HELP WANTED: Students at Helena-West Helena's Central High School.
In a press release today
, the state Education Department promotes the "Arkansas Teacher Cadets Program,"
which encourages high school juniors and seniors to enter the teaching profession.
The program allows participating high school students to earn concurrent credit from a college or university and includes a classroom internship. This school year, there are 38 Arkansas schools and over 450 students participating.
It sounds like a good initiative, but it remains to be seen how many of those students actually become teachers. And unless the cadets program can scale up in a major way, it doesn't come close to addressing the growing teacher shortage in the state.
On Friday, Arkansas Public Media's Sarah Whites-Koditschek had an illuminating report
on the efforts that some struggling districts in Arkansas are taking to fill holes in their classroom staff, including licensure waivers that allow schools to hire people with minimal training and no teaching certification. Inevitably, it's the poorest and most needy schools that end up with the most underqualified staff.
That problem threatens to get a lot worse because of a steep decline in the number of Arkansas college students going into teaching. KUAR reports:
The licensure waivers are in part a response to a dramatic drop in the number of Arkansans interested in becoming teachers through existing pathways. In the last three years, the total number of aspiring teachers enrolled in any kind of preparatory program in the state has dropped by half.
In 2013, 7,758 were enrolled, and in 2016 that number fell to 3,944.
Juxtapose that trend with a bill filed last week by Rep. Bruce Cozart (R-Hot Springs)
that will end due process protections for teacher terminations in districts that have been taken over by the state. The bill will allow a waiver of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act
in such districts. Another bill by Rep. Mark Lowery
(R-Maumelle) would undo the fair dismissal act for principals, APs and central office staff for all
Whites-Koditschek found that Helena-West Helena is employing 15 non-certified teachers, more than any other district in the state. Helena-West Helena has been under state takeover for for years. Is the solution to its educational woes really to make teachers easier to fire?
Even if one accepts the highly dubious premise that "bad teachers" are a root cause of school dysfunction (rather than a consequence), where will the "good teachers" come from to fill positions at schools in districts like Helena and high-poverty campuses in Little Rock?
Meanwhile, salaries remain low for teachers in Arkansas — especially in the poorest districts. The legislature is likely to increase public education funding by a mere 1 percent this year. And teacher health insurance remains in a state of low-level crisis, because it is chronically underfunded by the state.
Given all that, it's hard not to feel a little pessimistic about this quote from ADE’s Teacher
Recruitment and Retention program adviser accompany the press release today: “With the Arkansas Teacher Cadets Program, we are providing opportunities for students to learn more about the teaching profession and the positive experiences they can have as teachers. This program also gives schools the opportunity to build their future teacher pipeline by encouraging students to enter the teaching profession.”