Viewpoint: Putting Montana Students and Teachers First Demands Flexibilities in Education
"Much work has been done but there is still more to do. As Montana State Superintendent I am blessed to be putting the focus on educational excellence while putting our Montana students and families first!"
My work has always been focused on putting Montana students and families first! The pandemic solidified that one-size-fits-all does not work in our public schools. This led to the need for increased flexibility for our schools and our students – I achieved this by revising 5 of our 11 teaching and learning state standards, educator licensing, and school accreditation.
Teaching and Learning State Standards
The teaching and learning standards have become outdated over the past 30 years. The five standards that I revised are:
- Library media content
- Social Studies
- Computer Science
- Career Technical Education
- Technology Integration
One of the most important of these is the Social Studies Standards, which includes economics, geography, history and civics education. The prior Social Studies Standards were only taught in 3rd grade, 5th grade, 8th grade and one year in high school. Civics and America’s original documents are now embedded in every grade from kindergarten through graduation. This follows the spirit of Thomas Jefferson’s views on education that an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.
Flexibilities in Chapter 57: Educator Licensing
Teacher retention and recruitment has been a long-standing issue, especially in rural Montana. The previous licensing rules were barriers for entry and reciprocity in Montana’s teaching profession. On May 12, 2022, after 18 months of review, the Board of Public Education (BPE) unanimously approved of my flexible educator licensing revisions. Some of these include:
- Creating pathways to allow an educator to add additional endorsements to their license
- Defining military dependent to include in licensure reciprocity for military spouses and dependents
- Defining approved educator preparation program as an umbrella term for traditional and alternate educator preparation programs
- Returning the unusual cases authority to the State Superintendent
- Keeping the words “credible source” as a rule to ensure members of the public are able to file a complaint about official misconduct
- Expanding pathways to licensing beyond the Praxis including GPA, portfolio and experience
- Increasing access for expired licensees to reenter the classroom
- Increasing career technical educators by accepting diverse degrees, allowing associate degrees and work experience equivalencies
- Allowing school counselors to pursue administrative licenses
- Recognizing licenses for nationally board-certified teachers
The licensing system was antiquated with paper and pencil. A more efficient digital process is now supporting our customers – our Montana teachers.
Attaining Quality Schools – Revisions to Chapter 55: School Accreditation
A key component to defining school quality are the accreditation rules in Chapter 55 of Montana Administrative Rules. An extensive review of these had not been completed for 50 years. The existing rules placed emphasis on adult employment rather than the education of our students. My revisions, through a formal negotiated rulemaking committee, reflect Article X, Section 1 of our Montana Constitution: “It is the goal of the people to establish a system of education which will develop the full educational potential of each person. Equality of educational opportunity is guaranteed to each person of the state.”
In Chapter 55:
- There were 101 initial rules with 43 historically repealed, which leaves 58 rules
- Out of these 58 rules there were no recommended changes to 13 rules, which leaves 45 rules
- I added five new proposed rules
The most impactful changes are the focus on student mental health. Over the last 40 years Montana has led the nation with consistently high youth suicide rates. I continue advocating for a systematic approach to student mental health. My recommendations require schools to have licensed and endorsed counselors plus a school counseling program that includes Montana Ready for career development and Montana Hope for the mental health and well-being of our students. The school counseling program utilizes a licensed counselor in the career and mental health needs of students. This new program will be created and implemented at the local level to best fit student and community needs. The current accreditation process has schools check the box if they have hired an adult according to a ratio. By measuring the quality of schools, the student results of a program are more meaningful than simply meeting the number of adults employed.
The Negotiated Rulemaking Committee will conclude their work on July 15, 2022. The recommended changes will then be sent to the BPE along with an economic impact statement. Public comment is encouraged through the process with adoption in early 2023.
Much work has been done but there is still more to do. As Montana State Superintendent I am blessed to be putting the focus on educational excellence while putting our Montana students and families first!
Elsie Arntzen is the Montana State Superintendent of Public Instruction
The Frontier Institute regularly invites Montana officials to author guest columns in an effort to educate our followers about the work being done by the state government. The opinions of guest authors do not necessarily represent the policy positions of the Frontier Institute.