Indiana legislation (HR 1357) passed in 2013, permits local school boards to hire superintendents without licensure or previous training and experience in schools or educational leadership. The bill passed with the tie-breaking vote of the state’s lieutenant governor. It was the first time an Indiana lieutenant governor passed a tie-breaking vote in eight years. Previous state law required that superintendents hold a teacher's’ license and hold state certification as a superintendent. Superintendents can now be hired in Indiana with a temporary license. The new law does require, however, that superintendents have a minimum of a masters degree. To date, no Indiana school boards have hired a superintendent who does have superintendent licensure.
One question that has been raised is how the change in superintendent certification requirements would affect other legislation which requires the evaluation of all certified employees of school boards. Would HR 1357 also require the formal evaluation of superintendents, even non-licensed ones? My guess is that in Indiana, as in other states which allow local school boards to hire superintendents with temporary licenses, superintendents would still be formally evaluated by school boards. Since advocacy for this policy change has come from advocates that also support high-stakes accountability for teachers and leaders, it is not likely that they would support waiving evaluation requirements for non-licensed superintendents. However, if I am incorrect, and the covert plan of this policy’s advocates is in fact to undermine the evaluation of superintendents, my hope is that Indiana state law would be changed to require the evaluation of all superintendents, those with permanent licensure and those without it.
The major underlying question with this issue is whether in fact there is benefit to requiring licensure for educational leaders, and in this case in particular, licensure for school superintendents. My answer to the question is that it depends. If we are talking about high-quality preparation/licensure programs for educational leaders, then I wholeheartedly believe there is great benefit to preparation programs for educational leaders. If, however, we are talking about poor-quality programs that serve the primary function of bringing in tuition dollars for colleges of education, then a non-licensed superintendent can be just as good/effective or better than one who has earned licensure. I do believe functioning as an effective superintendent requires expertise in organizational leadership and administration, and some expertise or depth of understanding about instructional leadership. An individual may very well possess those qualities, however, without holding superintendents licensure. I guess the just of it is that preparation does matter if it is good preparation. But the reality in educational leadership preparation is that state professional standards boards across the U.S. continue to permit poor quality programs to operate; that reality must change. If poor quality programs are not rooted out, leaving the public to wonder whether there is any benefit to preparation programs and licensure for educational leaders, educator licensure (for leaders and teachers) will be a thing of the past in a very short time period.
Should state legislatures proceed in the style of Indiana and remove licensure requirements for superintendents? I am not sure yet. But for states that do make the decision to move forward in this vein, they should do so with caution. Serious conversation on these issues has to continue across the now huge divide between reformers and traditionalists. Currently, most serious conversation happens only within camps, and tremendous opportunities for the development of good policy are lost because we are not having open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations that involve representatives of all the various stakeholder groups.
Last week the Jefferson County Teachers Association’s (JCTA) voting members approved a new contract with the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS). Centerpieces of the new agreement include a) no annual raise for JCPS teachers, and b) slight changes to flexibility in hiring for JCPS principals.
According to JCTA president Brent McKim, teachers are willing to forgo the annual raise because they understand the difficult budget situation the district is in. JCPS will, however, provide an additional $5 million to compensate teachers for working ‘extra hours’ and for participating in professional development. Other changes include providing early childhood and elementary school teachers with an additional 10 minutes for their planning periods, and permitting teachers to take a personal day to attend their child’s graduation—rules currently prevent teachers from taking personal days during the last five school days. I applaud the district for providing additional planning time early childhood and elementary teachers. Generally, teachers are not provided with an optimal amount of time for planning. Providing teachers with additional time during the school day for planning and collaboration must be a part of school reforms. Planning time is not a luxury for teachers; rather it is absolutely necessary for high quality instructional planning. Without high quality instructional planning there can be no high quality instruction.
