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One State Lowers Teaching Qualifications to Address Teacher Shortages

AP Photo/Ron Harris

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government provided schools with resources to address staggering teacher shortages. This included funds to rehire retired teachers, hire qualified substitute teachers, and to raise teacher salaries to prevent them from leaving their profession. 

An analysis released this week showed that in one state, teacher shortages have been going on for years. And in response, the state has eliminated requirements needed to become a teacher, Despite this, the new policies have not worked to address the shortage.

An analysis published by parental rights organization Parents Defending Education found that Mississippi’s attempts to address teacher shortages have been “rectified” over the years by lowering the standards to quality of becoming a teacher. 

Beginning in November 2017, the Mississippi state Board of Education voted to grant aspiring teachers a one-year teaching license as long as applicants had a Bachelor’s degree in the subject they wished to teach. These educators did not need to take a Praxis or licensing exam, and could meet the licensing requirement by having 21 hours of coursework at either the undergraduate or graduate level in the subject matter, according to the Clarion Ledger

“We fully recognize that there must not be an ‘open gate’ into the educational profession that minimizes and reduces the significance of the staff that serves students in said professor,” Sunflower County Consolidated School District Superintendent Miskia Davis told the outlet, before adding that “however, the reality is that we must have a method of recruiting and hiring the next tier of individuals that want to impact the lives of children for the better, but lack the necessary credentials.”

A year later, the Mississippi state Board of Education announced a new program that required teaching candidates to score a 21 on the ACT exam or pass the Praxis exam. Teachers were also required to pass a test in the content area they wanted to teach

“Every school must have effective teachers to help students learn and achieve at the highest level,” state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright told the Clarion Ledger when the program was introduced. “This project is part of a statewide strategy to diversify the teacher pipeline to ensure all students have access to teachers who are well-prepared, appropriately licensed and serve as role models for success.”

During a board meeting that month, Wright reportedly said that within the past five years, the number of education candidates enrolling and graduating from teacher preparation programs at the state’s universities has dropped by 40 percent.

In June 2019, the state department of education lowered the Praxis math score to 130. Previously, it was 150, according to documentation obtained by PDE. A month later, the board approved a one-year grace period for aspiring teachers to pass the proper licensing exams. Later that year, Praxis tests placed less emphasis on algebra and geometry.

In March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, PDE noted that the state suspended the licensure testing criterion through Dec. 2021. Now, Mississippi offers free Praxis prep courses for aspiring teachers, according to The Journal. But, a report from October showed that 1 in 5 teachers in the state left in 2021, despite lowering the qualifications to become a teacher.

“We’re talking about teachers who are teaching in a given school year, and when the next one rolls around, they are gone, whether that is going to another district, maybe out of state, whether that’s taking another job, even in education, or whether it’s leaving teaching entirely to just leave the field,” Toren Ballard, Mississippi First Director of K-12 policy, told WLBT. And, the problem was the worst in the state’s lowest performing school districts.

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