Teaching changes can be beneficial

New law addresses shortages in rural areas

By The Mercury

We hope the Kansas National Education Association is as good as its word in saying it wants to be part of solutions “that make sense for students.”

That comment came last week from KNEA spokesman Marcus Baltzell, who was referring to new state teaching license regulations that allow some individuals who have ample expertise but do not have education degrees to become secondary school teachers. Mr. Baltzell acknowledged that rural school districts sometimes have acute difficulties filling certain teaching positions, but expressed reservations about the new regulations.

“Opening classrooms to unlicensed and untrained individuals neglects and ignores aspects of the profession,” he told the Associated Press.

He has a point. Yet individuals who qualify to teach under the new regulations are unlikely to hurt students any more than individuals do who have education degrees but who are ineffective and whose jobs have been protected by tenure.

That, too, is changing. In addition to approving new licensing regulations, the Legislature’s school finance bill contained a provision stripping Kansas teachers of the job security that came with tenure.

The changes in licensing regulations are well intended. Their purpose is to encourage individuals who have professional experience and certifications especially in science, technology, engineering and math — the so-called STEM courses — to impart their knowledge to public school students. The regulations would permit applicants with a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of five years of related work experience in designated subjects to get Kansas teaching licenses. An industry-recognized certificate in a technical profession also would suffice as a qualification.

There is some risk, as KNEA has pointed out, and it ought not be ignored. It’s possible that some professionals who might be comfortable in a lab or another worksite won’t be able to convey their knowledge in classrooms. That would be a disservice to the students.

But the rewards are considerable. That’s true not just for students, who might get a perspective a career educator cannot provide, but for the professionals, who could experience the joy good teachers often feel in helping students grasp new concepts.

School districts that have trouble finding teachers the traditional way also stand to benefit by ensuring that their students have educational opportunities that are on a par with students in more urban districts.

The licensing changes are no panacea. Loosening the requirements could, as KNEA contends, undermine the teaching profession and education quality in Kansas.

But our sense is that the changes could strengthen the teaching profession in Kansas and make rural faculties more diverse. Certainly, given the difficulties some districts have finding teachers, it’s worth trying.

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