There are changes in the new contract to regulations around hiring flexibility for principals, but the changes are slight and leave much to be desired for giving principals the flexibility they need to hire the best possible candidates for teaching positions. Under the previous contract, principals were prohibited from hiring a teacher candidate from outside the school district if a JCPS teacher requests a transfer to the school for the opening. The three most senior transfer applicants were given preference for the position. Under the new contract, the pool of transfer candidates for positions will be expanded to eight. If fewer than four teachers request transfers for the position, principals will be permitted to interview candidates from outside of the district to reach a total of four candidates for the position. The change provides principals slightly more flexibility in hiring, but not much. Even with the new contract, the hiring restrictions on principals in JCPS are unnecessarily burdensome and do nothing to ensure that the best candidates are chosen for teaching positions. The interests of children would be served by allowing principals the flexibility to hire the best candidate for a teaching position, regardless of whether the candidate comes from inside or outside of JCPS and without regard to how many years of experience a candidate has. Principals factor in teachers’ years of experience when making decisions about the best candidate for filling a vacancy. Giving a teacher preference for a position simply because he or she has been doing the job longer, not because he or she is a more effective teacher, is ridiculous and it is part of the adult-centered, traditional teachers union ideology that we must break free from in public education. That ideology puts the desires and security of adults before the needs of children.
Although not nearly as big a problem as hiring flexibility for principals, I believe it is time we engage in conversations around the idea of paying teachers to attend and participate in professional development. Asking teachers to attend professional development that takes place ‘after-hours’ is not sufficient justification for needing to pay them to attend. The ‘after-hours’ concept itself is problematic for non-hourly, salaried employees like teachers. Further, the idea that teachers must be paid to attend professional development which is both required for continued certification and/or equips them with the tools to do their jobs well just doesn’t sit well with me. Regulations pertaining to the maximum number of hours per month that teachers may be asked to stay ‘after-hours’ for professional development and the fiscal reality of having to pay for both trainers and attendees puts unneeded burdens on principals and school budgets. I am a supporter of paying teachers a salary commensurate with their abilities. Effective teachers should be paid well. Highly effective teachers should be paid very well—at a salary that differentiates them from average teachers. But with that salary the expectation should be that teachers will meet all professional obligations, including attending meetings and participating in professional development after school. These are not foreign concepts. In fact, for teachers in Kentucky school districts without collective bargaining agreements this is how professional life works. It is time to revisit these ideas in Jefferson County as well.
I recently returned home after spending nearly two weeks in Finland. After meeting with dozens of Finnish education officials, administrators, and teachers, one of several recurrent themes was trust. Finnish educators said repeatedly that trust is a hallmark of their educational system and their relatively recent success on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). They talked about trusting a lot of people; education officials trusting school principals, principals trusting teachers, teachers trusting students and parents, etc. But most often the conversations centered on how much trust the Finnish people have in teachers. As a former teacher and a teacher advocate, I think that is awesome!
But we Americans would be foolish to look at the Finns success, hear that it comes from trusting their teachers, and then therefore reason that trusting American teachers in that manner would lead us to success similar to that of the Finns. I have likely upset some of you by saying that but it is true. We do not have reason to have a blanket trust in American teachers. I wish things were that simple, but they are not. I argue that instead of advocating for blanket trust for American teachers today our course of action should be to begin building a teaching profession in the United States worthy of such trust.
What it means to be a teacher in Finland is a bit
different than what it means to be a teacher in America. In Finland, throughout the nation’s history and even today
teachers are regarded as the candles of society, spreading light into the
darkness. Teaching is regarded as one of the most honorable and respected
professions in the country. Very many of the best and brightest students
graduating high school apply to teacher education programs in Finnish universities. Because
the profession is regarded in that manner, university teacher education
programs are able to choose from among the best and brightest of the best and
brightest students entering Finnish universities. That is not quite the case in the United States.
Over the last 10 years I have often had the opportunity to speak to middle and high school students, and I often talk with them about considering careers in teaching. Unfortunately, it is the very rare motivated and highly academically capable student that tells me that they are interested in a career in teaching. It is the current reality in the USA that our teachers are a mixed bag. Some of our teachers were the brightest, most capable, and highly motivated students in their high school and university classes. As students these teachers could have chosen to major in anything. In current role as faculty member in a college of education, I have the opportunity to work with some of Kentucky’s most phenomenal educators. Some of these educators are outstanding in every conceivable way. They are smart, talented, unbelievably hardworking, and passionately committed to their students and to the teaching profession. These professionals make me so proud to be a teacher.
