Texas Teacher Educators in Turmoil Over Reform Law's 'Encroachment'
Texas lawmakers decided last year that future educators were spending too much time learning how to teach and too little time mastering their academic subjects.
So they came up with what was, at face value, a very simple solution: They required that after Sept. 1, 1991, all prospective teachers have an academic major in order to be certified.
And they prohibited the state board of education from requiring those seeking certificates to take more than 18 undergraduate-credit hours in education--including student teaching.
That simple solution, however, has caused an explosion of anger and confusion among education-school faculty, who are rushing to reshape their programs s freshman class, which graduates in 1992.
Some deans predict that the changes--which will eliminate all undergraduate education majors--could cut their faculty in half.
Others worry that the new law will seriously hamper attempts to move teacher6preparation to the graduate level, as several national studies have suggested.
If individuals are allowed to become certified based on a maximum of 18 credit hours during their first four years of college, these educators argue, there will be no incentive for students to enroll in either extended five-year or so-called "fifth year" programs.
There is also some question about whether lawmakers intended to restrict all teacher preparation to the undergraduate level.
"It is an encroachment on the profession," said James L. Williamson, dean of education at East Texas State University at Commerce.
"Can you imagine legislators restricting the preparation of a doctor or lawyer, and specifying the number of hours it would take?" he asked. "And yet they seem quite willing to do it for the preparation of teachers."
"It really has put us in limbo," added Peter J. Gilman, dean of education at Hardin-Simmons University and president of the Texas Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. "We're sitting here advising students about what they should take and what they shouldn't take, and we don't have the final answer," he said. "It makes the institution look as though it doesn't know what it's doing. And, in reality, we don't."
Conflicting rumors about how the state would interpret the law were rampant last week. The situation is particularly complex because of the many standards related to teacher training in Texas already in flux.
As one educator noted: "We've had as many interpretations as there are days between June 1 and Sept. 2."
In 1984, the state board of education required public and private teacher-education programs to meet new standards by mid-1985, in order for their graduates to be certified.
Education schools scurried to implement those standards. But when the board was changed from an elected to an appointed one in mid-1984, the rules were put on hold.
This past summer, the new board adopted a revised set of standards that all teacher-education programs must meet by this coming September.
To make the standards comply with the new teacher-education law, the regulations require a "professional development" sequence of 18 semester hours, including six hours of core courses, six of methods courses, and six of field work.
In the past, such board standards have been minimum requirements, which institutions were encouraged to exceed. Schools could also choose to offer the credits at either the graduate or undergraduate level, or some combination of the two.
But many deans are worried that under the new law, the 18-hour requirement will be interpreted as the maximum number of pedagogy courses that can be offered at any level.
"When a regulatory agency begins to set maximums as well as minimums, they are impinging upon the responsibility of institutions of higher education," said W. Robert Houston, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Houston.
Meanwhile, the state board has not distributed documents describing the new standards--despite the upcoming deadline--because it is waiting for additional guidelines from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Susan Barnes, director of teacher education for the Texas Education Agency, said the board is trying to avoid sending "too many mixed signals" to colleges and universities.
Although the state board is responsible for teacher licensing, the coordinating board must approve all degree programs and courses offered by state-supported universities.
Many education deans fear that the coordinating board's interpretation of the law, SB 994, will be overly prescriptive and narrow, leaving them little freedom to design their programs.
Late last week, the coordinating board was expected to approve new guidelines that would eliminate all bachelor's degrees in education--ranging from a bachelor of science in education to a bachelor of elementary education.
In addition, the board was expected to discontinue such majors as industrial-arts education, language-arts education, science education, and physical education. Prospective teachers would, instead, be expected to major in a related academic field.
New Elementary Major
The board was also scheduled to take up one of the most controversial ramifications of the law: how to devise an interdisciplinary academic major for future elementary teachers.
East Texas State University at Commerce, for example, recommends about 500 people a year for teaching certificates. Of those, approximately 65 percent are certified to teach elementary school.
The new law "effectively eliminates the largest single undergraduate major at this university," said Mr. Williamson.
Currently, the university requires its undergraduate majors in elementary education to take 33 hours of education coursework, including eight hours of student teaching. Other institutions require future elementary teachers to complete even more credit hours in an elementary-education major.
"There was some suspicion that that's kind of a lot of stuff, taught by teacher educators who don't have the expertise to teach it," said Charles Funkhouser, director of teacher education at the University of Texas at Arlington.
State Senator Carl Parker, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and co-sponsor of the law, said its purpose was to force colleges to examine "very closely" the "how to" courses that they offer.
