New License Law Spells Trouble for Teachers

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In Utah, the lack of budgetary support for teachers K-12 is sadly nothing new. Historically, teachers in the state are paid roughly 30 percent lower than professionals with comparable degrees, and the establishment of numerous standardized tests has taken away from authentic learning statewide. Yet, just as Utah’s imprudent system of education seemingly couldn’t get worse, the enlightened members of the State Board of Education intervened in June of this year.

In response to a severe shortage of teachers in Utah, the Board passed a resolution termed the “Academic Pathway To Teaching,” that allows individuals to be hired without a traditional teaching license. There are stipulations, of course, including a bachelors degree and entry level subject tests. However, these regulations only mask the damage that has been done to teachers in Utah. Let’s begin with the state’s budget for education.

In the current fiscal year, public education spending in Utah amounts to nearly 30 percent of the total budget, sitting roughly at $3.9 billion dollars. Seems like quite a bit of money, doesn’t it? Well, according to the Washington Post, Utah is actually ranked last in the United States for per-pupil spending. The implications of this extend far within the classroom, as each student is able to accrue less resources while trying to learn a truly vast amount of information. What arises is an innate sense of abandonment amongst students and educators alike, as the state clearly doesn’t value the importance of K-12 education.

This is only the beginning of Utah’s academic woes, however.

On average, teachers in the state of Utah earn a salary that is approximately $32,000 a year, a wage that many would understandably struggle to live on. This figure, in tandem with low per-pupil spending, contributes heavily to the nearly 42 percent attrition rate amongst Utah teachers every five years. Indeed, while progress nationally is being made towards improving national educational standards, Utah is lagging behind the pack. Instead of addressing these issues, the State Board of Education has made clear “its intention to analyze the causes of the profession’s high turnover with the help of external researchers,” as reported by the Nonprofit Quarterly. Are they being serious?

This brings us back to the ridiculous notion that anyone with a bachelors degree can become a teacher in the state of Utah.

The Academic Pathway To Teaching instills the belief that anyone can do the job of an educator. Traditionally, prospective teachers must undergo years of training within classrooms before they’re granted their professional certification. Yet, those hired through this pathway needn’t receive a degree in teaching, nor spend any time within a classroom working with students. While this should ideally lessen the strain put on existing teachers, the law is based upon the most contrived principles imaginable.

Under the system, every new teacher hired should hypothetically be supervised for three years by a veteran teacher — in this case, “veteran” refers to an educator who has actually received a license. However, if the state of Utah already has a major shortage of teachers, how do they ensure that each new employee is adequately overseen? What is the compensation for an already stressed employee to take on the role of “mentor,” while at the same time being responsible for numerous children? Since when does spreading something thinner make the situation any better?

Indeed, it takes only a single ill-prepared teacher to permanently affect the lives of thirty students each year — why tempt fate?

Through passing this resolution, Utah provides absolutely no incentive for a private citizen to become a teacher, regardless of the fast track system. Aiming for those with “relevant professional experience,” the State Board of Education is arguably begging for prospective employees to take a pay cut. In relation to a similar article published by the Deseret News, one commenter said, “If I were to quit my industry job and teach as the article suggests I can, my salary would be cut in more than half…” Thus, herein lies the problem with Utah’s educational system: teachers aren’t being paid enough.

Shocker, right?

If Utah wants to hire the best qualified candidates to educate students, it begins principally with fiscal appropriations. Rather than beg for citizens to take pay cuts, or provide students with unprofessional teachers, incentivize enrolling freshman to pursue an educational degree. Last year, the state of Utah had the fastest growth rate of payrolls in the nation at a rate of 4.3 percent, and the third lowest unemployment rate at 3.5 percent. Is there an actual reason that educators need to be paid such a tediously small salary?

My argument against the Academic Pathway to Teaching doesn’t rest upon raising per-pupil spending exorbitantly or increasing teacher salaries astronomically. Yet, it doesn’t take an outside research group to understand why Utah is suffering from a shortage of teachers; there is simply little support for public education. Rather than create a system that encourages the perception that anyone can teach, the State Board should rescind their June mandate, and work toward a greater allocation of funds for the coming fiscal year. If not, one can certainly expect irreparable harm done to students all across the state of Utah.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

 

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