Nebraska could ditch requirements to help ease teacher shortage

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — Teacher shortages have been up nationally since the pandemic, and Nebraska is no different.

Nebraska public school administrators reported 700 positions needed to be filled at the start of 2023 according to the Nebraska Examiner.

The lack of available teachers leads to overcrowded classrooms, less one on one attention for students and a crisis that isn’t an easy fix.

Schools are looking for ways to continue educating students without impacting the quality of their education.

As a way to address the teacher shortage crisis, Nebraska Sen. Tony Vargas introduced Legislative Bill 724.

It would loosen teaching requirements by removing basic skills tests for writing, reading and math in favor of more comprehensive ways to verify teacher competency.

Those ways include putting more weight on college degree requirements, student admissions exams and teacher certifications.

Vargas said teachers undergo enough training without needing expensive proficiency tests.

“Teachers go through a lengthy process of coursework, specialized certifications, student teaching and preparation before entering their own classroom,” Vargas said. “A standardized test does not, and should not, determine what type of teacher they will be for our students.”

Joy Absalon, a university student applying for a teaching position, said standardized tests for teachers impose barriers for those seeking to become educators.

“I took the reading and math portions of the test at least five times before passing. I have used multiple resources and tutors but I still need to pass the writing test,” she said. “The next time I take it, it will be my sixth attempt. I have spent more than a thousand dollars out of pocket taking the test.”

But not everyone agrees with eliminating basic skill tests for teachers, some think it could lead to an inferior education for Nebraskan students.

“If you shorten the requirements for teachers, then you shorten the requirements for kids,” said Joe Lintt, a parent who opposes the bill. “So if you’re not going to be held more accountable to reading, writing and math, then you’re obviously not going to be able to teach the kids that.”

Makayla Wilson, a mother who opposes the bill, said she has concerns about teachers who can’t pass a basic skills test teaching her kids.

“I mean, I get that there’s a teacher shortage but I feel that we should still be wanting a quality education for our kids, and if the teachers can’t pass a standard test, what does that say about the education our kids are going to be getting? When my daughter grows up, I want her to know these things, so I feel like the teacher should know those things as well,” she said.

Since 2022, applicants for teaching programs throughout the state have had to prove their skills through testing.

Earlier on Monday, Channel 8 spoke with several teachers who did not want to be on camera out of fear they could lose their jobs.

But all of them said this bill does not address the root problem that is causing the teacher shortage.

They believe the national crisis is rooted in low wages, lack of support from administrators and lack of support from parents.

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