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Opinion | We need action on teacher shortage and alternative certification

The SBOE must act to ensure that the intent of the Legislature is carried out so school systems have more access to certified teachers.

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There is good news and bad news for education in Alabama. On the positive side, Alabama’s political and educational leaders recently hailed the state’s improved rankings on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” This year’s NAEP assessment, administered for the first time since 2019, is a testament to the resiliency of Alabama’s classroom teachers and its young learners. The fourth grade scores were particularly notable and demonstrate that recent state investments in reading and math are already paying off.

By all accounts, student achievement remains a top priority of Governor Kay Ivey and is likely to be a primary focus of her Administration during the next term of office. By virtue of her position, Ivey also serves as Chair of the Alabama State Board of Education (SBOE), which is charged with implementing various administrative issues as well as policy changes passed by the state’s Republican-led legislature. The remainder of the SBOE is elected by district, and they are also responsive to the people of Alabama.

However, as 2022 draws to a close, one critical challenge currently facing state leaders – from the Governor’s Office to school administrators in all of the state’s 67 counties – is a persistent and well-documented shortage of teaching professionals. Data published in a recent report from the Alabama Commission of the Evaluation of Services (ACES) demonstrate that the state’s teaching colleges are not graduating candidates at historical rates. At the same time, districts are becoming more and more reliant on hiring teachers on emergency certificates in order to staff their schools.

The Alabama Legislature has searched high and low for ways to help solve this challenge, but progress toward filling teacher gaps is no overnight matter. In the most recent legislative session, both the House and Senate voted unanimously on legislation that would cut red tape on the existing teacher certification process and also open the door for alternative teacher preparation organizations to operate in the state.

For those changes to have any measurable impact over time, the SBOE must act to ensure that the intent of the Legislature is carried out so that Alabama school systems have more access to certified teachers. Failure to take this critical and common-sense action would be a disservice to school administrators, existing classroom teachers and, most importantly, students across Alabama. Every student deserves high-quality instruction, but to achieve that we must first have education leaders who are committed to the idea that actions speak louder than words.

Dick Brewbaker is a former Republican Alabama state senator from Montgomery.

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