Nancy E. Bailey asks an important question at a time when all sorts of people who have never been in a classroom since they were students call themselves “educators.” What is an educator? 

She writes:

Define educator for America’s schools. It’s critical to nail this down during a teacher shortage and when there are attempts to privatize public schools. We don’t want people with inappropriate or no credentials teaching America’s children and directing their public schools.

Ensuring that teachers and administrators are qualified used to be required. Since NCLB, alternative routes to teaching and educational leadership have blurred the lines and deregulated the profession. Tampering with education credentials lessens their importance. This is a trick of those who want school privatization.

It’s no accident that there’s a teacher shortage at the same time teaching requirements have weakened. With a worsening problem to keep teachers in the classroom, some states relax teaching requirements!

If teacher preparation continues to be diminished by ill-defined teacher preparation and credentialing programs, children will get teachers who don’t understand what they teach, or how children learn.

For example, recent reports referred to Beta O’Rourke’s wife, Amy, as an educator. Mrs. O’Rourke taught kindergarten in Guatemala, but she has a degree in psychology. She is not an educator.

It isn’t clear what kind of credentials O’Rourke needed to teach in Guatemala, or what progress the children made under her instruction. When she returned to El Paso in 2004, she worked with Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe a health clinic, and helped create a K-8 charter school focused on dual-language. She became superintendent of the school without any educational administrative credentials. According to Deutsch29, O’Rourke’s school dropped two grade levels.

Now she is the “Choose to Excel” director at CREEED a foundation designed to raise money for charter schools. She is still not an educator.

Is Arne Duncan an educator? He was superintendent of schools in Chicago, but he never taught or led a school, and he never earned a degree in the subject where he claims expertise.

Is Austin Beutner of Los Angeles an educator? No.

Bailey writes:

The problem isn’t only with teachers. In state education departments and local school districts, we have a glut of administrators in key positions who have minimal education training, usually little experience working with children, who determine school policy. These individuals are groomed to privatize public schools.

Betsy DeVos is a good example. Arne Duncan was another. Neither had experience working with children or university education degrees. Duncan had been superintendent of Chicago’s public schools, but he was just as unqualified for that position. Both have been all about increasing charter schools and creating a privatized educational system.

Maybe educators who have earned the title should be flattered. But it is not flattering when people who have no expertise steal your title for their own purposes.

And it is certainly not flattering when state legislatures lower standards so that almost anyone can claim to be a teacher.

Bailey remembers the days when teachers had to earn credentials to teach or administer. Now state education departments and local districts are filled with non-educators making decisions about education. Some have fancy corporate titles, like “chief human resources officer,” or “chief knowledge officer,” but that’s just a way of evading the necessity of hiring trained professionals.

Make no mistake.

The current drift is to deprofessionalize teaching and education so anyone at all–like Duncan, Beutner, and DeVos–can claim to be an “educator.” They are not.

That demeans the profession.