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Low-Ranking Texas Eyes Teaching Reforms

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When a national report pointed to Texas as one of the nation's three most delinquent states in the training and hiring of qualified teachers--and supporting them in their early years--Texans took it hard.

Unaccustomed to such a lowly ranking, Texas educators and policymakers have already started responding in a big way. Five hundred representatives from 27 university, teacher, and business groups met in Houston last month for the first-ever Texas Congress for Educator Preparation. Though the event had been planned, organizers say the dire findings from the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future gave them the impetus they needed to demonstrate just how serious the situation is.

"The timing of the release couldn't have been better as far as we're concerned," said Robert Houston, an education professor at the University of Houston who chaired the event.

Compiled over two years, the commission's report, "What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future," concluded that good teaching is often ignored as the key to better schools. ("Teaching Focus Called the Key in Reform Push," Sept. 18, 1996.)

Texas was joined by Alabama and Virginia with the lowest grade possible, a zero on a 10-point scale, in 10 areas dealing with how teachers are trained and hired.

Virginia officials were unable to say how they might respond. Alabama, however, is planning broad changes to teacher preparation and certification.

Highlighting Bad News

To a degree, at least, some Texas educators were buoyed by the state's bottom-of-the-barrel status, which it shared with at least one state, Alabama, that frequently is in or near the basement on national education indicators.

"I quoted from it and called it one of the most comprehensive studies undertaken in this area," Mr. Houston said.

The report stimulated small-group discussions and helped form recommendations that will be sent to legislators, he said.

The organizers also plan to make sure that state lawmakers will be unable to ignore the bad news when they convene in January. And the group has tentatively planned a follow-up conference for March.

The list of recommendations will also be presented to the newly formed state board for educator certification, which is in the first year of a multi-year process of rewriting certification standards for Texas teachers.

Some of the likely recommendations are:

  • Teaching certificates should not be permanent, and renewal should be based on demonstration of skills.
  • First- and second-year teachers should be targeted for mentoring and stronger professional support.
  • As teacher training moves more and more to school sites, the legislature should increase staff-development funding.
  • More emphasis should be placed on retaining teachers, rather than on the number of teachers trained in colleges of education.

Jack Christie, the president of the state school board, said the national commission's report may have been too harsh on his state. But there is room to improve, he acknowledged.

"If we make teaching the true admired profession it should be, there wouldn't be a problem," he said. "There are enough certified teachers at home to fill the gaps."

Even without the urgency that the report may have caused, the fact that so many groups were represented at the congress bodes well for change, educators say.

"What was particularly important was that people in colleges of education were dealing with practitioners in the field and a bridge was being built," Mark Littleton, the executive director of the state certification board, said.

"I think this is the strongest effort ever in Texas to address the needs of pre-service teacher preparation," said Laurence Payne, the director of community, institutional, and governmental relations for the University of Houston's institute for urban education.

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