THE BLOG

Wisconsin Teacher Training?

06/12/2015 10:50 am ET | Updated Jun 12, 2016

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."

--Henry Brooks Adams, The Education of Henry Adams

The fact that Scott Walker is now running for president comes as no surprise to those who knew him in college. When a student, he told one of his dorm mates that he was going to be president of the United States someday. Because of that long-held ambition, his January proposal caused some to think his self-confidence had failed him. Those people thought he was trying to change the rules so that he would qualify for a job in teaching if, unexpectedly, and contrary to his expectations, he did not become the next president of the United States. A close reading of the January proposal, however, makes it obvious that he was acting selflessly when he made the proposal and was not trying to provide an opportunity for himself.

The suggestion that Mr. Walker made in January that will probably become law in June, though not, as it turns out, because of his efforts, was that anyone with a college degree would be qualified to become a teacher of students in grades 6 through 12 in the Wisconsin school system.

In Wisconsin as well as in many other states, in order to become a teacher in those grades, it is necessary to undergo courses in teacher training. Under Scott's proposal this notion was set on its head, since it provided that those hoping to become teachers did not need to take any college-level teacher-training courses. All that would be needed to become a teacher in Wisconsin public schools would be a bachelor's degree and a demonstrated proficiency in the course the prospective teacher wants to teach.

Scott did not, as noted above, suggest this to benefit himself, since he is a college dropout. He does not have the qualifications to become a teacher even in the unlikely event that he fails to become the 45th president of the United States. He could, of course, return to school to complete the work he failed to complete before becoming a dropout and then a governor, in which case his proposal would benefit him. That seems a bit far-fetched and unlikely to have been the reason for his suggestion.

Although Scott's proposal went nowhere when first introduced, thanks to Mary Czaja, a Wisconsin legislator, his proposal has reappeared in greatly enhanced form and in a few days may become law. It made its appearance, appropriately enough, in the Wisconsin state biennial budget for 2015 through 2017 and was part of a bill reducing funding for higher education and K-12 education.

At a late-night meeting of the Wisconsin Legislative Joint Finance Committee during the week of May 24, 2015, and thanks to the quick thinking of Representative Mary Czaja, a provision was inserted into the state biennial budget for 2015 through 2017 that went even further than the provision proposed by Scott earlier in the year. The provision she inserted would not only eliminate the need for those who would teach to have any teacher training but provides that anyone can teach non-core subjects, even high school dropouts. The only requirement imposed on a high school dropout wanting to become a teacher is that the school wishing to hire such a person makes a determination that the person being hired is proficient and has relevant experience in the subject he or she wants to teach.

Mary's provision was adopted as part of the budget without a hearing. Mary admitted that if her provision becomes law, it will be easier for individuals in Wisconsin to enter the teaching profession than it is in any other state. However, she is confident that teachers meeting the new standards will be just as qualified as those meeting today's requirements. In an interview she explained, "The districts are going to be the ones that hire these people, and I firmly believe that they're not going to throw somebody in there that isn't doing a good job. This is just flexibilities. They don't have to use it."

Mary's proposal is not met with enthusiasm by professional educators. Tony Evers, the State Superintendent observed, "We are sliding toward the bottom in standards for those who teach our students. It doesn't make sense. We have spent years developing licensing standards to improve the quality of the teacher in the classroom. ... Now we're throwing out those standards. ... This motion presents a race to the bottom." That race, of course, is exactly the race Wisconsin is offering the country by giving us Scott Walker as a possible candidate. Were he to become the Republican candidate for the 2016 presidential election, Wisconsin would clearly win the race to the bottom, notwithstanding the fierce competition provided by most of the other Republican wannabes.

Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary, see his webpage at humanraceandothersports.com.