We're making Montana's teacher shortage much worse than it actually is • Daily Montanan

Most of my memory that should be reserved for important facts and Bible verses is instead cluttered with a ton of pop culture references and radio music.

One of them is another favorite scene from The Simpsons, where Bart is held back and placed in a remedial class. He asks: So you want to push me forward by slowing me down?

This is a funny joke from a TV cartoon. It's less amusing when it becomes your state's official education policy.

But last month, the Montana Board of Public Education, which sets standards for teacher qualifications, decided that to address Montana's well-documented teacher shortage, it would lower teacher standards and allow more alternative paths to obtaining a license.

Fortunately, the board has refrained from also lowering standards for school psychologists, who deal with a variety of technical issues and are also the critical link in identifying more problematic, nuanced issues.

With a nearly four-digit teacher shortage and a large state with many rural schools, it's a deep problem that the Gianforte administration has tried to help solve.

But pretending that the license is the problem is a deception.

Montana ranks last in teacher hiring (technically it is 51st, since the District of Columbia was also included). To its credit, the Gianforte administration made raising wages a priority.

Nobody says, well, I'd love to teach, but damn, the paperwork is just too much for me. And if something like that has been expressed, it is likely that they are not suitable for, for example, grading papers.

These same students without teachers will also be the ones asked to compete in a very global world where their job is not just to compete with the people in their community and country; The world is competition. We don't need less education. We probably need more.

The Board of Education associates “doing something” with “making progress.”

Part of the very real problem has nothing to do with licenses, paperwork or standards. It's simply a question of pay: we don't pay our teachers competitively. The answer cannot be found in the protracted political discussions surrounding licensing requirements. It's money. Raise teacher salaries and you will attract more interest.

Frankly, it's a message that Republicans would do well to understand: This is just proof that the free market is at work. Too much work, too little pay, to quote a Merle Haggard song (another thing that sticks in my mind).

It's also telling that the same leadership that rails against the “woke agenda” infiltrating schools — OPI leader Elsie Arntzen's words, not mine — can't find people willing to work in schools.

Over the last eight years, Republican leaders almost everywhere have degraded and undermined public education. They have portrayed teachers and librarians as adults feeding children porn and sociological theories that were once the domain of graduate schools. They have repeatedly told their communities that public schools have failed the communities. They sued to force children to return to classrooms during a public health emergency. They have tried to ban certain words and concepts and introduced criminal liability in some places. And they foment faux outrage by perpetuating the idea that we need a bill of rights for parents, as if parents don't already have some level of control over what happens in their children's classrooms.

It is not surprising that we are witnessing an exodus from the teaching profession. Instead, we should be surprised that someone would enter the crisis with the kind of grief and turmoil they are likely to face.

This attempt to weaken or undermine our public schools risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy: If we lower standards for teaching and teachers, our schools will be less successful academically. When this happens, it further perpetuates the myth that our public education system is failing and should be replaced.

How about a raise instead of lowering standards?

Anna Harden

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