U.S. Constitution. (National Archives)

This is the description at the top of Senate Bill 20 filed in the Nevada legislature explaining the aim of the bill:

AN ACT relating to educational personnel; removing the requirement that examinations for the initial licensing of teachers and other educational personnel include the laws of Nevada relating to schools, the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Nevada; repealing provisions requiring teachers and other educational personnel to show knowledge of the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Nevada; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.

In case you didn’t quite believe what you read, the legislation would eliminate current requirements that licensing exams for teachers must include questions about the U.S. Constitution, Nevada’s constitution and state laws. Teachers and other educational personnel wouldn’t have to know them to pass licensing exams starting July 1, if it becomes law.

The bill is being taken up for the first time July 7 by the Nevada Senate Education Committee. It was prefiled Nov. 16 on behalf of the Clark County Public Schools district, the same school district that has been dealing with a chronic severe teacher shortage. (The district can introduce two bills in each regular session of the state legislature.)

Under the bill, teachers would be tested on their ability “to teach” and knowledge of the subject area in which they want to teach. Note: It doesn’t say teach “effectively,” and it’s hard to know how any single test can show someone knows how to teach.

Clark County schools had about 700 teaching vacancies last summer that needed to be filled for the 2016-2017 year, fewer than the summer before. Although teaching shortages have been reported in many school districts across the country, Nevada has been especially hard-hit; Education Week wrote a story in January 2016 saying, “If the teacher shortages that fanned out across the country this fall had an epicenter, it was likely the Clark County school district in Nevada.”

Why is Clark County’s shortage so bad? A combination of factors have contributed, including student enrollment increases at the same time as state budget cuts for education, teacher retirements and fewer young people going into programs in the region that supply schools with teachers.

Last year, Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) issued an emergency regulation allowing districts to hire teachers who had not been licensed by the state, giving them a year to get their full credentials, one of a number of steps to try to attract teachers from outside the state.

Why is it okay for teachers in any U.S. state not to know the U.S. Constitution? Isn’t that something that every American high school graduate should know?

Victor Joecks of the Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote in this piece that he thinks it’s fine:

On the surface, it sounds like a terrible idea. Of all the hoops new teachers have to jump through, ensuring teachers understand the founding documents of our country and state is one of the most defensible.

But that’s the problem. The testing requirement is a hoop to jump through. An obstacle to a job. And it’s unnecessary.

Certainly we know that most Americans have very little understanding of their government; a 2015 survey by the Newseum Institute found that only 19 percent of American adults know that the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of religion. But why put into anything that perpetuates that ignorance? Especially when it comes to teachers?

Angie Sullivan, a second-grade teacher in Clark County, wrote this in an email about the legislation:

As a teacher – this legislation perplexes me.

I’m looking through the bill drafts.

Daily I experience the unrealistic unfunded mandates.

I cobble together curriculum which I print off for my students on a broken copier with paper I bought on my own.

My state has so little per pupil money that charters will not even come here to take over the schools.

And the first thing addressed this legislative session is . . .

Removing the requirement for people who come here for employment outside the state – to learn the Nevada laws which might affect them?

Here’s the legislation:


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