Relaxing standards to ease teacher shortage in Alabama: Educators divided on issue
Under temporary policy passed by state board, classroom could open some with lower certification test scores
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - The Alabama Board of Education on Tuesday took a step toward relaxing teaching standards to address a teacher shortage that officials say is critical in some places.
Education Superintendent Eric Mackey said the problem is particularly acute in rural areas, like the Black Belt.
“We have superintendents right now that have jobs posted, and those jobs have no applicants – no applicants at all,” he said.
Under the policy adopted by the board, the state temporarily will ease the minimum score on a certification test called the Praxis, which measures teachers’ mastery of their subjects and how to teach them. Set to expire in June 2024, the policy will open the door to people came close to passing the Praxis and who have above-average grades.
Mackey said there are hundreds of potential teachers who could benefit from the move.
“We don’t know how many of them want to teach still, but we’ll be able to recruit some teachers, I think, that way,” he said.
Livingston Long, who addressed the board on Tuesday, said he has taken the Praxis eight times – coming close, but never passing.
At a state education conference in Mobile, teachers were divided on the idea. Courtney Dixon, a fifth-grade teacher at Morningside Elementary School in Mobile, said she favors de-emphasizing the Praxis.
“It’s not everything in teaching,” said Dixon, who will be entering her eighth year in the profession. “Really getting in the classroom and working with those kids and working with the education system is what really gets you prepared for being a teacher.”
Mekasa Taylor, a teacher in Butler County, agreed.
“I don’t think one test should define whether you teach or not,” she said. “There’s already a teacher shortage. Of course, I went through it, and I passed it, but I didn’t pass it the first time.”
Kanzy Williams, who teaches science in Montgomery, also endorsed the idea.
“I think the state of Alabama has some of the highest score requirements for the Praxis,” he said.
Other educators expressed opposition.
“I don’t think the best idea is to lower the standards to become a teacher in Alabama,” said Allyson Burns, a reading coach in Cherokee County. “You know, the high standards are still there, so lowering the standards to be a teacher is not the best option.”
Added Jessica Evans, a teacher in Dale County in the Wiregrass: “You have to have a certain level of education and just everything you need to be an effective teacher should be held to higher than lower.”
Several parents also voiced skepticism.
“I understand why they’re trying to do it, ‘cause we do need more teachers,” said Shawna Cheatwood, a mother of four, including one who still is in the Mobile County school system. “But I think the standards should be higher, not lower, because I mean, they’re taking care of our babies.”
Mobile parent Melissa Riggs noted that COVID-19 caused a staffing crunch in her profession but that relaxing standards would have been a terrible solution.
“You have to have a standard for any profession that you’re in,” she said. “I’m a nurse, and you don’t want somebody who – you don’t want us to lower our standards with the care. And education is important.”
Shawn Kavanaugh is not just a grandmother of a kindergartner. She is a 37-year teaching veteran in Baldwin County. She said the state should pay more to attract better-qualified teachers.
“I think we need to raise our standards of teachers,” she said. “Teachers need to be ready to do their very best for our children. They deserve the very best. And by lowering the standards, that is just going to water down our education.”
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