Unfortunately, however, many teachers in our classrooms are not as talented, committed, or passionate about children or about teaching as the teachers I just described. Some teachers in American classrooms have landed there because they couldn’t cut it in other majors or professions and teaching was relatively easy to get into and keep a job. Some are in the classroom because teaching has been considered a stable profession. Some teachers are in classrooms because the hours and calendar schedule of the profession are convenient for raising a family. And believe it or not, some teachers are in the profession for the money. You won’t get rich teaching, but in the right school district with the right credentials and a few years of experience you can make a pretty decent living as a teacher.
What Do I Propose?
I propose building a teaching profession in the USA that we can be proud of; not just a portion of the teaching profession that are superstars, but a profession of superstars. I propose building a teaching profession of individuals that could have chosen any career path but chose to teach. I propose building a teaching profession in America that we can trust to lead us into the future.
Building that kind of teaching profession in the USA would not be easy. In fact, the stack is currently staked against our being able to pull it off, but we could do it. We would have to be intentional about it and it would take the buy-in and collaboration of some key stakeholders. First, we would need to acknowledge that the teaching profession in the USA is not what we want it to be, and that our current teaching force is not what we would like it to be. The teaching profession, including salary structure, career ladders, and accountability, would have to be drastically reformed to attract a new breed of candidates into the profession. Colleges of teacher education would have to get on board by actively recruiting a new, diverse breed of teacher candidates into the profession, selecting only the highest quality candidates for entry into programs, and holding candidates to extremely high standards; functioning as true gate-keepers to the teaching profession. Teacher training programs would have to embrace radical reform enabling them to better equip teacher candidates with the necessary content knowledge, pedagogical expertise, and dispositions for meeting the needs of the diverse group of learners in 21st century American classrooms. Policy makers and colleges of teacher education would have to work together to create high-quality pathways for talented professionals to enter the teaching profession as a 2nd career, but with the necessary training and preparation for long-term success once they get there. Teachers would have to start tapping talented students as early as middle school to get them to consider careers in teaching. And teachers unions would have to radically transform themselves into high-quality professional associations that play a major role in both building and refereeing the teaching profession. Professional associations must play a major role in holding their members to the highest standards for professional practice.
By the end of my career I would love nothing more than to entertain visitors from across the world and tell them that a key to the success of schools in the USA is the trust that we have placed in our teachers. I would love nothing more than to say that the American people have every confidence in American teachers and that the teaching profession is highly respected because we know that our teachers are well-equipped for and passionately committed to preparing our students for successful careers and lives as citizens of the greatest country in the world. It is my hope and my prayer that we will have the courage to own up to our shortcomings and the will to transform teaching into the profession that it should be and can be.
In an op-ed that appeared in the New Orleans Times Picayune today, Louisiana’s state superintendent of education, John White, challenged Louisiana’s education system to do a better job of preparing the state's high school graduates for college and careers. White, while acknowledging Louisiana’s success with increasing high school graduation rates, asserted that changes in the Louisiana, national, and global economies require that students pursue some form post-secondary education and/or training to be competitive for jobs and make a wage sufficient for supporting a family. White referenced less-than-desirable statistics for Louisiana students with earning college degrees; reporting that “of 100 high school students in our state, on average only 19 end up graduating from a university six years after leaving high school.” White asserted, “when we award a high school diploma, it should mean that the student is prepared to succeed in college or in the workplace, no questions asked.” And he is absolutely right.
In Kentucky as well, we must continue with increasing the
number of young Kentuckians who graduate from high school. According to the
Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), Kentucky had a 2012 Average Freshman
Graduation Rate (AFGR) of 78.8%, up 3.8 percentage points from 2008 when the
AFGR was 75%. Shameful achievement gaps remain in Kentucky with graduation rates. African American students in 2012 had an AFGR of 72.1%; up 5.3
percentage points from 2008 (66.8%), but 7.9 percentage points lower than the
AFGR of White students in Kentucky in 2012 (80.0%). These shameful gaps must be eliminated. Achievement gaps are an ugly stain on the education system of our state.
