Local educators decry lowering teaching standards

It takes more than knowledge to connect with students

Chino Valley Unified School District Superintendent John Scholl was a chemist before he became an educator 22 years ago.

Armed with a bachelor’s degree from his first profession, Scholl enrolled in an alternative education certification program in California that put him almost immediately into classroom experiences. From the start of that short-run program he was immersed with veteran teachers and students.

So Scholl is a believer teaching is an “art” that requires more than standing up in front of classroom of children and reciting facts and figures.

For state lawmakers who seem to think anyone can teach, Scholl and fellow superintendents and educators who earned certification, either by a traditional or alternative route, say that simply isn’t so.

“It’s like saying you can be a lawyer because you once were inside a courtroom,” Scholl said.

Gov. Doug Ducey and the legislature’s recent move to lower the standards required for second-career professionals to get into the classroom has prompted considerable controversy within education circles. Lawmakers who favor the move say this is a cost-effective means to address the teacher shortage; opponents say it is a slap to credentialed, and certified educators who have invested time, money and talent to perfecting their craft.

“Although I recognize the severity of the teacher shortage in Arizona, I have serious concerns with Senate Bill 1042,” said Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas. “In my opinion, lowering the standards for new teachers is not the way to correct the problem. Instead, I have recommended that we focus on increasing teacher salaries to help retain and attract the best candidates.

“… Since there is no more important job than teaching our children, our focus should be to provide teachers with the tools that they need to be successful, including appropriate pay.”

Prescott Education Association President Michael McCrady, a math and science teacher at Granite Mountain School, finds this new law an offense.

It is another attempt to diminish the worthiness of the teaching profession, he suggested.

“If you lower the standards, you don’t have to pay a teacher as much,” McCrady said. “I believe what Ducey and the state legislature are telling us is the same thing they have been saying for the past 30 years; kids in this state don’t matter.”

Freshman State Rep. David Stringer of Prescott said he sees this bill as offering opportunity, not degrading current or future educational professionals.

“Teachers don’t want this because they don’t want the competition,” said Stringer, who serves on the House Education Committee and is a lawyer/accountant now working on a master’s degree in education at Arizona State University.

In his mind, this law does not in any way diminish standards. Rather it creates a pathway for professionals, some of them retired, to share skills with future generations for the intrinsic rewards rather than a paycheck.

“This broadens the pool of talent,” Stringer said.

State Board of Education Vice-President Tim Carter, the Yavapai County Schools superintendent, said he recognizes the need for some flexibility and options with certification guidelines. Still, Carter said, he believes the existing interim certification now offered through the state Department of Education suits the purpose of enabling second career professionals to become classroom teachers.

“If you want to be a teacher, you’re called to do that; it’s intrinsic in who you are. It’s what makes you who you are,” Carter said.

“Anybody who believes knowing the content area and teaching are the same thing have never worked in the field of education ... You need to know details about the subject matter you’re going to teach. No doubt about it. But equally important, and some people believe even more important, is knowing how to interact with students so they can understand it and then apply it … That’s the difference between what those in the education field say, and what the legislature sees.”

Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard assures that he and his staff will never lower their standards.

The most essential ingredient in education today is to hire people who are both knowledgeable in their fields, and embody the ability to impart that knowledge to this community’s children, Howard said.

“Teaching is not all about content,” Howard said. “We need people who know how to work with kids.”