An odd first bill

I’m looking forward to making this campaign about issues and ideas and not individuals, so I hesitate to mention my opponent, Alex Ybarra, by name. However, people keep asking me why I’m running, and Mr. Ybarra’s first bill during his short time in the Legislature is part of the reason. Briefly, the bill lowered standards for admission to teacher education programs by removing the requirement to pass a test called the WEST-B.

The B is for basic, and if you ask 100 teachers about it, 95 or more of them will tell you that if someone can’t pass the WEST-B, they have no business being a teacher. It measures a person’s abilities in reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.

To be fair, the bill was written requested by the Professional Educators Standards Board (PESB), which noticed that non-white students have a lower passing rate on the test and concluded that the test was culturally biased. I’m pretty sure complex tests like the SAT or GRE are indeed culturally biased, but in this case it seems just as likely that WEST-B passing rates are evidence of how our education system is failing these students, and how other factors also make it difficult for these students to learn the skills necessary to become good teachers.

I’m a teacher, and 96% of my students are Hispanic/Latinx, so I definitely understand the need for more teachers who look like my students. In fact, many of my students would make excellent teachers, and it’s a career I often recommend to my best students. They would have no trouble passing the WEST-B. What might keep them from becoming teachers is a sense that teachers aren’t respected and aren’t paid as they should be. The Republican Party has done more than any other single organization to make teaching a less attractive career, but there’s no reason to believe Mr. Ybarra feels that way. Meanwhile, his party also consistently opposes affirmative action citing (unwarranted) concerns about declining standards — but this bill literally lowered standards.

The PESB only has one tool: lowering or raising standards. It’s great that they’re paying attention to teacher diversity, but this bill did not address the roots of the problem, and it may have made things worse.

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2 Comments

  1. It’s great that this inspired you to run. What will you do if elected to correct the problem of the teacher shortage and cultural diversity in teaching? What are some other points of interest that you are concerned about? If you want to win my vote you need to be a well rounded candidate who will work for all of the district and not just some of us.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I’ll be posting some proposed solutions later, but here are a couple off the top of my head. At least one of these is probably not directly possible because of the State Constitution’s ban on gifting public money to private individuals.

      High school graduates who were able to learn while they were in high school have lots of career options. Those are the same students we’d like to become teachers, so we need to make teaching, or at least the path to becoming a teacher, more attractive. If money were no object, we would offer scholarships to graduates of high schools with a large percentage of non-white students. Low-interest loans, or guaranteed loans, or loans that would be forgiven if the student became a teacher and taught for, say, at least three years, are another approach. Of course, these students would all be required to pass the WEST-B.

      We can’t throw money at everything, but cost-free solutions are harder. Something as simple as making students from minority-rich high schools aware of teacher salaries would probably go a long way to helping them think about teaching as something they might like to do.

      There are other ways to get to the same place, and the first step is not to assume the problem has been solved by lowering standards. I don’t think we should wait to see of lowering standards helped address the problem, I think we should keep working on it.

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