Students need staff of trained educators

Our public schools rely on more than 25,000 paraeducators — school employees who work under the supervision of teachers in the classroom — in all facets of education, especially in programs designed for at-risk students. Yet paraeducators receive virtually no training from the state, and there are no state standards for who may be hired.

That is troubling. Our most vulnerable students should be taught by highly trained professionals. Every student should have that right. That’s just common sense. In January there will be proposed legislation in Olympia to solve this problem, and your representative will be critical in that debate.

Senate Bill 5179 will solve the problem by creating a system of licensing and minimum standards for paraeducators, a training program and a career ladder. It will also require more training for teachers in how to supervise paraeducators.

SB 5179 is supported by Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and is based on the work and recommendations of the Paraeducator Standards Workgroup; an expert panel created by the Legislature. This bill passed the Senate last year, but stalled in the House because some wanted to refer the issue to another group for more study. We don’t need more studies. We don’t need more delays. We need to move forward now to make sure our kids are being taught by professionals who have been well trained.

Paraeducators currently provide over half of all instructional time to kids who are struggling and need extra help. In our state and federal programs designed for students who are at risk of dropping out, or don’t speak English as their first language, over half of all instructional hours are being provided by paraeducators, not teachers. In just the completed 2014-15 school year, Title 1, bilingual and special education students received over 18 million hours of instruction from paraeducators.

The opportunity gap facing these students is a real problem in Washington state. There’s a significant gap in achievement between different racial groups, and 1 out of 5 of these students are dropping out. We can, and must, do better. Our students deserve our best.

It’s time to create professional standards and a training program for paraeducators.

By making paraeducators true professionals, we will create a system in which teachers supervise highly trained educators. Promoting the use of paraeducators will also help lower class sizes by putting more adults in our classrooms. At the end of the day, our students are the ones that benefit.

School districts need additional tools and resources to bridge the opportunity gap and improve student instruction. The cost to develop the standards, training and career ladder will be minimal in comparison with what the state currently spends to try and close the opportunity gap. By licensing paraeducators, we are enabling them to be the bridge between parent and community expectations and student achievement. By helping to bridge the opportunity gap, they are giving every student the best chance to succeed.

There are state standards not only for a teaching certificate, but also to drive a bus or operate a boiler. The state should be equally concerned that those providing instruction meet quality standards.

If we don’t create these standards for instruction now, we will never close the opportunity gap and lower the dropout rate. Again, your representative is critical to this issue. It’s time to create professional standards and a training program for paraeducators. Please support SB 5179. Our kids depend on it.

Reen Doser is president of the Public Schools Employees of Washington and a paraeducator with the Lake Stevens School District.

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