But just as Superintendent White called for better preparation of high school graduates in Louisiana, we must ensure that a high school diploma in Kentucky consistently means something. Currently, I don’t believe we can say with any confidence that every student earning a Kentucky high school diploma—whether in Paducah or in Maysville—is well-prepared for college and/or career. I believe some students leave Kentucky high schools as prepared as any student in the U.S. Other students, unfortunately, leave Kentucky high schools with the same diploma, but without the preparation necessary for success in college or career. It is time to start talking seriously about quality control in Kentucky. What does it mean to have a high diploma from a Kentucky high school? What should postsecondary institutions and employers be able to reasonably expect from any graduate of a Kentucky high school?
Kentucky’s new end-of-course (EOC) assessment program is a significant step in that direction, but much more must be done. Currently, Kentucky only has EOC assessments for English II, Algebra II, Biology, and History; and in most schools EOCs account for no more than 20% of a student’s final course grade. So theoretically, a student could show little to no mastery of course content on the EOC and still pass the course with a pretty good grade. This would not be so problematic if students’ grades were in fact usually based on their mastery of course content, but grades typically include all sorts of additional things like effort, enthusiasm, attendance, citizenship, etc.
There is no way around it, testing must be an integral part of establishing common expectations for high school graduates across the state, but we should not rely solely on testing for quality control. There must be a norming of academic expectations both within and across Kentucky school districts. What Ms. Smith expects of a student to pass her Algebra II course in Woodford County should be very similar to the expectations Mr. Jones has of his Algebra II students in Wolfe County. After all, students in Woodford County get the same diploma as students in Wolfe County; and these schools' graduates will apply for the same jobs and for seats in the same post-secondary institutions.
In summary, just as in Louisiana, there is much work to be done in Kentucky. We must continue to make progress with improving the graduation rates for students in our state. We must eliminate the shameful achievement gaps that remain between students of color and White students in Kentucky. And we must begin to work on quality control for Kentucky high school graduates; ensuring that when a student leaves a Kentucky high school with a diploma, that diploma means that the student has been prepared for success in college and/or career. That is our charge. I believe we are up for the task. Let’s get it done Kentucky!
**This week I am attending the International Symposium on Educational Reform hosted by the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.**
Yesterday I got a dose of inspiration unlike any that I have had in some time. It came from two graduate students at the University of Jyväskylä, both from China. The first was a young lady from Shanghai in her first year of doctoral study. Her presentation was on social justice reform in the Chinese education system. She highlighted specific areas of injustice and inequity in Chinese education, including the gross inequities in the quality of education available to the Chinese people based on the region of the country they live in. These inequities, she argued, have come more into public discussion as a result of Chinese migrant workers moving east to cities like Shanghai in order to find work. In many instances, however, these workers have found that their children are not permitted to attend schools in the cities past the nine years of compulsory education. In order to go further, Chinese law requires that these families return to western China where their homes are registered; also where the quality of education is much poorer and where there are fewer jobs. The second student fully supported the findings of the presentation, and added that in West China (his home) there were many “crying stories”; stories of pain, strife, and sorrowful conditions for children and their families.
I believe what these two students are doing takes an incredible amount of courage. The questions they are asking, the norms they are challenging, and the positions they are taking have historically not been received warmly in China. But both of these students are motivated and even driven by the dire conditions that so many children and families in their homeland face. These students inspire me.
As I think about my own life and career, I have collected more than my fair share of crying stories as well. I am not speaking of nearly the same conditions that my Chinese friends are acquainted with, but all the same, I am well-acquainted with the conditions in American society that limit the life possibilities of children based on their zip code, family background, race/ethnicity, gender, etc. My prayer is that the crying stories that I have collected and continue to collect right here in the USA will forever haunt me and drive me to be the agent for change in our education system that I am called to be.