"There's a certain amount of effort to propagate the institution rather than dwell on quality," he said. "We seem to be requiring more and more hours of education courses," he noted, instead of "courses of substance."
Too Little Pedagogy
Although most deans said they did not have problems with the interdisciplinary major itself, they complained that the major--when combined with the prescriptive, 18-hour sequence mandated by the state board of education--would not provide elementary teachers with the pedagogical training that they need.
According to Mr. Williamson, the detailed guidelines and time limitations "take curriculum planning out of the hands of professional educators and the teaching profession."
In addition, some deans argued, schools of education will have minimal control over their students' curriculum when most of it is offered outside their departments.
Wallace E. Davis, dean of the college of education at Corpus Christi State University, warned: "I think it could result in students entering the classroom with less ability to deliver instruction."
"Some of the research seems to indicate that academic majors consist of little more than a list of courses selected from the university's catalogue without a great deal of attention to the logic or structure or integrity of the discipline," he said. "If that's the case, then requiring additional academic courses is not going to do what the state anticipates. The courses will have to be very carefully selected."
Dean C. Corrigan, dean of education at Texas A&M University, said the problem has been exacerbated because the coordinating board and the state board currently have different definitions for what constitutes a "methods" course as 8opposed to an academic one.
Depending on how courses are categorized, he noted, the changes in elementary education could turn out to be minor.
The coordinating board also must decide what kinds of extended or fifth-year teacher-education programs, if any, it will approve under the new law.
Six Texas institutions currently belong to the Holmes Group, the consortium of research universities that advocates shifting most teacher preparation to the graduate level. Others in the state are also moving toward post-graduate programs.
But Senator Parker said last week that he did not want to see Texas institutions offer five-year programs "to the exclusion of a four-year program."
Such a change, he argued, "would be self-defeating for the legislation," which was attempting to curtail the amount of education coursework required for certification.
Moreover, he said, requiring students to take an additional year of education could exacerbate the state's teacher shortage.
The Senator cautioned that if educators simply shifted courses to a fifth year in order to require students to take more than the 18 hours of education curricula, "I would feel, offhand, like the legislature would probably let those colleges provide those courses without funds."
State Representative Wilhelmina Delco, who co-sponsored the law, said, "I think what the legislature is trying to say is that before you add an extra story, you ought to make sure that the foundation is sound."
"We want to make sure that it is absolutely impossible to do in four years what ought to be done, before we commit to a fifth year," she added.
The argument about fifth-year programs is particularly sticky in Texas, because graduate courses are funded at a higher level than undergraduate ones.
Members of the Holmes Group have spent the last several weeks lobbying both the coordinating board and lawmakers for some leeway.
"Things look pretty good," said Dean Corrigan of Texas A&M, late last week. "I think there's general support for options."
'Take More Time'
The debate had been expected to erupt last week, when the coordinating board was scheduled to review plans for an extended five-year program at the University of Texas at Arlington. The program would require students to take more than 18 credit hours in education, with the additional hours at the post-baccalaureate level.
In mid-week, however, the board dropped the item from its agenda at the request of staff members.
William H. Sanford, an assistant commissioner for the board, said the staff members were worried about the precedent that approving--or rejecting--such a program might set.
"We do not feel that we have worked out in our own minds the impact that it might have on other institutions," he said. "We felt that the better part of discretion was just to take more time on it."
Mr. Funkhouser of UT-Arlington said the university is not an appropriate "pilot case," because it has never offered undergraduate education majors. He worried, however, that the law will have a leveling effect on universities, by requiring them to "march to the same drummer,'' despite the different student populations that they serve.
Some education deans also complained last week that they are caught in a "Catch 22" situation.
A separate provision in the law will base the accreditation of teacher-education programs, in part, on how well their students perform on state tests required for graduation and on a statewide appraisal system used to evaluate teachers.
Richard Ishler, dean of education at Texas Technological University, said that both the graduation test and the appraisal system, by and large, measure pedagogical skills.
"They're saying we're going to hold you accountable for this," he said, "but we're only going to give you X amount of time to teach it.''
Other deans praised the provision for introducing more accountability into higher education.
Education deans also praised the law's requirement that new teachers participate in an "induction year," supervised by experienced teachers, school administrators, and higher-education faculty.
If such a program were carefully planned, they argued, it could make up for any reductions in student-teaching time. So far, however, no funds have been appropriated for it.
"What I'm trying to do," Senator Parker said, "is force a shotgun marriage between the people who educate teachers and the people who hire teachers."