Teacher Preparation

Dozens of Arizona Teachers Lack Bachelor’s Degrees

By Emmanuel Felton — June 29, 2017 3 min read
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Districts across Arizona say that the state’s teacher shortage has gotten so bad that they need to hire educators who don’t have a bachelor’s degree. There are dozens of such teachers across the state, according to The Arizona Republic, which collected data from 162 school districts, which collectively educate about 80 percent of the state’s public school students.

Those educators are employed through the state’s emergency substitute certificate program, which allows anyone with a high school diploma or its equivalent to teach. In order to hire these teachers, school districts or charter schools must certify that that they are experiencing an “emergency employment situation.”

The emergency substitute certificate program predates Gov. Doug Ducey’s recent successful push to make it easier for people with bachelor’s degrees, but no formal teacher preparation or experience, to enter the classroom. The emergency substitute program dates back decades. According to a 1998 Education Week article, 790 emergency substitute certifications were issued the prior year.

These certificates are valid for one school year and can only be used in the district where the teacher applied for the certificate. Emergency substitutes are limited to teaching 120 days during that school year, but state regulations don’t place any requirements on how many consecutive days an emergency sub can serve in one classroom. In order to get the certificate renewed, educators need to provide transcripts showing that they’ve completed two semester hours of academic coursework over the year. The state allows them to substitute 15 hours of professional development per semester hour. Educators who already have 30 semester hours are exempt from this renewal requirement.

To be clear, some of the individuals brought on through this certificate do actually have some experience. The Cave Creek school district, profiled in the piece, has used the certificate to hire education majors from Arizona State University who’ve added on an extra semester of “co teaching” with an experienced teacher. The Arizona Republic doesn’t break down what subject areas districts are using the emergency substitute certificate program to fill, but at the time of the report, the Cave Creek district had eight teaching positions to fill for the 2017-18 school year, including five in math and special education.

Elizabeth Ross, the managing director for state policy at the National Council for Teacher Quality, says that her organization is currently evaluating substitute teaching requirements for its annual state teacher policy yearbook. According to a preliminary analysis, less than a fifth of the states only require a high school diploma or its equivalent to substitute teach. How long those educators can substitute varies greatly across those states. Georgia regulations don’t let these substitutes work in the same class for more than 10 consecutive days, while neighboring Alabama, like Arizona, outlines no such rules.

“Substitute teaching matters,” said Ross. “States can and should think critically about ensuring that all substitute teachers, including and particularly long-term substitute teachers, have access to appropriate training, evaluation, and support.”

All told, The Republic found that 22 percent of state teachers lacked full credentials. While about 2,000 educators had a degree, but no formal teacher preparation, many of the 22 percent had a college degree and some teacher preparation but lacked the two years of classroom experience required for standard credentials.

Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesperson for the governor, told The Republic that the new certification rules would help districts find qualified teachers by making “teaching an attractive profession and a valued profession and one that people want to stay in.”

According to the Learning Policy Institute, a think tank headed by Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, Arizona has a lot of other issues to overcome in addressing its deep teacher shortage. As Education Week Teacher‘s Madeline Will reported last year, LPI gave the state the lowest teacher attractiveness rating, dinging Arizona for low starting pay, large class sizes and high attrition.

Arizona state superintendent Diane Douglas, who opposed the recent certification revamp, told The Republic that she didn’t think the changes would do much to address the root causes of the shortages, and instead would only further lower the bar for entering the state’s classrooms.

Clarification: This item has been updated to clarify that the Cave Creek district has used the emergency-certificate program but has not hired any teachers without bachelor’s degrees.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.