BILL CRAWFORD: Teacher standards in dispute

By Bill Crawford

Gov. Phil Bryant ruffled feathers when he dinged the IHL Board for not supporting his new teacher education entrance standards.
“That was quite a tantrum Gov. Phil Bryant pitched at the College Board recently, criticizing its members for voicing concerns about his effort to increase standards for education majors,” read an editorial in the McComb Enterprise-Journal. “Bryant’s snide remarks to the board were undignified at best.”
Bryant had a cordial dinner with board members the night before, leaving them to believe he was satisfied with a compromise proposed by IHL Commissioner Hank Bounds. Apparently that was not the case. The Associated Press reported Bryant addressed the board and, when it failed to agree with him, snapped, “We’ll make sure we keep those standards low.”
Bryant proposed embedding into state law entry level requirements for teacher education programs. He wants future teachers to have a 21 score on the ACT and a 3.0 GPA on first and second year college courses.
Bounds wrote to Bryant on March 5 saying, “The IHL Board and I share your desire to raise standards and uphold rigor for teacher education candidates.” He then went on to say Bryant’s proposal would have “unintended consequences.” Among them were potential accreditation issues that arise when politicians interfere with governing board authority over educational policy, including university entrance requirements, and impacts on alternative route teachers who comprise 40 percent of teacher certifications each year; minimum ACT and GPA are not currently required for alternative route pathways.
“Given the issues raised above, and in support of the intent of the bill to raise standards, I recommend modifying the language in the bill to raise licensure requirements rather than teacher education admission requirements,” wrote Bounds.
But, Bounds’ letter turned right back to simply amend Bryant’s admission requirements, not licensure requirements. In addition to Bryant’s 21 ACT and 3.0 GPA, Bounds proposed a 3.0 GPA and scoring at the national median in reading, writing and mathematics on the Praxis I teacher examination.
Neither of these simplistic proposals should be set into concrete state law with no exceptions. How many of our children have failed to take the first two years of college seriously, but come back later to achieve success and even obtain graduate degrees? How many alternate route individuals with the experience, maturity and honed intellect to be great teachers had average college grades scores years ago?
In a state in dire need of quality teachers, how many shall we needlessly exclude?
The governor’s intention was right, we do need better teachers. Bounds was initially right, we should focus on tougher teacher licensure requirements.
All this should be about readiness to teach, not early college scores and grades…and who is best to asses such readiness.
Legislators or educators?
BILL CRAWFORD (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian. Write to him at 1124 Windmill Dr., Meridian, MS 39305.