Education Opinion

Kansas: Digging a Deeper Hole

By Peter Greene — July 15, 2015 3 min read
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News came last evening that Kansas has taken a bold new step in making their schools Even Worse. The story is one of how several current trends intersect to drag schools backwards in defiance of common sense or educational concern.

Tuesday, the Kansas State Board of Education voted to allow unlicensed people to teach in Kansas schools.

Their motivations are not hard to explain. Kansas has entered the Chase Teachers Out of The State derby, joining states like North Carolina and Arizona in the attempt to make teaching unappealing as a career and untenable as a way for grown-ups to support a family. Kansas favors the two-pronged technique. With one prong, you strip teachers of job protections and bargaining rights, so that you can fire them at any time for any reason and pay them as little as you like. With the other prong, you strip funding from schools, so that teachers have to accomplish more and more on a budget of $1.95 (and if they can’t get it done, see prong number one).

The result is predictable. Kansas is solidly settled onto the list of Places Teachers Work As Their Very Last Choice.It’s working out great for Missouri; their school districts have teacher recruitment billboards up in Kansas. But in Kansas, there’s a teacher shortage.

Kansas is not alone. Indiana is also among the many states with fewer new teachers in the pipeline than ever.

How to solve the problem?

You would think with so many free market fans making their mark in the edubiz these days, the answer would be both obvious and widely discussed. Because the free market really does understand this problem. If I want to buy goods and services from you, and you won’t sell to me at the price I propose, my choices are A) do without, B) get a cheap substitute, C) rob you or D) offer you more money. Even basic economics students understand supply and demand.

But all these free market acolytes keep looking at teacher shortages, scratching their heads, and saying, “Golly bob howdy, but I don’t know how we could possibly convince teachers to come fill these jobs.”

Well, not all of them. Some look at the dismantling of public education and say, “Excellent! Glad to be rid of it.” And others have said, “Teachers shmeachers. Any shmoe can teach school.”

Kansas now joins the latter group.

They haven’t gone whole spam (because who needs the whole hog, amiright?) yet. Kansas will only be allowing unqualified people in the classrooms of poor students in poor districts, specifically the Innovation Districts that have been given special dispensation to skip certain state regulations.

Meanwhile in other news, a newly-released piece of research suggests that poor students in poor neighborhoods get the least qualified, least effective teachers out there. There are many debatable points in that research, but there’s no denying that Kansas is making a concerted and determined effort to make it true. The Kansas legislature could not more effectively drive their school system straight to the bottom if they sat down for a strategy meeting to answer the question, “How Can We Make Our Schools the Very Worst in the West?” (Okay, tha’s not entirely fair-- I’m sure that none of Kansas’s wealthy districts will be getting unqualified people off the street in their classrooms.)

Look, boys-- it’s not rocket surgery. The Kansas City Royals were a giant suckfest from 1985 to the early 2010’s, in no small part because they insisted on getting rid of any players who got expensive and because players were not in a hurry to play for losers. Then they decided to build their team up by offering competitive salaries and better playing conditions. Team owners did not declare, “Since it’s hard to recruit, let’s just grab some guys off the street and put them out on the field.”

The Kansas legislature either wants to destroy their public education system, or they’re dopes. Perhaps how they react to the Board of Education decision will give us a clue. Keep trying, boys. Missouri is cheering for you.

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