We all knew it was coming, but we didn’t prepare. We allowed the epidemic to get to crisis levels. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem. Act 10 didn’t help. Wisconsin, like every state in the union, is experiencing a massive shortage of licensed teachers. According to federal Title II data, in 2021 there were 5,400 graduates from teaching programs in Wisconsin; one in five didn’t get a teaching license, and only 3,600 went on to be employed in Wisconsin public schools (U.S Department of Education, 2021). These numbers do not keep pace with the number of available teaching jobs in our state.
Overall, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is decreasing. This coupled with burnout and low pay exacerbates what most people who would consider the profession feel is a return on the investment of becoming a classroom teacher. And then there is “Testing Industrial Complex”—the additional tests one must take in order to become certified. All licensed teachers must take and pass the Praxis I core assessment and the Praxis II subject area test. In Wisconsin, you must also take and pass the Foundations of Reading Test (FoRT). These tests are $156 and $136, respectively. If you don’t pass them, you must register and pay again.
According to news reports, since 2016, fewer people who take the FoRT actually pass. Most recent data show only about half of those who take it pass on the first attempt. A report by the Appleton Post-Crescent reported a racial breakdown of FoRT test results stated, “only a third of Asian and Hispanic candidates and 15% of Black candidates who took the test passed on the first try” (Appleton Post-Crescent, 2023).
Throughout this legislative session various measures have been introduced to “ease the bleed” of teachers who are retiring or otherwise exiting the profession. Last week, Senator Lena Taylor and I introduced a bill that would create an exception for elementary education candidates taking the Foundations of Reading Test. This bill would allow elementary educators to show proficiency in teaching reading through coursework, a legal provision that is already extended to special educators in our state.
In our estimation, this legislation would eliminate fiscal barriers to individuals who have already completed every other requirement to become and educator and would allow them to take a specified course to exhibit mastery in reading education. One simple step to ensuring all Wisconsin students have a certified teacher in their classroom.
It is my hope that this legislation will pass both chambers and become law, it is the least we could do to ensure all students receive a quality education. We must take the necessary steps to invest in our state’s teachers; our children’s lives depend on it.