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A Barber Needs 1,000 Hours of Training in Wisconsin, But Some Teachers Need None

To quote Valerie Strauss in the May 28 edition of The Washington Post, “What the heck is going on with Wisconsin public education?” Efforts in the Wisconsin State Legislature to reform education without the transparency of public debate, or the consultation of educators, resulted in proposed legislation that may erode the basic foundation of Wisconsin’s public school system. Do politicians realize they are proposing a licensure policy that, if approved, would require barbers (yes, you read that right) to have more training at their craft than teachers?

Seriously, what the heck IS going on?

The Motion and Its Implications

On Wednesday, May 20, the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) of the Wisconsin Legislature approved Motion #457, associated with the omnibus budget bill. The package included extensive proposed changes to teacher preparation policy, which would reduce Wisconsin’s teaching qualifications to among the lowest in the nation.

The proposed reforms would do the following:

  • Allow school districts to hire individuals to teach middle and high school math, science, social studies, and English with no teacher preparation.
  • Require the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to issue a teaching permit to individuals who have not earned a bachelor’s degree, or potentially a high school diploma, to teach in any subject area outside the core subjects of mathematics, English, science, and social studies.
  • Require the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to offer an online teacher-training program for those who hold a license or permit based on a school board’s recommendation.

WACTE’s Response

The Wisconsin Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (WACTE) has ignited a rapid response to Motion #457 to remove educational reform language from the budget bill. This response has benefited from strategic efforts at building WACTE’s organizational capacity to effectively advocate for the teaching profession. Thanks to the strong ties WACTE had made with PK-12 representatives, together we formed the Wisconsin Coalition for Excellence in Education(WiCEE) to enable us to speak with a united voice. Jeanne Williams (chair of the WACTE Communications Committee and WACTE past president), Stewart Purkey (chair of the WACTE Government Relations Committee), and WiCEE have led the response efforts. Our joint efforts on Motion #457 have included formal written responses sent to all members of the JFC and the Education Committee, the development of key talking points, and an associated graphic design. We were able to disseminate information rapidly via social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. Thanks to our partnerships, efforts to build base support among the general public, interest groups, media, and community opinion leaders in favor of socially responsible educational policies are well under way in Wisconsin.

As of June 10, the JFC had agreed to amend Motion #457 to ensure that those who may be teaching with only a high school diploma work part-time. This modification is simply not enough. We must continue efforts to ensure every classroom has a highly qualified teacher. To do anything less is to jeopardize the next generation of leadership.  

Melanie Agnew is president of the Wisconsin Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Reid Riggle is president-elect.

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Melanie Agnew

Westminster College

Reid Riggle

St. Norbert College