This week I am attending the International Symposium on Educational Reform hosted by the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. Yesterday I had a great conversation with a Finnish colleague who is preparing to assume the principalship at a school in the Jyväskylä region of the country. Our conversation centered on the quality of educational leadership preparation programs. He first shared with me that the government has limited the number of higher education institutions authorized for principal training; currently only three institutions may offer principal training in Finland. But even among just those three programs, aspiring principals in Finland have an understanding of which programs are most highly regarded and they typically apply to those programs first.
When asked about the state of affairs with educational leadership preparation in Kentucky, I shared quite a few things. I included the recent state-required reform of educational leadership programs across the state, including the requirement that principal preparation occur at the post-masters level-only in Kentucky. I shared that at the University of Kentucky we had redesigned our program with the input of practitioner colleagues to be a rigorous, high-quality program, with work-embedded assignments and courses co-taught with scholar-practitioners currently in the field. I shared that our program was designed to be delivered in an executive-style format, with Saturday on-campus meetings 5-6 times per semester and online and independent work in-between on-campus meetings. I told him that our program was designed to prepare aspiring leaders to be the change agents in education that Kentucky desperately needs to turn the corner in student learning.
But I also had to share with him a few unpleasant realities about educational leadership preparation in Kentucky; realities which contrast considerably with how Finland has approached educational leadership preparation. I told him that the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board (EPSB ) has chosen not to limit the number of higher education institutions in the state that may offer principal preparation programs. As a result, I told him, Kentucky has an oversupply of principal preparation programs; in fact, considerably more programs exist than there is either need or demand for programs. Kentucky's EPSB has approved principal preparation programs at 11 higher education institutions in the state. For comparison sake, Finland has a population of 5.3 million people and three programs leading to principal licensure; and Kentucky has a population just under 4.4 million people and 11 programs leading to principal licensure.
But it is not the abundance of principal preparation programs in the state alone that is so troubling. Two confounding issues make the oversupply of programs a problem for Kentucky. First, all of the state-approved programs are not rigorous, high-quality programs. And who can best attest to the quality or lack of quality in programs? Students and graduates of the programs can attest to it, and they do. Most of the students and graduates of educational leadership programs in Kentucky that I have come across have no problem with telling you whether their program provides or provided solid preparation for the principalship. And it’s been more than a few current school leaders that have told me flat out that their preparation program was useless. That is a problem.
But here is what makes it worse. Many of those same students and graduates will tell you that they chose their preparation program not because they believed it to be a high-quality program, but because it was the cheapest/quickest/easiest way to earn principal licensure. That is an area that I do not believe has been explored by the educational leadership research literature. While more than a few studies have shown educational leaders criticizing their leadership preparation programs, I am not familiar with studies that asked those leaders if they chose their program based on its perceived high-quality. For if the findings of my non-systematic data collection were confirmed (and I believe they would be), and principals in Kentucky are in large numbers choosing the leadership preparation programs that they perceive to be the cheapest/quickest/easiest way to get the certification, then Kentucky’s schools are in a whole lot of trouble.
First, I do not believe it bodes well that aspiring school leaders would think so little of their preparation for administrative positions that they would choose programs in that manner. Second but also very important, when aspiring leaders choose leadership preparation programs based on ease, programs that need to enroll students to remain viable begin to compete for those students by watering down program admissions requirements, curriculum, and expectations; creating what my colleague Justin Bathon has referred to as a Race to the Bottom for leadership preparation programs. That, I fear, is what is beginning to happen in Kentucky. And I fear that aspiring leaders choosing preparation programs based on ease will have disastrous consequences for the state. Programs in Kentucky that choose to compete for students will respond to the student market by offering dumbed-down programs; and programs that refuse to compromise their standards will go out of business as a function of the market. The result will be Kentucky left with a generation of school administrators that are certified, but ill-equipped to be the visionary and transformative leaders that Kentucky schools so desperately need.
