Public systems continue march toward paraprofessional service delivery models

The subtitle to this should be:
A Wisconsin case study of how the system REALLY feels about the value of therapist training, licensing, and certification.

I am going to pick on Wisconsin today, but this is a problem that people need to be aware of because it stretches beyond the borders of that state.

What does a municipality do when there are rules to follow and they can't meet the mandates of the rules?

Make up their own new rules, of course!

Wisconsin bureaucrats demonstrate their true Machiavellian nature when they allow otherwise unqualified teachers in the classroom in the presence of personnel shortages.  They are not alone; there are several other states that have such 'emergency' routes to teacher certification - although now they have been largely replaced by programs called 'alternative' teacher certification.  When we use words like 'alternative' instead of 'emergency' then the spotlight is taken off of the bureaucrats who failed to plan and implement a system that meets needs over time.  Yes, it really is 1984.

Here is a graph of the number of people seeking alternative teacher certification routes since the 1980s.  

Source: National Center for Alternative Certification,
Now I know there are tons of studies out there that talk about how effective these alternatively qualified teachers are but there is also face validity to the concern that our educational system has some problems.  We are told constantly that there is a crisis in American education.

Correlation does not imply causation, but it seems reasonable that we consider and continue to research the role of these alternative certifications that allow otherwise unqualified people to deliver public education.

Why does this matter?  Well Wisconsin is about to throw certification of people who deliver educational services under the bus.  Again.

Personnel shortages of therapy practitioners is not a new issue in America's Dairyland.  This 1997 document from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction talks about the historic difficulties of therapy staffing and more recently in this Regional Services Network document pulled from the CESA 3 website there is ongoing discussion about speech language pathologist shortages and issues related to use of paraprofessionals to deliver services.  This is a quick search of public documents about this issue but superficially appears that it is not new in Wisconsin.

What concerns me today is that I was forwarded this document pulled off of the CESA 9 website that is a report on 2013 resolutions from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.  Here is what the document states as a resolution:

Resolution 13-14: Shortage of Speech Language Pathologists and Other Special Education Service Providers  Create 4.61(a) as follows:
To address shortages of licensed providers of certain special education services (such as speech and language pathology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc.), the WASB supports creation of a license pathway for persons who hold a bachelor’s degree and have received specified additional training that would lead to a mid-level licensure that would enable the holder of such a mid-level license to provide such specialized services under the supervision of a licensee in the area of such specialized service.

The committee advanced this resolution to allow the membership to decide whether to endorse the creation of a license pathway for persons who hold a bachelor’s degree and have received specified additional training in the provision of certain special education services (such as speech and language pathology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc.) as a means to address current shortages of licensed providers of such special education services. Persons licensed to  provide such specialized services under this new licensure pathway would practice under the supervision of a licensee in the area of such specialized service. 

This resolution is an extraordinarily short sighted recommendation to solve a staffing problem that has existed for a very long time that has apparently not been able to  be solved in the Badger State.

When you can't fix a problem, just make up a new set of rules.

Therapists in Wisconsin should be very concerned about this kind of recommendation because it represents a total lack of understanding and appreciation for the value of the professional's respective certifications.  How is the public supposed to feel protected by licensing and regulatory control when there are forces in the State that are willing to toss the value of that licensing away just so they can meet their staffing mandates???

Well, if we look at the teacher certification as a leading example then we really should not be surprised at all.  The ends justify the means, and when they can't solve a problem they just make up new rules. 

I documented some possible movement toward use of paraprofessionals for early intervention systems in NY State last year.   States all around the country are moving toward these models.  We see it in education with manipulation of routes toward teacher certification.  We see it in all kinds of human service delivery systems.  The systems are not adequately funded, they are not well organized for efficiently delivering services, and ultimately the professionals in those systems are replaced by generically trained human service personnel.

And we all scratch our heads and wonder why our public care and public education systems are inferior?


Chuck Willmarth said…

Thanks for posting about this important issue. AOTA is reaching out to WOTA to discuss this issue. This sounds like a good opportunity for therapy organizations (including OT, PT, SLP) to contact WASB leaders to address the broader therapy workforce issues raised by the resolution.

Update 1/28/13: I received email today indicating that this problem was averted by the advocacy of WOTA and some concerned practitioners. Good job Wisconsin.
This is an excellent example of how we need to be really diligent in monitoring for these situations. Also, there may be some practitioners who don't even know that this bullet was dodged - and they really need to be made aware!

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