Texas Reforms Endanger Teacher Effectiveness

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With recent legislation, Texas has joined the national movement for reform of preservice teacher education. The Texas legislature, however, was not content with adopting a position consistent with national studies such as the Carnegie task force's A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century or the Holmes Group's Tomorrow's Teachers. While following many of the principles outlined in these policy recommendations, such as a differentiated career ladder, more standardized testing, and closer supervision during the initial year of induction, Texas also adopted a measure that would provide not simply for the elimination of undergraduate degrees with majors in education but also for the granting of certificates to prospective teachers who have completed a maximum of 18 credit hours in education.

Educators and lawmakers around the nation should monitor carefully both the intended and the unplanned consequences of this legislation.

Texas policymakers' motivation for this reform paralleled that of their national counterparts. Responding to a general dissatisfaction with the quality of instruction in the public schools, committees appointed to study the problem concluded that a major factor in this deficiency was the inadequacy of teacher preparation. But while national groups recommended strengthening professional preparation through the development of postbaccalaureate fifth-year programs, however, Texas judged the importance of such preparation to be minimal. Its legislation, passed earlier this year, called instead for colleges and universities to make drastic reductions in their program requirements for professional education.

As of September 1991, applicants for teaching certificates must possess a bachelor's degree in a major other than education; to this extent, the Texas reform follows the recommendations of both the Holmes and Carnegie reports. However, while the national trend favors moving the professional-studies component to the graduate level, Texas's new legislation maintains it at the undergraduate level. By considering education courses to be a minor and placing on this minor a cap of 18 semester-credit hours, to include student teaching, the legislation solves the problem of maintaining reasonable limits in credit hours required in undergraduate-degree and certification plans.

The redefined boundaries on teacher preparation will produce different effects on teachers in various grade levels and subject areas. For example, a high-school history teacher may well benefit from wider study in both history and the liberal arts more generally. Such training may equip the teacher with a deeper, broader, and better-integrated perspective on the historical periods about which he will be teaching. However, this improved content-area knowledge and perspective must be weighed against the loss under the new restrictions of some of the educational foundations and methodologies.

Discontinued under the new legislation is the second major teaching field, previously required of all secondary-education candidates. Elementary teachers in particular, forced to specialize in one content area, will receive considerably less preparation than at present in teaching other subjects. Greater departmentalization in the early grades will most likely result, whereby teachers would rotate from classroom to classroom in order to teach primarily in their area of expertise. The self-contained elementary classroom could disappear.

The legislation does allow the state board of education to exclude from this 18-credit-hour maximum teachers in the fields of reading, bilingual education, English as a second language, early-childhood education, and special education. However, since any extensions beyond the 18-hour limit would require express waiver by the state board, such exceptions are expected to be rare. Further, these fields do not have a corresponding academic major. Ironically, these are the very areas in which the greatest teacher shortages exist.

The field-experience component of preparation programs may also be undercut by this legislation. The rationale behind field training is that prospective teachers must be provided with an exposure to schools and children throughout their preparation, not merely in the student-teaching practicum, in order to better integrate theory and practice. Field experiences also allow students to reassess continually their personal commitment to and suitability for a career in teaching. The necessity of consolidating all education courses into 18 credit hours or less may force colleges of education to reduce or eliminate field experiences in favor of more intensive content presentation and study. It is unlikely that many other academic areas will institute field experiences for their majors who may elect to minor in education.

At the same time, the Texas reforms will reduce the control exercised by schools of education on students' overall programs of studies. Diminished control, in turn, may weaken the influence of these schools within their institutions, with the various academic departments in which prospective teachers now will be pursuing their majors assuming more pre-eminent roles. If the close interface between the public schools and the teacher-preparation institutions advocated by both the Holmes and Carnegie studies is to occur, it may well become the responsibility of these departments, rather than of the schools of education, as has previously been the case.

The 18-credit-hour restriction will force schools of education to determine precisely which methodologies and educational foundations are most critical for prospective teachers and to tailor the limited number of courses to present only this most essential material. In turn, the size of the faculty may be reduced, thereby further diminishing the campuswide influence of the education department and limiting the range of elective courses offered by education faculty. Many courses of interest and importance to educators may no longer be available.

The new legislation may also transfer much of the control formerly exercised by the state education agency over the quality of teacher preparation to the individual colleges and universities. Rather than supervising the overall program of education majors, the accreditation agency may now be overseeing only the 18 credit hours of education courses. It is difficult to envision the 62 institutions that prepare teachers in the state conforming to the same standards without some form of central coordination.

A key criterion of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education for the accrediting of teacher-preparation institutions is that of governance. The institution applying for accreditation must show that the preparation of educators is under the direction of a separate unit in the institution and that this unit has the authority to design, implement, and evaluate such a program. Institutions following the mandates of the recent legislation may not receive full accreditation, and the teachers they prepare would have great difficulty gaining licensure should they move to other states.

Already experiencing serious teacher shortages in many areas, Texas must recruit extensively out of state. Should the state decide to avoid creating a double standard by requiring all teachers applying for Texas certificates to hold a full major in their content area, many of the candidates from states not fully adopting the Holmes or Carnegie models may not have appropriate credentials.

Another projected source of teachers would be to entice them from other sectors of the economy. Advocates of the Texas reforms contended that prospective teachers with majors in fields other than education might welcome the opportunity to become teachers if they were faced with only 18 credit hours of additional professional preparation. However, the converse is also true; since teachers will now possess the same credentials in their major area of study as all other graduates of the institution, it is not unreasonable to assume that some will accept the more lucrative offers of the private sector.

The pull of the private sector may prove especially strong in the areas of mathematics and science, both already experiencing teacher shortages. Such a lure could also result in the loss of minority teachers, who, as role models, are exceptionally important for addressing the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of a school-age population with increasing percentages of minorities.

For small districts the new legislation may produce special problems. Texas will now have secondary teachers certified for teaching in only one subject area, rather than the two areas previously mandated. The flexibility of scheduling afforded by multiply certified teachers may be lost to small schools, which will then be faced with the financially prohibitive prospect of increasing the size of their faculties or the necessity of seeking permission for many teachers to teach courses outside their area of certification. Though perhaps the most realistic means of addressing such needs, the state's acceptance of this latter alternative would defeat the purpose--to control quality--of the new legislation.

The other 49 states will be watching carefully the results of Texas' dramatic move. Should it prove effective in preparing teachers and should it help to address the growing teacher shortage, the program would eliminate many of the concerns associated with moving to a fifth-year program or with seeking alternative means to certify candidates who possess degrees in academic areas but little background in education. Should many of its potential risks materialize, however, not only the teacher-preparation reform movement but also the effectiveness of the public education system in Texas would be jeopardized.

Vol. 7, Issue 10, Page 28

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