That, I told my Finnish colleague, is where I believe educational leadership preparation in Kentucky may be headed; but it doesn’t have to be that way. Kentucky’s EPSB can better regulate the market. EPSB’s bar for program approval may be set too low. A higher threshold for program approval with just a few high-quality programs in the state may be an avenue for the EPSB to consider. Better regulation of the market would prevent current aspiring leaders from choosing low quality options and forcing the entire market in that direction. But in addition to EPSB responding to this potential crisis of school leadership, we have to change the culture of the education professions to place a much higher value on education, preparation, and professional learning. Preparation and training are not just unnecessary hoops for educators to jump through; these are opportunities for deeper learning and reflection so that educators can improve what they do. It deeply troubles me that professional development for so many Kentucky educators has been reduced to simply accumulating the minimum number of hours required each year. It deeply troubles me that preparation and certification programs are regarded by so many Kentucky educators as standing in line to get their tickets punched so they can get the job that they think they already know how to do. We must change the current seemingly dominant cultural beliefs about professional learning in the education professions and/or change the people that are going into the education professions. Finnish teachers and educational leaders place great value on their continued learning and professional development. That seriousness about their professional learning is one of the keys to the Finns’ successfully improving educational outcomes for students across Finland. Such an important cultural change could pay huge dividends for Kentucky as well.
House Bill 114 (2013), introduced in the North Carolina House in February 2013, would provide parents of homeschooled children with a state income tax credit of $1,250 per semester per child. A home school is defined by North Carolina statute as “a nonpublic school in which one or more children of not more than two families or households receive academic instruction from parents or legal guardians, or a member of either household.” Home schools in North Carolina may elect to operate under the legal requirements of either “private church schools and schools of religious charter” or “qualified nonpublic schools”.
House Bill 114 now sits with the House Education Committee. As expected, providing tax credits to homeschooling families has not been supported by traditional public schooling advocates, who argue that providing tax credits to homeschooling families will take funds away from traditional public schools. But interestingly, the bill has not been supported by all home schooling parents in North Carolina. Some homeschooling parents are concerned that state funding, even in the form of tax credits, could mean a greater degree of state oversight/regulation for homeschooling. For those parents, the tax credits are not worth the hassle of more oversight.
In an interesting turn of events, the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association has come out in opposition to the Senate Bill 337’s creation of a separate charter school governing board in the state which would have independence from the NC State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction, and broad chartering, monitoring, renewal, and charter revocation authority.
Current North Carolina Charter School Law
Currently in North Carolina, there are three chartering entities in the state with the authority to give preliminary approval to charter schools: local boards of education, the board of trustees of a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina (with the provision that this institution is involved in the planning, operation or evaluation of the charter school), and the State Board of Education. Chartering entities are authorized to give preliminary approval to charter applications, but final approval for all charter schools rests solely with the State Board of Education. Applicants who are denied preliminary approval by a chartering entity other than the State Board of Education may appeal to the State Board. The State Board may give preliminary approval to an application on appeal if it finds that the chartering entity “acted in an arbitrary or capricious manner in disapproving the application, failed to consider appropriately the application, or failed to act within the time set” by law.
If a charter applicant submits an application to a chartering entity other than the local board of education, within seven days of its application, the applicant must also submit a copy of its application to the local board of education where the charter school will be located. The local board may offer comments or information about the application to the chartering entity. The law requires that when making decisions about preliminary or final approval of a charter application, the State Board will consider the information or comments submitted by the local board of education, and consider the “impact on the local school administrative unit’s ability to provide a sound basic education to its students.” The State Board may grant initial charters for periods of up to 10 years, and upon the request of a chartering entity, may renew charters for subsequent periods of up to 10 years.
For the purposes of ensuring compliance with laws and meeting the standards agreed upon in their respective charters, North Carolina charter schools are held accountable to either the local board of education (if it applied for and received preliminary approval from that local board) or to the State Board of Education. Any charter school, however, may choose to be held accountable to local board of education where the charter school operates instead of the State Board. The law requires that each charter school report at least annually to its chartering entity and the State Board of Education the information required by the chartering entity or the State Board.
