HEA Rulemaking; Utah Loosens Teaching Occupational Licensure; ICYMI: China and Ed Reform

This guest blogpost is by Kevin Kosar, author of Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education, who edits the Federal Education Policy History website and is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute.

Care about what institutions’ students can get HEA grants? You know, ones like Pell grants, the Federal Pell Grant program, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, the Federal Work-Study program, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant program, Federal Family Educational Loan Program, and the William D. Ford Direct Loan program.

Well, ED is rulemaking, and you have until August 24 to submit your comments. ED issued regs on this subject in 2010, but a federal court faulted them, so they are trying again. Further details and submission instructions are at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/07/25/2016-17068/program-integrity-and-improvement

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About 20 years ago, someone very dear to me applied to teach science in New York City public schools. Despite having 3 science degrees and teaching experience in the Peace Corps, her application was rejected. She was told she first had to enroll in a teacher training college and take courses in pedagogy. Annoyed and unwilling to take on still more student debt, she applied to a renown private school, got the job, and became a star in the classroom. The private school kids won; too bad for the public school kids. That experience was a glaring lesson to me on how professional licensure requirements, however well-intended, can have the effect of creating costly barriers to entry.

Much has changed since then, but alternate paths to teaching remain the exception not the rule for public schools. Sadly, a guild-mentality remains in some quarters. Utah’s school board recently permitted its districts to choose (or not) to hire individuals without teaching credentials to teach. As Annie Knox of the Salt Lake Tribune reports, the policy change was denounced as an attack on the teaching profession. Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews went so far as to say the policy could create “a human-rights issue.”

Seriously? Around the nation occupational licensing requirements are being given scrutiny because they can inhibit the flow of human talent and depress income mobility by keeping competent poor people from being hired. Such rules also are inherently protectionist—which is a good thing when one is talking about heart surgery—but not so good if one is talking about other fields (like being a fishing guide). Even the White House weighed in on this topic, warning of the very real costs of needless or excessive licensure requirements.

When it comes to teaching, certainly getting a teaching degree or credential is valuable and laudable. But it is a logical fallacy to declare that this is the only path that can produce good teachers. Why not let principals choose what teachers they want to try out, and let them remove those who are not up to snuff? That’s the way most firms and organizations operate. So kudos to Utah’s school board for empowering districts to choose. Now if they’d only do something to augment removal authority….

Moving along…

Who else caught the NPR report on education reform in China? It was a fascinating piece by Anthony Kuhn. I loved this bit:

“At first glance, it looks like an ordinary gym class at a public school in Yibin, a city of about a million people in southwest China’s Sichuan province. But then you notice that the students are wearing signs: ‘Nitrate,’ ‘Sulfate,’ ‘Phosphate.’ In their game of tag, they chase the classmates they need to start a chemical reaction. This is how gym and chemistry classes are combined at the Cold Water Well Middle School.”

Genius! I wish I had been taught chemistry that way in high school. Instead I got drab lectures and had to do experiments which were boringly drab. Who came up with such a clever idea? Kuhn continues, “Upstairs, in a combined history and math class, students use statistics to find patterns in the rise and fall of nations. These experiments are the brainchild of former journalist Zhang Liang.”

A former journalist designing pedagogy? Crazy talk!

Kuhn reports: “From Confucian-style academies and home schooling to foreign Waldorf and Montessori models, a grassroots, alternative education movement is blossoming across China at the secondary level.” How widespread this movement really is unclear. But any defections from the soviet, uniform, cram-style of schooling are to be lauded. Hopefully, Kuhn and other journalists will report more on this development, which government authorities could crush at any moment.

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