Some lawmakers want more transparency in public schools.
Meanwhile, there’s a nationwide substitute teacher shortage.
It seems to me we can solve both problems at once.
PROBLEM 1: BOGUS LEGISLATION
Pennsylvania state Representative Andrew Lewis is terrified that students are being taught things in school.
Things like history and science and – oh my word! – socialism.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, the Republican businessman is sponsoring a bill requiring public schools to post curriculum materials online.
This would include a course syllabus or written summary of every class, the state academic standards for each course, and a link or title for every textbook used.
It sets up a mountain of paperwork for the state’s already overburdened teachers to repeat information that’s readily available elsewhere.
Moreover, the whole thing is really just a political sham to stoke the radical Republican base. The measure has little chance of actually being implemented.
The bill (HB 1332) passed the House largely along party lines last week with a few Republicans joining Democrats against it.
Now it is set for a full vote by the Senate where it will probably sail through with GOP support after which Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has already promised to veto it.
So why is Lewis putting on this dog and pony show?
In a now deleted Facebook post, the 33-year-old Dauphin County man wrote:
“Parents need to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to education, not some out-of-state textbook publisher teaching heaven knows what (hint: anti-American socialism) to our students.”
Apparently Lewis doesn’t understand that parents vote and serve on school boards that, in fact, pick the textbooks which are used in public schools.
Moreover, I guess no one told him that state law already requires that public schools give parents and guardians access to information about instructional materials.
Or that Medicare, Social Security, Minimum Wage and Child Labor Laws are all examples of – GASP! – socialism.
Lewis and other Republicans continue to spread the insinuation that something nefarious is happening behind the closed doors of our public schools.
Well guess what, fellas! Those doors aren’t closed at all.
PROBLEM 2: SUB SHORTAGE
Nationwide there’s a substitute teacher shortage. And you can apply!
Even schools in the Keystone state are scrambling to find enough subs.
If you want to know what happens in public schools, you can do better than clicking on some Website. You can actually volunteer to come in and cover an absent teacher’s class!
“Substitute lists are very small in most districts,” says Mark DicRocco, Executive Director of Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA).
The organization reports that the Commonwealth is experiencing a dramatic decline in the supply of new teachers.
The number of state Instructional I licenses granted for all subject areas in grades K-12 has decreased by at least 49% from 2011 to 2018.
About eight years ago, 40,000 teachers were graduating from Pennsylvania colleges a year. This past year, it was only 14,000.
That means not only fewer classroom teachers to replace those who retire, but fewer substitute teachers to take over for professional absences.
The situation has gotten so bad that the legislature (on which Lewis serves) had to pass a new measure allowing college students who are studying education to fill in as substitutes.
Many districts such as Erie, Greater Latrobe and State College have increased substitute pay to entice more people to apply for the job.
And, frankly, almost anyone can do it.
Even folks like Lewis and his Republican buddies! Heck! The legislature is only in session a few weeks every month! They have plenty of time to moonlight as substitute teachers and get the low down about what’s really happening in our public schools!
To be a sub in most public school districts in Pennsylvania, essentially all you need is a bachelors degree (it doesn’t even have to be in education) and pass criminal background checks.
Districts that aren’t experiencing a shortage may require a teaching certificate as well, but beggars can’t be choosers. In districts where it is hard to get subs (i.e. those serving poor and minority kids) you can get emergency certified for a year.
And many states are lowering the bar even further!
In Oregon, where the shortage of subs is even worse, the state is even temporarily waiving the need to have a bachelor’s degree!
SOLUTION: VOLUNTEER AS A SUB
Republicans uneasy about public school can get in there and see it all first hand.
And they’ll even get paid to do it!
Not as much as they make as lawmakers. Pennsylvania’s legislature is paid the third highest salary in the country! Way more than classroom teachers or certainly substitutes. But they’d get remunerated for their time.
All they’d have to do is watch over classes of 30 or more real, live students!
Not only would lawmakers have a chance to look over teacher’s lesson plans, but they’d get detailed instructions from the absent teacher about how to actually teach the lesson!
They’d get to interact with principals as they’re told which additional classes they have to cover in their planning periods and which extra duties they’d be responsible for performing.
They’d get to do things like monitor the halls, breakfast and lunch duty, watch over in-school suspension, and – if they’re lucky – they might even get to attend a staff meeting and be front row center for all the educational initiatives being conducted in the school!
If our representatives took this opportunity, they would learn so much!
They might even understand that this critical race theory thing they’re being warned about on Fox News and on talk radio isn’t actually taught in public schools. It’s a legal framework you only find in colleges and universities, and even there it’s mostly in the law department.
They’d see that indoctrination isn’t really something we do in public schools.
I mean, sure, we encourage kids to stand for the pledge to the flag and things like that but when it comes to telling them how to think – that’s not a public school thing. That’s a private and parochial school thing.
They’d see that public school lessons give students information on a subject but then ask them to come to their own conclusions about it.
They’d see our students struggle with large class sizes, crumbling infrastructure and facilities, and an overabundance of standardized tests.
They’d see kids grappling with social and emotional needs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, generational poverty, and systemic racism.
They’d see the scarcity of resources available to classroom teachers to meet those needs and the profusion of expectations heaped on them. (For example, the expectation of bills like HB 1332 that they post all their curriculum and daily lessons on-line in addition to everything else they have to do on a daily basis.)
They’d see the dangers of putting themselves on the front line of a global pandemic and in the line of fire of potential school shooters without adequate gun safety laws.
In fact, this would be such an educational experience, I think legislators on both sides of the aisle should take advantage of this unique opportunity.
And not even just those in Harrisburg. What better way for school directors to understand the institutions they’re overseeing than to volunteer as subs? What better way for the mayor and city council to understand the needs of children than putting themselves in the classroom when the teacher can’t be there?
Instead of pontificating about the culture wars, class grievances, business interests or innuendos, lawmakers might actually learn what the real problems are in our public schools and what needs to be done about them.
It could make them better public servants who craft legislation that would actually do some good in this world and not – like Lewis – just showboat to enrage partisans and stoke them to vote for people willing to feed their fears and prejudices.
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