Our public schools are failing children by requiring strict, impractical licensing requirements and excluding highly qualified, would-be instructors from entering the teaching profession. We must create flexibility in licensing requirements to allow more experienced people to expand young minds. The kids will see the inherent value in this approach and respond.
Our children are starving for people who can provide them with practical skills that will allow them to build a life for themselves. There are many adults who have those skills and would love the opportunity to prepare kids for a jobs-based economy, if only they were allowed. There are welders, machinists, lawyers, artists, graphic designers, writers, accountants and more out there, all with skills our children need.
This is even more reasonable when you consider the shortage of teachers affecting schools around the nation. A 2022 national survey of schools found that nearly half reported having at least one vacancy. It is foolish, at best, to require that people in the middle or at the tail end of their career spend a year or more to get a license, especially considering the stark number of unfilled positions.
I am an attorney by trade. I have a degree in law, yet I am precluded from teaching about the Constitution in Milwaukee Public Schools. I also spent 12 years as a business litigator, but I would not be allowed to teach basic supply and demand. In 22 years as a practicing attorney, I communicated in court with countless lawyers, judges, and juries, yet I cannot teach public speaking in our public schools. At Milwaukee Lutheran, however, where I am the director of the Free Enterprise Academy, I can teach all these subjects.
Why shouldn’t any principal at a public school have the option to hire someone like me with significant real-world experience? To teach in a Wisconsin charter school, a candidate only needs a bachelor’s degree with demonstrated competency in the subject area — having majored or minored in the subject or passing a content test or assessment. To teach full-time in a Wisconsin public school, one must jump through time-consuming, resource-draining hoops to obtain an occupational license.
This past semester at Milwaukee Lutheran, a fellow teacher paid me the highest compliment. He told me he was having a discussion in his class about courses the high school offered students. Several students said the things we teach in our Free Enterprise Academy were “what we really need to know.”
Like most other teenagers, they do not appreciate reading Shakespeare or knowing algebra as much as they will later in life. But they did appreciate the practical life skills that I and others are able to provide by sharing our decades of experience. Where would these students be if the powers that be had prevented me from teaching them?
Whenever I write a column on education reform, I invariably get a message from some education “expert” who pontificates that strict and cumbersome licensing requirements exist to ensure that only the highest quality instructors can teach students. The expert assures me that these requirements will translate into higher-performing students and schools. My response is that this concept has not worked out in practice.
With our public schools’ failings now fully exposed, we see that in most states and school systems, proficiency rates are in free fall. Now more than ever, our kids are less educated, less skilled, and less prepared to meet the challenges of adult life. The situation couldn’t get any worse by trying a model different than the one that has been failing students for decades.
These exclusionary licensing requirements benefit no one except unionized teachers. Licenses shield them from the accountability that a free market demands by keeping qualified people out of their schools.
If we are truly going to reform education in this country, then we need to shed the old model that does not serve students’ needs.
Shannon Whitworth is a Bradley Freedom Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty and directs the Free Enterprise Institute at Milwaukee Lutheran High School.
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