being allowed into the classroom– supervised, sort of maybe.

Just enrolled– meaning not even a single credit hour yet earned is acceptable, and in no particular field. Furthermore, the bill language is loose regarding who could be actually instructing the class, since the bill states that participants do not “regularly” instruct class unless a “full-time teacher, certificated teacher, instructional coach, or instructional mentor” is present.

What qualifies as “regularly”? Who knows? Is “regularly” different days of the week? Is “regularly” every day, with some mentor figure poking a head in the door on occasion to token-supervise, thereby CYA, so to speak, on countering “regularly” with a superificial, other-presence of sorts?

Also, notice that “certificated teacher” is only one of a list of potential sitters for these potentially, barely-college-enrolled person in front of class. Indeed, in Arizona, certain classroom instructors may already be exempt from holding bachelors degrees. (For example, from SB 1159: “…the following persons are not required to have a baccalaureate degree: 1. A teacher who is otherwise exempt by law from obtaining a baccalaureate degree and who provides instruction in STEM or career and technical education pursuant to section 15-782.01…..) So, according to the terms of SB 1159, it is certainly possible for Arizona public ed instructors who have already been exempted from holding bachelors degrees because of STEM or other expertise to be placed outside of their STEM or other expertise and in a teacher-training, supervisory capacity over any number of warm-body, barely-college-enrolled, inexperienced teachers.

Of course, the warm bodies are exempt from supervision if that individual holds “an emergency substitute certificate, a substitute certificate, or an emergency teacher certificate.”

In Arizona, emergency teacher certification requires only a high school diploma.

So there it is: A door to having inexperienced, token-college-enrolled individuals barely out of high school bumped up to temporary full-time teacher.

Subject-matter expertise aside, there’s is a lot to managing a classroom of students.

Thus, revised AZ SB 1159 has “ill-conceived” written all over it.

The flip side of allowing individuals to enter easily is that the commitment to remaining even for a full school year is also easily broken– which would feed high teacher turnover and, in turn, school instability.

When I chose to become a teacher, I invested years. It was an intentional decision, a costly decision, both in time and money; therefore, I am not likely to easily forego my chosen career.

Not so with the likes of AZ SB 1159, where potentially being in charge of a K12 classroom full of students requires decisions made in the span of a gnat’s life by those just out of high school themselves.

A subsequent exit can be just as speedy.

Arizona’s making it possible for a someone who has just graduated high school to simply enroll in any bachelors program in order to arguably fill a need similar to that of a long-term substitute teacher (for possible pay, but not definite pay, and not the same pay as an entry-level, certified teacher) invites a swift exit when too much is asked of this (likely) young person from a school or district already desperate for teachers.

As it is, in 2018, Arizona teachers participated in the first strike in state history as they wrangled with Ducey and the state legislature over raises and adequate classroom funding. After four days, teachers agreed to return to the classroom if the legislature passed a budget that included a 20-percent pay raise by 2020-21, billed by Ducey as “20×2020,” and restoring education funding following cuts dating back to 2008.

Most districts did not fulfill the governor’s 20-percent promise. The Arizona Auditor General documents only 87 out of 205 districts meeting or exceeding the 20-percent-increase goal, with the average pay increase from FY2018 to FY2021 at 16.5 percent, or $7,977.

Since alleged payraise money was allocated on a per-pupil basis and not specifically earmarked to increase teacher pay 20 percent by 2021, teacher pay in 17 actually decreased.

So much for Ducey’s promise.

As stated in an Economic Policy Institute report based on data from 2014-2019, Arizona teachers were paid only 68 cents for every dollar earned by workers in other fields with comparable degrees (that is, a 22-percent “wage penalty”)– the second highest such salary-comparison discrepancy of any state.

According to 2022 National Education Association (NEA) research, from 2019-20 to 2020-21, Arizona teacher pay rose from 46 to 44 in state rankings, but, still– 44 out of 51 (all states and DC). As for 2022 cost of living: According to World Population Review, Arizona is right at average– yet its teacher pay is not.

In short, focusing on paying Arizona teachers competitive wages seems to be a more solid, lasting strategy than “we’ll take anyone enrolled in any bachelors program, no minimum credit-hour completion necessary.”

Instead of such desperate-for-anybody schemes, the Arizona legislature would do well to actually designate money specifically for regularly raising teacher salaries so that Arizona teachers might better afford Arizona’s average cost of living.

In 2018, Arizona teachers strike demands included annual raises until Arizona teacher pay reached the national average and restoring education funding to 2008, pre-recession, levels.

Neither of these requests has been fulfilled.

According to the May 24, 2022, KTAR News, in the face of teacher shortages, Arizona state superintendent Kathy Hoffman says that Arizona already notably relies upon emergency certification to have those with high school diplomas teach. As for solutions, KTAR News has this to add:

Hoffman stresses the need for local lawmakers to consider giving teachers another raise for the upcoming school year with the state sitting on a $5 billion surplus.

State sitting on a $5B surplus.

Note to Arizona legislators:

Pay your teachers.

Fund your classrooms.

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