Monday, May 10, 2010

Knutson wins a Spotty (tm)

the_spotty Here’s Shar Knutson’s op-ed piece in the Star Tribune today; it’s the newest Spotty winner™:

There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about Minnesota's application for extra federal education money under the "Race to the Top" program. For those unfamiliar, the program provides additional funding if states agree to implement specific changes in schools. Unfortunately, Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed changes include lowering the professional standards we put on teacher licensure.

Under current law, a degree from a college of education, student teaching experience and bachelors-level subject area study are required to receive a full teaching license. The standard makes sure that Minnesota teachers are both knowledgeable and trained in teaching that knowledge in the classroom. Along with our high-quality schools, Minnesota's teacher licensure standards are considered a national model.

Pawlenty's plan would lower licensure standards for people taking alternative paths to teaching. His plan would grant licenses to recent college graduates and midcareer professionals after they complete a five-week "boot camp" in teaching.

As president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, the labor federation representing more than 300,000 skilled professionals, I am personally troubled with any attempt to erode professional standards. One can imagine the public outcry if our governor proposed a five-week boot camp for people to become nurses. Can you imagine if we had electricians with five weeks of training? What about police officers? Obviously we wouldn't want people with scant training to be in these professions. However, if the governor and lawmakers agree to lower professional standards for teaching, other professional standards will be considered fair game.

If common sense tells us not to lower professional standards for jobs like nursing and police work, why would we make exceptions for people entrusted with the giant responsibility of educating our children? The answer is clear. Minnesota should not lower its nationally recognized teaching standards.

Keeping high standards, however, doesn't mean Minnesota has to close the door on alternative paths to teaching for qualified individuals. So how do we create alternative paths to teaching with the same high standards?

First, let's make sure every teacher we put at the head of a classroom has in-classroom training by requiring student teaching experience. A classroom is not an office conference room. An experienced mentor can provide the confidence and guidance a new teacher needs.

Second, let's require these potential teachers to enroll in education courses at a college or university while they are student teaching. Before being granted a license, they should have to demonstrate that they understand teaching. Having a knowledgeable person in the classroom is a great thing, but it means very little if that person doesn't know how to teach.

However, before districts even consider alternative licensure, they should also consider the great teachers we already have in Minnesota. State cuts to education have forced school districts to raise class sizes and lay off thousands of talented licensed teachers. If districts have a vacancy, there is a good chance they can find a qualified licensed teacher to do the job. [italics are mine]

If Minnesota goes down the road of lowering standards for teachers, it is doing children a disservice. Lowering standards for one professional license opens the door to lower standards for others. Per capita, Minnesota has one of the highest densities of Fortune 500 companies in the nation. We lead the nation because of the high standards we hold for professionals in the private and public sectors. In this economy, Minnesota can't afford to lower the bar.

Shar Knutson, President of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

Knutson asks the question:

If common sense tells us not to lower professional standards for jobs like nursing and police work, why would we make exceptions for people entrusted with the giant responsibility of educating our children?

A pretty good question. One answer is provided by Rob Levine — a name that should be becoming familiar to you around here:

For conservatives especially this concern for education was never really about educating students. Instead they were motivated by extending the "free market" religion to education, despite there being no real "market" for schools, and for de-funding their Democratic political opponents by obliterating one of the last bastions of unionism - public school teachers' unions.

The campaign against public schools picked up steam when the alarmist Nation at Risk study hit our collective consciousness in 1983.  Since then such numbers of our supposed deficiency  have been effectively used in political arguments that consistently place blame with public schools, and particularly public school teachers' unions. I don't need to rehash the facts about this - education is not the ticket to prosperity it once was, and educational attainment - as measured by test scores - is about what it was in 1983. The real point is that education cannot hope to remedy what "free market" economics has destroyed.

As Rob points out in his excellent post on his blog, the Republicans’ goal is endless political war — beat the unions and free the corporations.

Remember, a Spotty™ is awarded to the author of an op-ed piece, a letter to the editor, or a blog post or comment that Spot wishes he had written himself.

No comments: