Small salaries, student loan debt, political agendas, angry parents—and an important job to do on top of it all. Teachers have been struggling with these things for years, and it’s starting to show through staffing shortages in both Kansas and Missouri. Missouri now has a solution, but is it really fixing the problem, or is it just another way to devalue teachers?
Earlier this summer, Missouri loosened its teacher licensure requirements, making it much easier for aspiring teachers to enter the classroom. Teachers no longer need to pass their exams to receive a license. Now they can score just below a passing grade if they have maintained a 3.0 GPA in their college coursework and student teaching.
The policy for substitutes has been relaxed as well. As opposed to having to complete a set number of semester hours, Missouri’s Department of Education has made it so anyone completing their twenty-hour online certification program can sub.
While steps to fill open teacher positions are appreciated, many are left wondering if all it does is lower the bar for the profession.
Dr. Paul Katnik, an assistant commissioner in the Missouri education department, says that teaching quality is not at risk with the new licensure requirements and that the changes show support for Missouri school districts. The state’s leaders are “doing all they can to support schools during this challenging time of greater staffing issues,” he wrote in an email to Kansas City magazine.
Jason Roberts, president of the Kansas City Federation of Teachers, disagrees, believing that loosening the requirements is essentially devaluing education. However, Roberts also said that removing a standardized test from the mix isn’t the worst idea.
“We should not be doing things to lighten up the expectations of who can teach our children,” he says. “We have to hold ourselves to high standards. That being said, I was not opposed to the removal of the requirement to pass a standardized test in order to be a teacher. The reason for that is because historically, teachers have said you cannot judge a student’s growth or knowledge based on a standardized test.”
Though torn on the topic of licensure, Roberts believes there are other things Missouri could do to better support teachers, starting with raising their pay. According to the National Education Association, Missouri ranks third from the bottom nationally in average teacher salary. Roberts says that teachers also need better benefits and trust from their districts to do their jobs. A major factor in teachers moving from the profession, he says, is political accusations coming from politicians and angry parents.
On the Kansas side, educators have been less impressed with Missouri’s way of handling its teacher shortage.
Jill Johnson, the NEA president for the Shawnee Mission school district, says Missouri’s tactics are not something she would like to see replicated in Kansas. She believes it would bring people into the profession who are not passionate about it. A better solution would be to decrease the cost of college education.
“I understand that the issue is dire and we need teachers in classrooms, but to lower the standard like that could just be very risky,” Johnson says. “I think that it’s making it so our profession is not seen as professional.”
Janet Waugh of the Kansas State Board of Education says that Kansas is in crisis with the current teacher shortage in the state but doesn’t want to see the quality of instruction suffer.
“This is one of the biggest challenges we’ve ever faced,” she says. “We are trying to find ways to get people licensed to be teachers, to remove barriers while retaining quality. To me, that’s the important thing. I want to remove the barriers to teaching, but there’s a quality piece there that I want.”