Guest Commentary: Reform critical for our classrooms

Guest Commentary: Reform critical for our classrooms

By DALE RIGHTER

As Illinois policymakers continue to wrestle with a number of critical issues in Springfield, there exists another, equally important matter that deals with our children and schools. For now it lurks just beneath today's headlines; but if it's not dealt with soon, it will be as detrimental to our schools as any other problem we face.

Illinois faces a growing shortage of teachers in our elementary and secondary education system. According to a 2016 study performed by Teachers for Tomorrow, there are over 6,000 unfilled teaching positions in Illinois. As long as our policy continues to unduly restrict access to the teaching profession, this shortage will worsen, to the serious detriment of local school districts and the students they serve.

Right now, students seeking a career in teaching must score at least 22 on their ACT test or 1110 on their SAT standardized test, or pass the Academic Proficiency (TAP)/Basic Skills standardized test in order to receive their teaching license. These standardized tests are the only path to teaching in Illinois. Under legislation I am pushing, students would also have an opportunity to teach by achieving a minimum grade point average of 3.0 out of a 4.0 scale in the core education curriculum classes at the universities they attend.

Enacting this reform is critical for our classrooms because today's policies tell young people who wish to enter the teaching profession that unless they are skilled at standardized testing, they don't belong in a classroom. The status quo places emphasis on a standardized test score and does not consider the teacher candidate's ability to relate to school children, help a student find confidence in themselves, or assist parents in seeing what kind of support their child needs at home. These are the issues with which a society should concern itself in deciding who can teach.

Today's policy may be simple in some ways, but it's also narrow-minded. It's time we recognize this problem and move to a policy that recognizes the broad spectrum of abilities teachers need in today's classrooms.

Dale Righter of Mattoon represents the 55th Illinois Senate District.

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