Scott Walker’s Ingenious Plan for Boosting Teacher Quality

by Reihan Salam

In light of all of the recent Walkermentum, I thought I’d mention that the Wisconsin governor who is all but certain to run for the GOP presidential nomination has just announced a pretty smart new education proposal. According to Molly Beck of the Wisconsin State Journal, Walker has called for eliminating onerous licensing requirements for teachers. Outside of a few high-demand areas, public-school teachers in the state are required to obtain a teaching license that they can only acquire by enrolling in expensive, time-consuming teacher preparation programs that don’t appear to increase teacher effectiveness. Walker wants to allow college graduates with relevant work experience to teach without enrolling in such programs, a step that would greatly increase the supply of potential teachers. Suffice it to say, not everyone can teach, and one assumes that new teachers won’t just be thrown into classrooms without any preparation. But the preparation they need, in the form of rigorous feedback from experienced teachers and from peers, is not generally what teachers-in-training get from traditional teacher-preparation programs.

Moreover, Walker’s approach will make it far easier for mid-career professionals to transition into teaching without incurring the huge opportunity cost that the current licensing regime imposes on them. Back in 2009, Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute explained why opening up the teacher talent pool in this way might prove so immensely beneficial. While public schools tend to recruit teachers at the start of their careers, there are many older professionals who might be open to teaching if the barriers to entry weren’t quite so high, even if salaries remained fairly modest. Hess cites a 2008 Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation survey which found that an incredibly 42 percent of college-educated adults between the ages of 24 and 60 were open to the idea of teaching, and these adults tended to have stronger academic records than those who ruled out teaching. If even a small fraction of these professionals moved into teaching, one can imagine average teacher quality improving by quite a lot. So you can see who has the greatest interest in forcing older professionals to jump through hoops before making public school teaching their second and third act: lackluster teachers who fear the competition. I for one am rooting for Walker.

Licensing teachers is very much a state and local issue. I have no idea what Walker thinks about national issues, and it’s not entirely clear to me that he knows either. But if he can be as creative and gutsy in tackling the dysfunctional mess that is the federal government as he’s been at reforming K-12 and higher education in Wisconsin, all the Walkermentum will be richly deserved.

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