Unlicensed teachers in charter schools? On what ‘BASIS’?

The Indiana Department of Education has generally done a pretty good job of responding to rumors and concerns about legislation it supports. But one recent communication from the department – about a provision to let up to half the teachers in charter schools be unlicensed – raises more questions than it answers.

Dale Chu, the DOE’s assistant superintendent for policy, attempted to explain it last week in a message to educators and others. Oddly, the licensing language is in Senate Bill 1, the teacher performance-pay bill, not in House Bill 1002, the charter-schools expansion bill.

“Some nationally-recognized, high-performing charter sponsors currently operating in other states are interested in sponsoring schools in Indiana,” Chu writes, “but they will not come to our state unless we offer them this flexibility (BASIS is one example, and they have achieved great results …).”

So we’re changing the rules for everyone because a charter sponsor might come to Indiana and it doesn’t like the rules?

It’s true that BASIS, which runs three charter schools in Arizona and plans to open three more, has achieved “great results.” But its story isn’t one of those inspirational tales about turning poor and minority children into high achievers, a la KIPP and Harlem Children’s Zone charters.

The original BASIS school, in Tucson, has been named one of “America’s Best High Schools” by both Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report – designations that rely on test scores and, especially, results from Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams.

Its formula is a super-rigorous curriculum and a demanding workload that drives away all but the most motivated students and parents.

“Most of its students are ambitious children of engineers, attorneys and doctors, kids willing to hammer through math, science, history and literature courses years beyond their academic peers,” Pat Kossan wrote in a 2006 Arizona Republic profile. The article said that about half the students who enroll in fifth grade, when the school starts, don’t continue into high school at BASIS.

According to Arizona Department of Education figures, the overwhelming majority of BASIS Tucson students are white or Asian-American – in a city where more than 60 percent of public-school students are Hispanic.

Attorney Clint Bolick, one of the nation’s best-known crusaders for libertarian legal causes, is on the BASIS board of directors. When Arizona tried to require charter schools to follow the state curriculum, the schools sued, with Bolick in charge. The suit was settled out of court.

BASIS schools don’t hire licensed teachers because they prefer to hire teachers with advanced degrees in the subjects they teach. That may make sense for their model. It may make sense for some other schools. But if it’s important, let the State Board of Education issue waivers.

Kowtowing to a charter-school sponsor that would serve an elite population isn’t a convincing rationale for upending current teacher-licensing requirements.

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7 thoughts on “Unlicensed teachers in charter schools? On what ‘BASIS’?

  1. I think the issue is whether teacher licensing is accomplishing what it is intended to do: serve as a gatekeeper to ensuring only quality educators are in schools. I’m not at all convinced that’s the case. If this bill’s provision is a way to recruit high-achieving individuals to the teaching profession, maybe that’s what we should do. But a more sustainable, long-lasting solution would be to take a good, hard look at teacher recruitment, retention, and evaluation mechanisms.

    • Sara, that’s a good point. Licensing no doubt closes the gate on some folks who would be good teachers; and surely on others who wouldn’t. IDOE claimed to be moving in the direction of better aligning licensing with effectiveness with the REPA changes adopted last year. I can understand why some schools might want to recruit teachers who aren’t licensed. But if we’re talking about changing state policy, I’d like to hear more discussion and a stronger justification for it.

  2. Pingback: Under legislation, charter teachers would be licensed – but there’s a catch « School Matters

  3. The current system of teachers who are licensed is not working. Hard to condemn an alternative when the status quo is substandard results. The article quotes someone who states that BASIS is a school for people who want to work hard and are white….as if hard working white kids don’t deserve a good pubic school. EVERYONE deserves a good school even elite kids.

    “Kowtowing to a charter-school sponsor that would serve an elite population isn’t a convincing rationale for upending current teacher-licensing requirements.”

    True, but I think your state’s test scores are a convincing rationale.

  4. Arizona licensure requires one year of student teaching. I have a masters degree in English and was a former Arizona state certified teacher and have a bachelors in education. However, I wasn’t required to do student teaching as part of my bachelors program, so I cannot be certified (beyond provisional) in the state. I have high school and college teaching experience. Hate to tell you, but Basis isn’t violating teacher certification laws in Arizona. Charters can hire non-certificated teachers who meet a “Highly Qualified” requirement issued by the federal dept of education. To me, this trumps certification because the requirements are more rigorous with regard to academic background. If I want to get a HS or MS teaching job in Arizona I am limited to a very small percent of charter schools who actually apprize academic background and REAL teaching experience over the inflexible (and not very well thought out) “student teaching” requirement of the state certification.

  5. It is encouraging to me to find this article during my job search for a charter school willing to hire me. I agree that reexamining the requirements for gaining certification is in order. I have been a substitute teacher for a number of years as I tried a few times taking the State test in my state TX. Each time I missed by few points, and I am not alone. Good teachers who have a real passion for teaching are being lost. I think our States should work with people like myself, because there are too many teachers walking away from their classrooms never to return while still within a school year. Who can help us? It is clear that something need to change, ASAP!
    By the way, within that time I have earned an MS in early education, and teaching diversity, so understand that it isn’t that we are incompetent.
    Darlene T.

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