I’ve just been given an education and my jaw is still hanging open. I’m one of the grizzled veterans on our school’s staff. It’s been more than two decades since I was coming out of college, completing my student teaching, and taking my tests to become a licensed teacher. I haven’t given that process much thought over those many years. As a result, I was completely ignorant of just how much that process has changed. Moments ago, I was having a discussion with two younger teachers, one of whom is in just her second year. We got to talking about all the tests they had to take to become licensed and just how hard it was for them to pass them. This news got my attention because when I was coming through the licensing process, I don’t recall any undue stress related to my experiences. I had to take one or two Praxis tests for my content area. Those tests were not unfairly difficult. Apparently, things have changed a great deal. In an age when we are facing a catastrophic national teacher shortage, the government is making it much more difficult–and expensive–to become a licensed teacher. This is yet another reason why the Red for Ed movement is so crucially needed. If I, as a veteran educator who watches my profession carefully and reports about all the issues facing teachers, didn’t realize this was going on, I’m sure the vast majority of the general public is unaware as well.
I stood in disbelief as I listened to my young colleagues tell their stories of becoming licensed. I’ve written a lot about the teacher shortage crisis. I knew that enrollment in schools of education in universities around the nation have been steadily plummeting. What I didn’t know was how few of those who do enroll in schools of education actually become licensed teachers. Prospective teachers now face a battery of extremely difficult and unfair tests that they must pass in order to become a teacher. My young math colleague said that the majority of would-be teachers are unable to pass their licensing math exam on the first attempt. It took her three attempts, she said, to pass and she was a standout math scholar who had excellent scores on all of her standardized math tests in high school. She said she has friends who are on their 8th or 9th attempt to pass the test and still haven’t succeeded. Apparently, tenured college professors have taken these exams and failed them. Another younger colleague reported a similar horror story about the testing required for him to become licensed to teach science. He said that the chemistry test, in particular, was ridiculously difficult. He singled out one particular question that required him to figure the different pressures of a weather balloon at two different altitudes and the rate of change. That problem required him to remember two separate obscure and antiquated formulas that nobody would ever use unless they worked for NASA, then do the math without the use of a calculator as part of a 100 question test with a 2-hour time limit. As it turned out, that test was the only exam he ever failed in his life. He said, not jokingly, that it nearly caused him to have a breakdown. As a result of stories like these, already shockingly small cohort groups in schools of education are being culled down to almost nothing due to the tortuous and cost prohibitive licensing process. One of my young teacher friends said that his cohort was only 16 people–the lowest in his college’s history at that time–and he was the only one who made it through to the end to become a licensed teacher. I had no idea this was going on.
So why is this? Why is our government allowing this to happen? That question can be answered in three simple words…follow the money. These licensing tests are produced by big corporations. They are big business. It is in the best financial interest of these testing companies to make their tests ridiculously difficult because each time a prospective teacher fails one of them, they have to fork out well over $100 for the privilege of retaking it. Imagine that friend of my math teacher colleague who is on her 8th attempt. She’s had to shell out more than $1,000 dollars for a single test that boasts such a pitiful pass rate. It goes well beyond the cost of the tests themselves, don’t forget the proprietary study guide programs they sell to help students prepare. By the way, these programs have expiration dates so that students have to buy new study guides when they take the tests again. And remember, all this money is being grifted from young people who don’t even have proper jobs yet. It’s no wonder why so few people are lining up to enter the teaching profession.
Our education system has been corrupted. It is rotting away from the core. I’ve been warning about this crisis for years, just as so many other educators have. It’s actually worse than I ever thought. Today I gained a new piece to this sinister puzzle. It has added fuel to my already blazing fire.
When you see the Red for Ed protests, please believe me, it’s about so much more than teacher pay–so much more.
Spread the word!
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