Candidiates vow to revamp tiered-licensure proposal

All over Idaho, superintendents and principals say that one of the biggest challenges facing most school districts today is the inability to recruit and retain qualified teachers. Low pay and morale — brought on by years of Gov. Otter, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, and other politicians blaming teachers for the shortcomings of our schools—make it hard for many districts to simply fill open teaching positions. Too many good teachers leave Idaho for better-paying job elsewhere.

We must increase teacher pay and create an environment that encourages teachers to work in Idaho. But we believe the current proposal for a new way to evaluate and license teachers, called tiered licensure, has problems. Widely unpopular with teachers, this proposal is good in its concept but flawed in its details—because, once again, state leaders did not listen to educators.

That’s why we are pledging, once elected, to appoint a committee of education stakeholders to revamp the current tiered-licensure proposal that came out of a subcommittee of the governor’s Task Force For Improving Education. Our committee will have a much better representation of working teachers than the tiered-licensure subcommittee, which had one working teacher (and six legislators) among its 17 members.

We share several concerns about the specifics of the proposal: 

  • The plan should lay out clear goals. Right now, it has unclear goals and creates an unnecessarily complex evaluation system that uses teacher licensure for accountability. It relies too heavily on students’ performance on standardized tests.
  •  We do not believe that state licensure should be tied to local evaluations. That is not the case in any other profession.
  •  Tiered licensure is being tied to a career ladder plan to create three professional levels for teachers, which would correspond with salaries of $40,000, $50,000, and $58,000, phased in over five years. But the career ladder ties pay to certificate levels, eliminating motivation for continuing education. Only New Mexico has experimented with that, but New Mexico’s system still requires a master’s degree or national board certification.
  •  If beginning teachers were simply given an annual cost-of-living raise, in five years they could be at almost $40,000. Taking five years to bring their base salary to $40,000 is not much incentive.

Instead of telling local districts how to do their job, the state should set standards for outcomes and hold districts accountable for them, while giving districts leeway to adopt their own methods. Idaho’s school districts vary in size from a handful of students to more than 37,000, and the vast majority are rural. As voters said when they rejected the “Luna laws” in 2012, a one-size-fits-all education plan doesn’t work in Idaho. 

If one of the biggest challenges facing Idaho schools is recruiting and retaining qualified teachers, how does this tiered licensure proposal address that problem? The argument we hear most often for it is that “the Legislature won’t approve more money for teacher pay without accountability.” We don’t believe in supporting a bad policy in order to get a good policy.

Perhaps most troubling is the implied assumption that our state has a lot of bad teachers that we can’t get rid of. That’s just not the truth. School districts have processes for evaluating teachers and dismissing those that underperform.

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We believe our state can develop a tiered-licensure model that achieves clearly defined goals and is acceptable to teachers and principals. But we understand why so many teachers see this proposal as the “Luna laws” revisited. Process matters. That means listening to our working educators when setting education policy, because they are more qualified to teach than politicians.

A.J. Balukoff is the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho. Jana Jones is the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of public instruction.