‘Emergency’ effort to address teacher shortages reflect larger education issues

Alan Borsuk:

t’s an emergency. It says so right there on the legal papers: “Order of the State Superintendent for Public Instruction Adopting Emergency Rules.”

But it’s a curious kind of emergency. Elsewhere in the paperwork, it uses the term “difficulties.” Maybe that’s a better way to put it.

Underlying the legal language lie questions that are causing big concern in perhaps every school district and independent school in Wisconsin this summer:

Who’s going to fill the remaining open teaching jobs we have? How are we going to put together a staff when some specific positions are proving hard to fill? Are we really getting the best people we feasibly could to work in our classrooms?

And one question that was prominent in my thoughts as I sat through a public hearing in Madison on Thursday on these “emergency” changes to some of the rules governing teacher licensing in Wisconsin:

Would you call these new rules “good” or call them “necessary because of the shape things are in”?

If you’re hanging around with school administrators, you hear a lot of talk about teacher shortages. The “pipeline” leading into classroom jobs is not nearly as full as it used to be. Certain jobs — science, math, special education, bilingual, to name four — are a challenge to fill. Some areas, especially the most rural and the most urban, are finding it particularly difficult to attract top candidates for jobs.

Overall, how much of a shortage is there? The situation “has proven to be very difficult to quantify,” Tony Evers, the state superintendent, told me after Thursday’s hearing. Nonetheless, Evers said, he hears about shortages from school officials all the time.

Jon Bales, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, sat quietly in the audience of about 30 at the public hearing. But he told me that the emergency rules were regarded as very important by the administrators he represents.

Will there be classrooms without regularly assigned teachers come the start of the school year? Yes, Bales said. Not a large number, but some. There is a real need to get more people into the pool of candidates applying for teaching jobs.

The “emergency rules” that have now been put in place make it easier to get a Wisconsin teaching license in a variety of circumstances — to name several, if you’re close to meeting the existing requirements for a specific license, if you’re moving to Wisconsin from another state, if you haven’t quite met the existing requirement to demonstrate knowledge of the content you’ll be teaching, and so on. There are several things going on here.

Much more on the attempts to weaken Wisconsin’s thin teacher content knowledge requirements, here.