Would You Let An Unlicensed Doctor Operate On You?

We highlighted some dangerous deregulation policies in SB3, a bill recently passed by the Ohio Senate. One of those policies would allow high performing districts to employ unlicensed "teachers". Dr. Renee Middleton, Dean of the Patton College of Education, Ohio University issued this warning:

Americans in the twenty-first century accept without question the assumption that doctors must be licensed to practice medicine. But that, of course, has not always been the case, especially in the United States. In the early 1880s, West Virginia became the first state to enact and effectively implement a genuinely restrictive medical license law.

Education and Medicine are at their best when qualified practitioners meet and exceed state standards. That is why standards are so important. When some is “licensed to practice,” it lets the public know that the individual has met a “minimal” standard of practice. While students can fluctuate in their ability, teachers and standards are a constant – or at least they should be. A high bar must be set for those who wish to be “licensed for practice.” Ohio has stood on that belief for over a century.

Unfortunately, Senate Republicans are attempting to redefine minimal or acceptable “standards of practice.” Sen. Cliff Hite (R-Findlay) and Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) are attempting to pass SB3, a bill that deregulates education and the need for a “license to practice.” SB3 would allow for “high-performing school districts” to be exempt from hiring teachers with licenses and credentials currently required throughout the state. Based on data involving arbitrary graduation rates and random performance indicators, roughly 20 percent of school districts in Ohio would qualify as high-performing, with another 50 districts reportedly close to exempt status.

Hite and Faber fail to realize that knowledge of a subject – or even expertise in a subject – does not in and of itself qualify someone to teach. Teaching has a pedagogical science behind it.

If the state does not allow unlicensed drivers on our roads, why would it want to allow unlicensed teachers in our classrooms? Would you, as a parent, send your child to an unlicensed doctor simply because that doctor works at a hospital that is considered high-performing? No, you would not. Teaching is not surgery, but it is brain science, and not everyone is trained or skilled to do it.

If “high-performing” school districts hire non-licensed teachers, they will not be high-performing for very long. In fact, if a district slips below the “high-performing” threshold, its exemptions would be taken away – meaning non-licensed teachers would be teaching in underperforming schools. There simply cannot be sustained excellence without a commitment to professionally licensed teachers.

Through most of the nineteenth century, anyone could call themselves a doctor and could practice medicine on whatever basis they wished. An 1889 U.S. Supreme Court case, Dent v. West Virginia, effectively transformed medical practice from an unregulated occupation to a legally recognized profession.

Teaching is a profession! Federal legislation requires colleges of education to be accredited based on a nationally based set of standards. Ohio requires teachers to be “licensed to practice.” Why? Because teaching is a profession. SB3 would take us back to the 1800s and allow anyone to teach. Do we really want to go there? Studying how individuals learn helps teacher candidates’ transition from sitting in a classroom to standing in front of one. It teaches them how to relate material to students and positively influence student-learning outcomes and academic achievement. It allows them to hit the ground running in a way in which those without the background, training, experience, and pedagogical skills simply cannot do.

Just as we have standards for our students, we must have standards for the profession of teaching. Hiring a non-licensed professional to teach a class may seem innocuous, but it would set a dangerous precedent. Hiring someone without established prerequisites allows for a subjective, “good enough” mindset that will only hurt our state and our students in the long run.

I strongly encourage our state representatives to vote no on SB3, and I strongly encourage you to call your legislator and tell him or her that teaching is a profession and that our children deserve to be taught by professionals.


Renée A. Middleton, Ph.D., Dean
The Gladys W. & David H. Patton College of Education
Ohio University