Bad ideas in Big Sky country

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Montana has never been much of a hotbed for education reform, but recent moves by the Treasure State to address teacher shortages defy common sense.

The state legislature recently blocked an effort to provide more teachers to its rural schools through--gasp--an alternate route, but they did manage to pass a State Board of Education bill that will only worsen Montana's teacher crunch and deprive its students of good classes.

Starting in 2009, anyone who teaches a distance learning course (typically a college professor at a local community college) will have to meet Montana's certification requirements. The likelihood that a college professor will already be certified to teach high school in Montana is not good. And Montana, as indicated by its swift repudiation of the alt cert legislation, doesn't make it easy to get certified. Like most states, Montana requires public school teachers to have completed a teacher prep program. There's no "test-out" option for professors, no credence given to the fact that they have PhD's and teaching experience. Nope: go take some more classes, Prof!

So, tiny school districts will need to hire teachers just for purposes of "supervision," subverting any flexibility that online learning can offer. It's more likely, of course, that the schools won't hire the teachers, and kids won't get to take the classes. It's that simple, and that bad. Bear in mind that over 80 percent of Montana's school districts are classified as either "rural" or "small town."

Parents and school administrators came out in droves to testify against the bill. The state's teacher unions, on the other hand, heard the sound of opportunity knocking. In a hearing on the bill, Montana union leader Eric Feaver was the only witness to testify in favor of certification.