Strong command of the English language is not required to teach our students in New York…
The New York state board of regents recently cancelled a required literacy test for aspiring teachers. The Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) was intended to ensure strong language skills among aspiring instructors across the state. Test results showed that just 46 percent of Hispanics, 41 percent of African-Americans, and 64 percent of Caucasian candidates passed the exam on the first try. This was understandably embarrassing for aspiring educators. But administrators cancelled the requirement due to cries that the test is redundant for people with college degrees and that it disproportionately affected minority candidates.
Unlike loan officers or business owners, the test is the same no matter who takes it, and it is tough to argue that the inanimate object has malevolent motives against selected groups. I imagine that most leaders interested in the education of their children above fuzzy concepts of social justice would accept those results and emphasize that the state needs better instructors, and should keep their standards as a result.
On top of these watered-down standards borne of racial concerns, I would be incredibly concerned that a significant percentage of teachers have trouble passing what is essentially a high school English test. Illiterate teachers are a prime example of the problems with licensure programs; the teacher’s license is sold by politicians to the public as a way to increase quality and prevent unqualified instructors in the classroom. (I’m sure the politicians don’t mind the additional test, background check, and other fees associated with the requirement.) But the licensure requirements do little more than guarantee that somebody is good at navigating the bureaucracy, and it acts as a barrier to those who aren’t.
Nevada, for example, regularly has a shortage of teachers, but they refuse to let those with advanced degrees in their field teach in public schools without the proper credentials. The teaching schools regularly attract candidates in the bottom half of their graduating classes. As we’ve seen in New York, they have trouble passing a basic literacy test. When I inquired about a teacher’s license in Nevada, the “highly qualified instructor” page had several noticeable typos and several homonyms, or words that sound similar but have different meaning and spelling, suggesting that the writer had a very poor command of English. Needless to say I didn’t walk away with the impression that the school system was run by the very best individuals; the credentialing process ensures high-quality instructors.
From cab companies (which are an especially big special interest here in Las Vegas) to hair stylists to teachers, the government promises that licenses are a way to protect the public. But they end up protecting entrenchment monopolies and their allies in the bureaucracy. In New York, that entrenched interest is the teachers union, which is fully committed to advancing its own interests– they would rather water down standards to attract more minority candidates. Ironically and sadly, this quest to advance minority teachers will likely ensure that minority students are hurt, as they will be taught by substandard, yet fully-licensed instructors.
Morgan Deane is an OpsLens Contributor and a former U.S. Marine Corps infantry rifleman. Deane also served in the National Guard as an Intelligence Analyst.