By Kaleigh Cober.
- Pour a Cup of Empty Hope onto an Already Simmering Pan of Inadequate Education
In what seems like a losing battle towards Arizona improving its education, could the solution be to lower the standard for teachers and not require a bachelor’s degree? Through a series of attempts to bolster an influx of teachers in Arizona, including the 20×2020 plan and SB 1042, Governor Doug Ducey has been acknowledging the deeply-rooted education issues plaguing Arizona. In July, Governor Ducey passed SB 1159 as another attempt to fix Arizona’s debilitating teacher shortage that the state has been experiencing. Although many states are experiencing teacher shortages, SB 1159’s approach is a seemingly unorthodox one, in that it allows college students to take teaching jobs.
SB 1159, which went into effect at the end of September, allows a school district to hire a teacher that doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree if they (1) satisfy background and fingerprint clearance card requirements, (2) are currently enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program, and (3) regularly instruct in the presence of a teacher or instructional coach. Essentially, this bill allows college students to step in and instruct children by starting, and completing, their teaching training while concurrently finishing their degree. Yes, even though these college students that teach students must be supervised by a licensed teacher themselves… the bill provides a loophole for that. These college students are able to teach without supervision if they have an emergency teacher certificate—a certificate that is issued when a school can’t fill a vacancy otherwise.
- Fold In Seven Years of Unprecedented Teacher Vacancies
The inability to fill a teaching vacancy in Arizona should sound shockingly familiar, as last month the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA) confirmed that Arizona had reached its seventh consecutive year of a continued teacher shortage. In ASPAA’s data released in January 2022, not only did 31.0% of teacher vacancies remain unfilled—increasing from 2021’s 25.9%—but the percentage of vacancies filled by teachers that don’t meet the state’s standard certification requirements dropped from 2021’s 55.4% to 47.7%. There have been shifts in the overall percentages themselves throughout this year; per ASPAA’s September 2022 Report, vacancies dropped back down to 26.6% and vacancies filled by individuals below the standard teacher requirements went down to 41.7%.
The unfilled vacancy percentage dropping isn’t as telling as it seems; this percentage tends to gravitate around 25.0%, with January 2022’s 31.0% seeming to be an outlier. More importantly, the September 2022 Report indicates the highest number of total vacancies that the ASPAA has reported since they began releasing these reports: 2,578. This is by far the largest amount, with the second highest amount being the 2016 Report’s 2,041 vacancies (see 2019’s 1,434 vacancies, 2020’s 1,989 vacancies, and 2021’s 1,966 vacancies). However, even the “total vacancies” is slightly skewed, as it doesn’t consider the vacancies filled by the following: long-term substitutes, contracted agencies (e.g., special education positions), administration or classified personnel, teachers with class sizes exceeding the school’s class size limits, collapsing classrooms into multi-grade classrooms, or teachers working on 6/5ths contracts (i.e., without planning time).
In turn, the actual number of openings needing to be filled for the 2022-2023 school year is 9,672. Regardless of what the true number of vacancies is considered to be, these reports do show the urgent need for teachers in Arizona, which was a driving factor in Governor Ducey’s SB 1159. However, it’s key to point out that the September 2022 Report doesn’t even take the new bill into consideration, as it wasn’t in effect until the end of September. It’s a stretch to believe this bill that was intended to fix the number of vacancies, one that relaxes certification requirements, wouldn’t backtrack the advances made in decreasing the percentage of uncertified, vacancy-filling teachers. Not only does Arizona have a pressing need to fill vacancies, but its education system as a whole is abysmal.
- Forget to Add 48 Ounces of a Beneficial Education System and Paying Decent Salaries
For a state that has an education system ranked 48th in our nation, it’s understandable why critics of the bill are concerned that less-educated and unprepared individuals will now be teaching in Arizona. Not only does Arizona have the highest dropout rates and largest classroom sizes, but it was also already near the bottom of the list for certified teachers, school spending, and test scores. SB 1159 is trying to broaden options for teachers by allowing students to teach, but how is it going to improve Arizona’s clearly flawed education system? Or solve why young adults aren’t entering the education field? ASPAA and others have echoed this sentiment, and the Arizona Education Association and Arizona School Administrators Association have both opposed SB 1159.
Albeit, it’s feasible to be drawn to the bill’s ability to provide career change opportunities, but the better path to draw in more teachers may be to increase teachers’ salaries. Even after the conclusion of 20×2020—which raised their salaries by 20% between 2017 and 2020—Arizona is still ranked 50th for median annual earnings. Recently, Arizona teachers earned only $52,157 on average, and their weekly pay was barely two-thirds of what other college-educated workers are paid—the worst out of any state. Further, among large US cities, Phoenix and Tucson ranked 48th and 50th respectively. Arizona expects its teachers to have the largest classroom sizes, yet concurrently expects them to settle for the lowest salaries.
- Start from Scratch & Reheat the Oven Instead
Rather than making the changes needed in our education system, and the changes that our teachers desperately deserve, legislation is aimed at opening the door wider to a sparse, empty room… rather than furnishing the house itself. Even after the increases implemented with 20×2020, there wasn’t an outrageous influx of individuals running to be teachers, as the contrary occurred with the percentage of vacancies increasing on average. Instead of that being because teaching is an unattainable profession—as the legislature seems to view it, since they’re making it seemingly more accessible with lower credentials—it’s merely an impecunious, unsustainable one.