A bill that would make it easier for experts in their field to become teachers moved through the Senate Education Committee with a 4-2 vote Monday.
Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, would like to see the process streamlined so people don't have to go back to school for years and earn a teaching certificate in order to share their expertise in the classroom. SB48 would clear the path.
To teach, a person would have to apply to the Utah State Office of Education, pass a criminal background check, have certain education or certification, and demonstrate competency in their subject area by passing a test, completing coursework or demonstrating skills, talent and ability.
"People who have to have a degree in their particular area, and take a test of certification to teach that subject, are better than the hundreds of substitutes we have every day in our schools," Buttars said.
According to Buttars' bill, local districts still would have control over hiring and firing of teachers who went through this competency-based procedure. However, instead of a district recommending an "expert" person to teach, a person would apply on their own.
Right now there are generally a few ways a person can become a teacher in Utah. They can go the traditional route and earn a teaching degree. They could show competency in their field and be recommended by a school district.
There is also the state's "Alternative Routes to Licensure" program in which people, usually those who want a second career and have a bachelor's degree in their field, are allowed in the classroom after taking a few teaching courses and showing content knowledge in their field.
Susan Kuziak, former director of the Utah Education Association, questions the necessity of Buttars' bill since the Alternative program has been successful and, with its preparation and mentoring program, helps teachers "get a good start."
Last fall, approximately 800 applicants from the Alternative program were prepared to be interviewed by school districts. Of those, around 300 were hired, according to the State Office of Education.
"The retention is significantly high among those who complete that program," said Larry Shumway, associate superintendent for the State Office.
Dalane England, of Bountiful, a mother of six, spoke out in favor of Buttars' bill, saying education leaders need to be open to improving the system.
"There are so many people in this state who are in the top of their field," England said. "They would love to share their knowledge and their experience in the classroom."
However, these people feel frustrated in having to go through up to two years in further education when they are actually highly educated and experts in their field, she said.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said she likes the bill. "It's always exciting when people who have a passion for their profession want to share it with the students," Dayton said.
Debbie White, president American Federation of Teachers of Utah, said her organization is very concerned about the bill. "Teaching is a profession," White said.
Highly qualified people are supposed to be the ones teaching children. If it takes a year and a half for someone to achieve that, then that is worthwhile, White said.
Buttars refuted those who don't agree with his bill.
"We have teachers who couldn't teach anything and they have super degrees," he said. "So to make the assumption you can take these classes and automatically teach, is ridiculous."
The State Board of Education has taken no stance on Buttars' bill at this time.
For more information on Utah's "Alternative Routes to Licensure" program, go to www.usoe.k12.ut.us/cert/APT/ARL/description.htm
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