Senate Bill 337
Senate Bill 337 would establish a new North Carolina Public Charter Schools Board to be located administratively within the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, but empowered to “exercise its powers and duties independently of the State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction.” Key functions of the new Charter Board would include the following: (a) overseeing the process for accepting and approving charters and making final approval of all charter applications (a function now reserved for the State Board of Education); (b) overseeing the process for monitoring charter schools’ operation; and (c) taking actions regarding charter schools in the state, including renewals, nonrenewals, and revocations of charters. The North Carolina State Board of Education, however, would have the authority to “veto by a three-fourths vote any action adopted by vote of the Charter Board if the State Board’s veto vote is taken within 45 days of the date the Charter Board voted to adopt the action.”
The Charter Board would be comprised of 11 voting members, including: three members appointed by the Governor, three members appointed by the NC General Assembly “upon recommendation of the President pro Tempore of the Senate,” three members appointed by the NC General Assembly “upon the recommendation of the recommendation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives,” the State Treasure or her designee, and the Lieutenant Governor or her designee. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction would serve as secretary and a non-voting member of the Charter Board.
Senate Bill 337 was passed in the NC Senate earlier this month. The vote was largely along party lines, with support for the bill coming from Republicans in the Republican-controlled Senate. What makes the NC Public Charter Schools Association’s opposition to the creation of the separate Charter Board as proposed in the current version of Senate Bill 337 is that the Association first supported passage of the bill. Charter school advocates have supported the creation of the Charter Board to give charter schools in the state a greater degree of autonomy from the State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction; bodies which depending on the who controls them, could be antagonistic to North Carolina’s charter schools. So the reason for the NC Public Charter Schools Association’s seemingly change in attitude toward the creation of the board is unclear. But I am betting that when that reason surfaces the plot to this story will thicken considerably.
North Carolina Senate Bill 337 would, among other things, remove the current statutory requirement that at least 75% of teachers in elementary charter schools and 50% of teachers in charter high schools hold teacher licenses. The controversial bill was passed in the Senate and now sits with the House Education Committee. In addition to the eliminating teacher licensing requirements, the bill would create a new state Charter School Board with substantial statutory authority. I will discuss the implications of the creation of such a board in a future post, but here I want to focus on the potential elimination of teacher licensure requirements for charter school teachers in the state.
If Senate Bill 337 is passed by the Republican-controlled North Carolina House and signed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory, as I believe it will be, the implications for teacher certification in the state are pretty significant. If the bill passes, North Carolina wouldn’t be the first state to remove certification requirements for teachers in public charter schools. In Louisiana, a state that has blazed the trail in recent years for controversial school choice policies, provisions of House Bill 976 (2012) eliminated certification requirements for charter school teachers in the state. Prior to the passage of House Bill 976, Louisiana law required that 75% of teachers in charter schools have valid teaching certificates. The elimination of certification requirements for charter school teachers in Louisiana has been pretty hotly debated—as I believe it will be in North Carolina; with the change drawing the ire of teachers unions and traditional public school district superintendents.
In Louisiana, this change has immediate implications for the vast majority of teachers in the city of New Orleans. Approximately 75% of public schools in New Orleans are charter schools and nearly 80% of the city’s public school students attend charter schools. So eliminating requirements for teacher certification in Louisiana could mean that over time, a majority of teachers working in public schools in a major American city could be non-licensed teachers. Charter schools in none of North Carolina’s cities serve nearly the percentage of students as charter schools in New Orleans, so the immediate implications of the passage of Senate Bill 337 are not quite as drastic. But eliminating licensure requirements for charter school teachers in North Carolina and Louisiana represents a national conversation (or debate) around what the most appropriate credentials for public school teachers ought to be.
The majority of advocates for eliminating state licensure requirements for charter school teachers see state-licensure as an unnecessary hurdle for other-wise qualified aspiring content experts who would like to teach. While the current policy changes pertain only to teachers in charter schools, changes to licensure requirements for teachers in traditional public schools will likely follow in some states. How could they not? Whatever one’s feelings regarding the utility of charter school reforms, there is no debating the fact that charter schools are in fact public schools; and states will have a difficult time rationalizing the maintenance of one set of credentialing requirements for chemistry teachers at Johnson Traditional High School, but then waiving those credentialing requirements for Jackson Charter High School right across the street. It just doesn’t make sense.
