Originally Published: April 27, 2017 6:02 a.m.
PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey is defending controversial legislation he sought — and is expected to sign — that would allow more people without formal teacher training to lead a public school classroom.
Existing laws already allows people who have expertise in science, technology, engineering or math to teach. SB1042 would open it up to anyone who has “expertise in a content area or subject matter.”
More significant, it exempts the person from having to take a test of professional proficiency, leaving much of the decision on who is qualified up to local school superintendents rather than the state Department of Education. It is that provision that has upset foes who have said simply being knowledgeable in an academic area does not mean an ability to actually teach.
“We have a teacher shortage in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said. “We’ve got some very high qualified, educated people in our community that have expressed interest in teaching.”
But Ducey sidestepped a question of whether he, as an Arizona State University graduate, is qualified to teach a third-grade class.
“This isn’t about me or what I’m qualified to do,” Ducey responded. “I want to help bring the best qualified people, more of the best possible people into our classrooms.”
His comments came just hours after the state House gave final approval to the legislation on a 33-22 margin. With Senate approval a day earlier, SB1042 is now on Ducey’s desk.
Among the provisions, school superintendents would be able to create what amounts to their own certification process, subject only to an avowal that person “has made satisfactory progress and achievement with students.”
Ducey said that makes sense given the need for more teachers to leave the decisions local officials. He said that’s already the case at charter schools, which are public schools that can be run as for-profit or nonprofit operations.
“They’re able to choose teachers and hire teachers whether they have the traditional training or not,” the governor said. “I think it’s good policy.”
If Ducey signs the measure it will be over the objections of fellow Republican Diane Douglas, the state superintendent of public instruction.
“In my opinion, lowering the standards for new teachers is not the way to correct the problem,” she said in a prepared statement earlier this week.
Douglas said there already are “currently a variety of ways teachers can make their way into the classroom.” And she said there’s nothing wrong with looking for ways to streamline the process.
“However, those programs should ensure that teacher candidates are prepared to manage a classroom, deliver instruction, and have mastered their subject area,” Douglas said.
And Douglas said the focus should be to increase teacher pay “to help retain and attract the best candidates.”
That stance was echoed during Wednesday’s House vote by Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson. She cited 2014 data which said there were 95,000 Arizonans who were certified to teach but just 52,000 in the classroom.
“So there are thousands, tens of thousands of teachers that have certification, that want to be teachers, that went to school, that learned how to teach a classroom, that learned how to interact with our students, and just are not teaching because we make it an impossible job,” Engel said. She said that’s not just about pay but other monetary issues like having overcrowded classrooms.
But Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, who said she just completed a teacher education program, said during Wednesday’s vote she’s not convinced that training is the best or only way to get qualified people into the classroom.
“I didn’t have to take any child psychology classes or any child development classes,” she said. And Udall, who said her emphasis is on teaching math, did not take a single course on teaching that subject.
“I took about seven on teaching literacy,” she said.
Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, said those pushing to open classrooms to those without teacher training on the basis of a shortage are missing the point of why that’s occurring.
She said much of the problem could be resolved by paying teachers more, pointing to data from the National Education Association putting Arizona salaries at or near the bottom of the entire nation.
In fact, Blanc said, when inflation is taken into account, Arizona teachers are being paid 14 percent less now than they were in 2001.
And until that’s resolved, Blanc said opening the doors to others with professional knowledge in special areas won’t solve the problem.