Making it harder to be a substitute teacher might not do what you think
On Monday, Representatives Adam Bird and Don Jones introduced House Bill 583, legislation to tighten regulations on educator licensing for substitute teachers. The bill increases the educational threshold for substitute teachers from a more broad requirement of a “post-secondary” degree to a more specific “bachelor’s” degree while creating some exceptions to this rule.
The exceptions the bill puts forth are mainly age-related: allowing people with associate’s degrees and at least 21 years since birth to be a long-term substitute teacher, allowing people who served in the military and who have elapsed 21 years since birth to be a long-term substitute teacher, allowing people with sufficient bachelor’s degree coursework and who have spent 21 years on earth to be a substitute teacher. The bill also allows people who have spent five years as an educational assistant to be a long-term substitute.
The bill also authorizes the state board of education to create rules for issuing educator licenses for people who do not hold bachelor’s degrees that can be used for a year.
While the section that allows the state board of education to set rules for temporary licenses could result in a loosening of licensing requirements, overall the bill represents a tightening of licensing requirements for substitute teachers. Rather than just requiring a post-secondary degree, which could include associate’s or other non-bachelor’s degrees, the new bill raises the requirement for substitute teacher licensure to those who hold bachelor’s degrees then carves out specific exceptions for people without bachelor’s degrees.
Increasing requirements for substitute licensure could have a few different impacts. The central goal is likely to improve quality of education provided by substitute teachers. Presumably, someone with a bachelor’s degree can provide better quality education than someone without one, with obvious exceptions, for example people without bachelor’s degrees who are trained in education compared to people with bachelor’s degrees in other fields.
Unfortunately, little evidence exists to confirm to us that degree attainment will lead to better teachers. While there is limited evidence that having a math or science degree may help with math or science teaching, degree attainment overall has not been definitively linked to better outcomes for students. If we can’t find this evidence for teachers, we should be even more dubious about a supposed connection between degree attainment and student outcomes for substitute teachers.
On top of this, the bill will likely have labor market impacts for educators. Tightening requirements for substitute teachers will decrease the supply of qualified substitute teachers, which will drive up the wage needed to attract them as schools vie for a shrinking pool of substitutes. This effect could be stronger than it would be for teachers since substitutes are often actively considering competing offers from different schools, thus making their options more competitive than teachers.
On top of this, making it harder to hire substitutes could create perverse incentives for schools. If substitute teachers are more scarce or expensive, it could cause administrators to limit the ability of teachers to take sick days or otherwise take time off.
While raising the bar for substitute teachers makes intuitive sense, interventions like this need to be based on evidence, and the evidence of the impact of degree attainment on substitute teachers is basically nonexistent. We can hope that if substitute teachers are required to have higher educational attainment than before, that we would at least build in funds to assess the intervention after it is implemented.
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