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Lowering Teacher Certification Requirements Is Not the Answer

Oh, Idaho. The Gem State has joined the ranks of many states before them, deciding that the best way to solve their teacher shortage is not to improve conditions and pay for their current talent pool and attract competition, but to simply lower the requirements to become a teacher.

Would you like to see what the rigorous requirements are now for Idaho’s charter school teachers?

Teachers must:

I don’t know about you, but I can think of plenty of people who have a college degree that I would not want teaching my son phonemic awareness. Or anything.

How Did This Happen?

This is not a trend that just began in 2022. About a dozen other states have been changing requirements for years to make it easier to become a teacher, from lowering the passing score on certification tests to removing the tests altogether.

Last March, Idaho introduced a House bill that would let districts define the criteria for teacher certification. They stipulated that districts would just have to promise that the teacher would receive mentoring and professional development.

OK. Sure, Jan.

The bill passed in the Idaho House but died in the Senate. Then it returned this year as SB1921, which extended the power to modify certification criteria to charter schools only. For now.

 The Thing That Really Gets Me …

States—including Idaho—often tout these pieces of legislation as well-meaning attempts to be more “inclusive” of people who struggle to pass the certification exams and that their efforts would “diversify” the candidate pool. However, if these same legislators who passed the bill in the House truly cared about diversity and inclusivity, they wouldn’t write up legislation that drastically limits who can vote. They wouldn’t push bills that fine and jail librarians for books on their shelves. They wouldn’t try to make it a felony to provide care to transgender youth. If they actually wanted to support teachers who struggle to pass certification exams, they would work on education reform and making college tuition more affordable. They would find ways to better support underrepresented communities. They would require that student teaching be a paid assignment.

It’s one thing to write up garbage legislation; it’s another to pretend it doesn’t smell terrible.

Why This Doesn’t Actually Solve the Shortage

A surprise to zero teachers, this strategy of sending unprepared and untrained teachers into classrooms full of children is irresponsible. Peter Greene says it best in Forbes: “But solving a ‘shortage’ by redefining the thing you are having trouble finding doesn’t actually solve anything. You don’t solve an automobile shortage by redefining ‘automobile’ as ‘anything with wheels.’ Nobody would want to see a hospital solve problems recruiting surgeons by redefining the job requirement, saying, ‘Anyone who can hold a knife can now be hired as a surgeon here.’”

Why We’re Worried

I don’t need to tell teachers what happens to the quality of education when states lower standards. Unfortunately, this type of legislation is not limited to Idaho, nor is the implication that teachers are replaceable drones instead of skilled professionals. Last month, an education adviser to the Tennessee governor said in a public speech that teachers “are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country” and that “we are going to try to demonstrate that you don’t have to be an expert to educate a child because basically anybody can do it.”

The governor—the leader of Tennessee—sat back and nodded.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on what’s happening in Idaho (and elsewhere). Please share in the comments.

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