Why Johnny Still Can’t Read

Foreword: No, this is not about standards, teaching materials or teaching methods. This is about an infernally intrusive, obstructive and abusive bureaucracy that interferes with teaching anything anywhere.

Today I caught the second half of a conference call hosted by the Nevada Department of Education. (Now, before some of you tune out because you live somewhere else, please note this is a federal issue and therefore it is applicable in all States.) It concerns the rather self-servingly glowing press release by our Governor (attached below).

The gist of the conference call and the press release is that there is a serious and growing shortage of teachers, especially in the greater Las Vegas area. The problem grew from 400 in the last school year; to 600 at the beginning of the current school year; 700 at this time, within the current school year; and projected to be 1000 by the beginning of the next one.

The obvious solution would be to modify and therefore ease the recruitment process so that teachers who obtained their qualifications and experience in another State could be hired immediately and remedy minor deficiencies in State-specific requirements (typically such as a course in the State’s history and constitution) while they are allowed to teach the subject that they are qualified and hired to teach.

Simple, no?

No. As the Governor’s press release explains, federal law stood in the way (No Child Left Behind, aka NCLB; thank you, G. W. Bush). That obstacle was removed in US Senate Bill 1777 which was signed into law last December as the “every student succeeds act,” ESSA, to take effect on January 1.

You would think this is wonderful, but you know me… In previous articles I’ve called the Bush law “every child left behind,” and I’ll be happy to call its revision the “every child fails law.”

Anyway, you need to know the rest of the story.

The school year begins in August. You would think any such changes in the law would be passed in time to implement it by the start of the school year, not in the middle of a school year.

According to information presented in the conference cal this morning, it took Nevada’s bureaucracy the five weeks since the change in federal law took effect to come up with this emergency provisional regulation; it will take another 2-6 months to make it permanent.

There was no explanation why they did not start planning for it before the change in the law took effect. Surely they must have known about the bill, when the bill passed the Senate, then passed the House, and sent up to the president for his signature. That would have given them at least an extra month to prepare.

You might wonder why the State needed to wait for a change in federal law to fix a State problem. That was not explained either, except that Nevada stood to lose $143M in federal subsidies if they had violated the old NCLB law.

$143M is a lot of money in a State with a small population like Nevada. However, the Governor just in the last session of the Legislature has rammed through a $1.5B tax hike (the same tax hike that was voted down 80-20 in a referendum in the last general election), plus and a $1.5B hike in the education budget without actually being very specific about how all the new money will be spent. The federal money that Nevada stood to lose by jumping the gun on provisional teacher certificates amount to less than 10% of the increase in the State’s portion of the education budget.

Respectfully I submit that this emergency proclamation could have been issued this past summer (as soon as the tax hike and education budget hike were signed into law) and we’d have been a long way toward solving this problem by the start of the current school year.

However, as this activity was due to a change in federal law, presumably other States are looking at it too. And indeed, someone from the audience of this morning’s conference call asked the question that I think was the highlight of the entire conference call: what makes you think we won’t just get the dregs of other States?

The hesitation, the long pause, the silence; it was deafening. And it was followed by a knowing, tell-tale twitter in the audience…

Eventually the interim Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Great State of Nevada, obviously embarrassed and self-conscious, started to reply by saying that he’d hope the quality control in each local district’s hiring process would address that issue effectively.

So, notice what they are really talking about. Under NCLB a State could not issue provisional teacher certificates. Under ESSA, they can, provided that the applicant has a permanent teacher certificate from another State, and will make up the 3-6 credit deficiency within the first year while teaching.

Respectfully I submit that this is nonsense on so many levels.

1. If the only way you can make up a teacher shortage in one State by attracting teachers from other States, then you have to give them a damn good reason to move. What is YOUR State offering that other State can’t or won’t match? I have not heard any promises of higher salaries or bonuses to relocate to Las Vegas, for example.

2. Assuming that whatever one State offers will soon be matched by other States, the way to overcome a shortage within a State will come from within the State. If you need the teachers now — not at the end of the 1-4 years in college, even assuming there are enough students in the pipeline — then emergency recruitment efforts should be focused on, and provisional certificates should be issued to, former teachers, people with applicable education working in other fields, retirees, etc., with flexible requirements and allowances for making up deficiencies for permanent teacher certification.

3. Unless you are a history teacher, in which case of course you should know about your State’s history and Constitution, does it even make sense to have this as a requirement for teaching other subjects, and as an obstacle to hiring teachers from other States?

4. Nevada did not act sooner for fear of violating federal law. Violating??? By trying to modify State regulations regarding the qualifications of teachers hired by local school districts…

5. The feds are controlling education at all levels, within a State and within a school district, by the power of the purse. First they get the people addicted to federal money, then they keep them in line with threats of withholding that money.

6. It matters to no one that under the Constitution the federal government has no authority to have any say in education. Money trumps the Constitution.

7. Precisely because under the Constitution the federal government has no authority to have any say in education, each State could throw off the federal yoke and free itself from federal control by funding 100% of its education needs. But they are unable or unwilling to do so.

8. Education law has become so complicated and convoluted that it takes a State’s experts 4-5 weeks to analyze a relatively simple change in the law and to devise even only a partial solution to a serious local problem.

No wonder education is going to hell in a hand basket.

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