You would think that in the midst of a national teacher shortage, states would be willing to undue some of the stifling regulation tape in order to make it easier for teachers to teach. However, taking the exact opposite tact, Mississippi has decided to begin enforcing licensing regulations more consistently; the end result is that Jackson Public School District is losing 236 teachers. Similarly, school districts throughout the state are finding themselves minus teachers they were expecting for the upcoming school year.
All 236 of the Jackson teachers were first-year teachers holding a temporary license that enabled them to teach. And all 236 are ineligible to teach next year because they failed to meet the licensing requirements for second-year teachers.
No doubt, when squinting at this story really hard the teachers deserve some of the blame. Based on a story in Mississippi Today, though, the lion’s share of the blame lies elsewhere—most notably on the Mississippi Department of Education. Whatever blame the teachers may deserve is most likely for trusting other people tasked with helping them through the licensing process.
Education leaders like district superintendents and college deans of education have said they thought that candidates had three years to meet the licensing requirements, and only had to show that candidates were making progress toward completion in order to renew the special non-renewable license for nontraditional teachers. In years past, this has been the case with teachers using this license.
Mississippi Department of Education officials say that the rules for the license have never changed and that problems are arising now because of a misunderstanding with local school leaders.
Many teachers using this license just recently found out about the one-year requirement, making it too late for them to complete all of the necessary tasks before the end of June, which is when they would either have to reapply for that license or the license expires.
According to the first paragraph quoted above, the teachers were acting in good faith based on information they received from their bosses and college professors. True, the rules haven’t changed and the state is merely enforcing them. But, as the article goes on to make clear, “the policy has always been in place but hasn’t been enforced until recently.”
Jackson Public Schools’ Chief of Staff Michael Cormack told Mississippi Today:
There is no confusion here. We understand what the policy is and that policy is consistent. We’ve been working really hard to make certain that teachers can make it into year two and three of this license so that they can become certified educators. If you look at the statute and the way that this was envisioned previously and implemented previously, teachers had a three-year period to meet all licensure requirements. It is the current interpretation of statue that is the challenge here.
By choosing to begin to interpret the rules so strictly combined with their sudden enforcement, students throughout Mississippi are going to suffer. And with their educational system rated #45 in the country, it’s not like the Mississippi Department of Education has a lot of room for error. It seems that a common sense approach to licensing and a bit of grace toward the misinformed teachers would go a long way to serving the citizens of Mississippi. Instead, it appears that the Mississippi Department of Education is willing to further strangle the state’s education system with red tape.