Assignment: Education – Proposed teacher license changes

Math can be a tough subject. Hiring people to teach math, some may argue, is even tougher right now.

“There’s fewer and fewer applicants in those areas,” said Bangor School District Superintendent Dave Laehn. “So it’s just concerning.”

Laehn said the shortage of teachers can be felt in many different subject areas from math and science to special education to business, tech education and family and consumer education.

“If you lose a teacher in one of those areas, it is very, very difficult to find even a handful of candidates,” Laehn said, “and when I say a handful, if you get four or five applicants in those areas consider yourself fortunate. And that’s very sad when you look at it in terms of getting a candidate, but getting a quality candidate.”

Ten years ago, Laehn says a school district could get up to 100 applicants for one job posting. Now districts across the state, big or small, just aren’t seeing many people apply for teaching jobs.

“One of the things, that when I looked for reasons, (is) historically whenever we’ve had a downturn in the economy — so the Great Recession — the numbers historically … (in) public education — when those types of events happen, people will gravitate toward other occupations,” he said.

To help fix the shortage of educators in Wisconsin, the state’s Department of Public Instruction is reviewing a proposed set of changes to the way teachers are currently licensed.

“Overall, I think they’re ideas that are worth discussion,” said Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers.

But the director of the Institute for Professional Studies in Education at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Patricia Markos, said one of the proposed changes she’s most concerned with is the idea of broadening the teaching categories.

“So it’s, ‘Lets give bigger licenses, bigger areas so teachers can go out and teach in different — they could do middle school or they could do elementary,'” said Markos. “Well, if that’s the case, they better be prepared for both, and I think that’s what’s missing right now.”

The proposed change would collapse the middle teaching license bracket, reducing the license options from three developmental categories to two.

“We have been preparing teachers in those subjects for grades 5-12 for the last 15 years,” the Department of Public Instruction’s communications director, Tom McCarth, said. “The preparation programs evaluate each individual licensure area and design a program to ensure that candidates leave ready to teach. Expanding one grade level is not a big stretch for the educator preparation programs.”

The state superintendent says he is currently reviewing community input from January’s public hearings on the proposed changes.

“Going forward any rule making process — you have to listen to what people say and then reach some conclusions,” said Evers. “And we’re just in the middle of that process.”

The proposed changes to teacher licensing still need to be approved by Evers. That may come as early as next month.

After his approval, a legislative committee will take a look at the ideas.