It’s Time to Make Teaching a Real Profession

Published April 20, 2013

Teachers have somehow gotten themselves exempt from public accountability as a profession, avoiding independent requirements like those imposed on doctors, nurses, accountants, and others. The results for 60 million students, their parents, and the general public has been dismaying for too long.

This defect has been fostered by the main teacher labor unions, the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers.

Hair stylists, barbers, plumbers, doctors, nurses, certified public accountants, etc., are all accountable professions regulated by state agencies. They are accustomed to this licensing regime, which has operated for decades. The agencies set minimum education or training standards, investigate complaints, and impose discipline.

But labor union lobbyists have diluted state teacher licensing requirements, keeping teachers free of responsibility to meet minimum standards. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s proposal to require prospective teachers to earn at least a 3.0 GPA and above-average ACT score was refused by the state College Board because it would disqualify half the young people currently studying to teach. Other education professions have also gained similar exemptions: principals, administrators, superintendents, librarians, counselors, clerks, custodians, etc.

Their labor unions have worked their power so far: The average elementary school teacher has a math and verbal SAT score of 960, below the national average of 1,000. If we are going to license professions, this taxpayer-financed one should be held to high standards.

Requests to fire incompetent, dangerous, or abusive teachers should remove them pronto. Right now, however, under union rules it takes years for that, with the accused teacher receiving pay for doing nothing in the meantime.

School board member Tamar Galatzan of the Los Angeles Unified School District compiled the 80 (yes, 80) steps needed to fire a teacher. The final decision was left to a three-member committee in Sacramento, two of whom were union appointees.

NEA and AFT publications do not include anything substantial about teaching improvements or evaluations. NEA and AFT conventions do not have any substantial resolutions, seminars, breakout session, exhibits, and so on about teaching improvements or evaluations.

Professions have generally established “best practices” of proven procedures and standards. After 150 years of government schools, no “best practices” have been established. This is a shameful failing.

One century-old teacher group is dedicated to advancing the teacher profession: Phi Delta Kappa International has numerous chapters, publications, and meetings. It deserves more attention.

The education industry is the biggest spender of state and local tax dollars, consuming about half of them. Accountability for teachers and other education personnel must start with state legislators and governors, who should hold the education industry to professional standards like other professions. The federal government should do likewise in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, other U.S. territories, and the Department of Defense K-12 schools that employ thousands of teachers and other staff.

The result can only improve the instruction of the 60 million schoolchildren who are currently shortchanged.

Carl Olson ([email protected]) is the founder of Textbook Trust, an adjunct professor of accounting, and member of the California Federation of Teachers. 

Image by Vandy CFT.