Education SRN Boos the News

Seeing Red Boos The News: No, That’s Not What the Legislature is Deciding

Well, the local press is at it again and we are here to boo them. This time, our teachers are the victims.

Let’s start with the headline.

First, note that this article is an “editor’s pick.” I have to say it is the kind of “pick” Senator Groene would have appreciated because it-snot full of much substance. Meanwhile, is the test too hard? That’s not even something the legislature is qualified to judge, nor is it among the top 5 problems with this test.

The point of a headline is to summarize the article so the reader knows what they should take away from the piece. The problem is, the article buries the lede so far under the ground, a reader would need a backhoe (and prior knowledge of the issues surrounding the teacher candidate exam) to unearth it.

What it looks like to this reader is that either our teachers are too stupid to pass or too lazy to study so we need to make it easier for them. That’s concerning! We don’t want to dumb down the profession responsible for the education of our citizenry! But here’s the thing, that’s not at all the problem with this test. In fact, Nebraska’s teachers have some of the highest passing rates in the country, but you wouldn’t know it from the headline.

Anyone who has been even remotely sober or awake during the past two years (and honestly, no one here is blaming you if you haven’t been) knows that the ranks of public educators have been decimated. First – and frankly continuously – by the pandemic and more recently by a set of “concerned parents” (read: bigoted white people who need to have more sex and read more books) who are showing up to school board meetings in droves to ensure that Sally doesn’t learn that her hoohoo is actually a vulva, trans people exist, and consent is everything. They also want to protect little Chad so his feelings don’t get hurt by learning that white people owned slaves, are complicit in systemic racism yet today, and stole land and forced Christianity down the throats of people who were already doing just fine-thank-you-very-much without any interference from white folks. SRN has already written about how anti-science, anti-education army is connected to international hate groups and is getting more frightening every day. And even well-known anti-education senators in the Unicameral are introducing bills legislating what teachers can teach about bodies and race.

Don’t worry, Nebraska, you don’t need your kids to learn things like science, math, or how to identify false information from a librarian.

Meanwhile, reports from all over indicate that teachers are leaving in droves and the Nebraska Department of Education just released their vacancy report showing that, among other things, the current school year has 482 teaching positions filled by less-than-qualified personnel and 68 fully vacant positions. This will only get worse.

Enter this gripping think-piece from the Lincoln Journal Star – though, we can’t really give them all the credit as it was actually written by a staff writer for the Omaha World-Herald. Tell us again why having Lee Enterprises own all the papers in Nebraska is a good thing? But I digress.

Here are the things a person should know about why three senators (Blood, Vargas, and Walz, who has a priority bill) are proposing legislation to remove the test (Praxis Core) from the list of qualifications to become a teacher in the state of Nebraska:

  • Nebraska has a teacher shortage. A major teacher shortage. The shortage is specifically acute in rural areas where the attempt to dismantle public education is greatest.
  • Nebraska’s teacher demographic population does not match the student demographics. Specifically, we are very short of teachers of color and research continues to show how important it is that students see representation in the classroom.
  • The Praxis limits Nebraska’s pool of eligible teachers in some key ways: 1) We have higher “pass” scores required on the Praxis than other states, meaning that students from outside Nebraska have difficulty getting licensed here; 2) There are numerous studies indicating the white bias inherent in the Praxis exam; 3) The test is particularly biased for non-native English speakers, regardless of their fluency; 4) The test is cost-prohibitive and qualified teachers must have the means to take the exam until they pass, limiting the teacher pool to those who can afford to take it. Most of these limitations are not unique to this particular standardized test, but are true of all standardized tests and are some of the reasons many universities are beginning to remove them as entrance requirements.
  • The Praxis does not have a correlation to actual teacher performance in the literature. What does matter to future teacher efficacy is performance in the coursework during their teacher education program. However, even straight-A students cannot be considered without the pass score on this exam.

Seeing Red gives 2 points to the local media for mentioning the bias and the cost before diving headlong into a paragraphs-long discussion of the actual cut-scores and history of performance relative to the cut-scores. Throughout, the author uses words like “too hard,” “relax requirements,” and “lower the bar.”

But, stop. Why should the cut-scores even matter? Why would we call it “lowering the bar” or “relaxing” or making it easier when the problem isn’t that the test is too hard. The biggest problem is that the test doesn’t even work!

This test is a completely unproven hurdle that has proven to be a gatekeeper for teachers of color, teachers who don’t have means, and teachers from out of state, who would like to move here.

This rhetoric is dangerous in a state where so-called “school choice,” child restraint bills, defunding school libraries, and many other anti-public education bills are continuously showing up in the legislature. Worse yet, it vilifies the most important people in the system, teachers.

Shame on Lee Enterprises for not being clear on the real issue being debated in the legislature and leaving readers believing that the legislature wants to open the floodgates to teachers who aren’t qualified to be in the classroom. Meanwhile, that is already happening because of our teacher shortage.

Abolishing the Praxis requirement is the right choice. Not because it’s “too hard” but for a variety of clear and convincing reasons not highlighted in the headline.

Boo to you, local news. You failed our test.