Teachers unions and traditional public school district superintendents in Louisiana and North Carolina are currently making the argument that different requirements for charter school teachers and traditional public school teachers doesn’t make sense. They are right. But what I don’t think they understand yet is that the resolution to these differences in requirements for teachers will likely be the elimination of state licensure requirements for all public school teachers in a state. It won’t happen overnight and it won’t happen in all states, but mark my words, that’s where this is heading.
The implications for teacher training, schools of teacher education, and the teaching profession are huge! More to come…
Last week the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the funding mechanism for Louisiana’s new school voucher program was in fact unconstitutional. Louisiana’s school voucher program gained national attention in 2012 as it would have potentially become the largest state-funded voucher program in the country, making over half the state’s public school students eligible to receive state-funded vouchers to attend private and parochial schools. Last week’s ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court did not find the program itself to be unconstitutional, but that the funding mechanism for the program violated the state constitution.
Brief History of the Voucher Program
In 2012, Louisiana’s state legislature passed a sweeping education reform bill which had significant implications for public and private school options available to families in the state. The new law instituted the largest statewide school voucher program in the country. In defense of the reforms, Louisiana’s state superintendent of education John White said Governor Jindal’s interest was not in creating a voucher school system for the state, but in creating “a system of choice and completion, one based on the decisions and needs of families” (Cavanagh, 2012, p. 15). Under this reform, eligible children include those who attend a school that received a grade of C, D, or F on the state’s school grading system, and who live in a household with an annual income up to 250% of the poverty line (currently $57,625 for a family of four). Under the law, more than half of the state’s public school students would be eligible to receive a state-funded scholarship which could be used to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools across the state—including church-based schools that integrate biblical references into the curriculum, and for individual courses offered by a menu of public and private providers including online options. Education policy professor Chris Lubienski called Louisiana’s inclusion of funding provisions for individual course options a new dynamic in state education policy, reflective of choice advocates position that parents should have greater control over “the portion of the market they use” (Cavanagh, 2012, p. 17).
A group of plaintiffs, including most notably, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, brought suit against the Jindal administration on the grounds that the law was in violation of the Louisiana state constitution. In December 2012, a state judge sided with the plaintiffs, declaring the state’s highly contested new voucher program unconstitutional. The court ruled that Louisiana’s school funding formula, the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), was intended to be used exclusively for public schools. The governor appealed the court’s ruling and expressed optimism that on appeal the decision would be reversed; but as we saw last week, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the funding method for the state’s voucher program was in fact unconstitutional.
Whether you are a choice policy advocate or not, it is pretty clear that Louisiana’s MFP was not intended to fund non-public schools through a voucher program as proposed by the new law. Whether we believe the state’s funding program ought to be able to fund such a program is a different story altogether; but the plain reality here is that Louisiana’s MFP was not set up to do it.
So where do Louisiana choice advocates go from here? Well, the Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling poses a pretty substantial hurdle for Louisiana choice advocates. The state’s much smaller voucher program in New Orleans had been paid for out of the state’s general fund, avoiding any potential issues with the MFP. But I believe there is a low likelihood that the state will fund a statewide voucher program out of the state’s general fund; at least not at the scale that the program was initially intended to be. Potentially, a massively scaled-down version of the program could be added to the state budget, but getting it passed would be test of wills for the Governor and his supporters in the legislature.
For now, there are questions surrounding both the dollars that have been dispersed to public and parochial schools over the last year under the law through the MFP, and the future of the voucher program. The Louisiana Association of Educators has said that Governor Jindal should be responsible for getting those funds back from private and parochial schools, and they have vowed to go to court to force the governor to do so if he refuses. Adding to the controversy, approximately 8,000 students have been approved to receive state-funded vouchers under the program for the coming school year. Where are those funds going to come from? I don’t know, but State Superintendent John White has said that the program will continue. And even with the court’s ruling, the program may legally continue. The court found the funding mechanism and not the actual program to be unconstitutional. Louisiana’s voucher program may continue; Governor Jindal just has to find a constitutional way to pay for it.