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How did Moms for Liberty end up on WA’s approved list of groups training teachers?

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How did Moms for Liberty end up on WA’s approved list of groups training teachers?

May 28, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Grace Deng
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How did Moms for Liberty end up on WA’s approved list of groups training teachers?
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An empty classroom. (Richard Ross/Getty Images)

By law, Washington teachers must complete 100 hours of professional development every five years to keep their licenses.

But there are nearly no state rules for who offers these continuing education credits, known as  “clock hours.” And there are few enforcement tools to guide what content they cover. In just a few simple steps, just about any group can register with the state online to be a clock hour provider.

In fact, Moms For Liberty — a conservative group against teaching about race and gender in schools and labeled far-right extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Centeris on Washington’s official list of approved providers for this school year. That’s despite the state’s commitment to ensuring clock hours align with diversity, equity and inclusion standards. 

No teachers have reported clock hours from Moms for Liberty to the state, and Ann Streit, chair of the group’s King County chapter, says the organization doesn’t yet have a curriculum in place should a teacher choose to get clock hours from the group. 

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction says they’ve raised concerns about Moms for Liberty’s place on the list, but the responsibility to approve clock hours belongs to the Professional Educator Standards Board, a governor-appointed panel “responsible for policy and oversight of Washington’s educator preparation, certification, assignment and development.” 

The standards board points out that state lawmakers never gave them the authority to review what clock-hour providers teach.

But now, that’s set to change. 

By the board’s request, the Legislature passed a bill this year to allow the board to create a process to not only review clock hour content, but to kick subpar providers off the list. 

The push to set standards for clock hour providers was helmed by Erica Hernandez-Scott, the first educator ever to lead the Professional Educator Standards Board. 

“Moms for Liberty is not the story,” she said. “I want [teachers] to be in the classroom for 10, 15, 20 years. If we’re not doing the right things with clock hours in the first three or four years, then we get this churn. Then we have underprepared people teaching.”

“My personal belief is education is a profession in the same way medicine and law are,” Hernandez-Scott added. “They would never allow doctors and lawyers to be trained in such a loose way.” 

‘A checkbox system’

To get approved, an aspiring clock hour provider simply attests to following state laws around minimum requirements like recordkeeping, gives the state some contact information, and confirms they’re a nonprofit (clock hour providers cannot be for-profit). 

“It really is a checkbox system,” said Lindsey Stevens, who leads the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession. 

Clock hour providers have some standards they must meet under state law, such as creating “clock hour committees” to oversee courses and collecting course evaluations from participating teachers.

“It’s not necessarily that the expectations weren’t there before,” Stevens said. “But it was sometimes left up to providers, you know, how closely they could align to those expectations.”

The professional standards board can deny providers for a missed deadline, incomplete application or because of a for-profit status — but that’s about it.  

“I’m shocked by that,” said Francene Watson, a former high school humanities teacher who now researches educator professional development at Washington State University. 

Watson said that for her entire teaching career, clock hours have been the “backdrop.” Clock hours are not just a baseline expectation for teachers, but the primary way they get training as they advance professionally, she said. Clock hours can be used to obtain salary increases, too. 

“That there isn’t a process to review who and how we’re offering that professional growth is a great question that’s sort of hidden in plain sight,” Watson said.

Hernandez-Scott said with the new legislation, PESB will have more resources, giving the board the capacity to hold clock hour providers to a higher standard. 

“Our agency has been kind of sidelined for a long time, relatively small, pretty under-resourced,” Hernandez-Scott said. “It’s my responsibility along with the team to…be able to do the work that could have been done years ago, but for whatever reason, wasn’t.” 

What will the new standards look like?

The professional standards board is still setting up its review system. There’s a March 1, 2025 deadline to have it in place.

It would be nearly impossible for the board to review the content of every clock hour course, Stevens and Watson said. What’s more feasible — and what the board plans to do — is review whether providers offering clock hours should be accredited. 

The board is creating an application that will ask clock hour providers for their “mission and vision,” experience and expertise in education and equity-based practices, what subject matter they may offer, clock hour class pricing and more. 

By Sept. 1, the board is also supposed to establish a process to revoke clock hour provider status due to complaints, or if a provider is out of compliance with state law or diversity, equity, inclusion and cultural competency standards

School districts are automatically approved to be clock hour providers. Under the new rules, if the professional standards board discovers that a district isn’t offering credits that meet its standards, the district might lose its ability to offer clock hours for its teachers. In that case, the school district would be required to pay an outside group to provide training, Hernandez-Scott said. 

As for whether Hernandez-Scott thinks Moms for Liberty will meet the new standards? 

“Some folks might stay on the list, some folks may decide they no longer have the capacity to be a clock hour provider,” Hernandez-Scott said. “But I don’t have a problem asking for more, when this is about supporting educators, students and families.”