Texas Notifies Parents Of Teachers' Shortcomings
Mailboxes across Texas have been filled this fall with letters notifying parents that their children are being taught by teachers who are either unlicensed or have emergency credentials.
A state law passed last springthe first of its kind in the nationrequires superintendents to disclose such information.
"Education's dirty little secret is out,'' said John Cole, the president of the 32,000-member Texas Federation of Teachers,which campaigned hard for the bill. "This is our own version of consumer fraud.''
The Texas law stops short of making parents aware of the more widespread problem of teachers working outside their areas of expertise, a practice known as out-of-field teaching. The state has more than 12,000 teachers on emergency permits and a total of 40,000 positions out of 256,000 filled with teachers who lack proper licenses, according to the state board for educator certification.
The goal of the parental- notification law, its proponents say, is to try to create demand for qualified teachers among parents.
Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who sponsored the bill in the House, also hopes it will serve as a catalyst for people to move from teaching with emergency permits into a program that will help them get licensed.
"This bill was not intended to work against school districts,'' said Ms. Dukes, a Democrat. "However, at the same time, parents have the right to know who is teaching their child in the classroom.''
A study conducted by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin last spring underscored the importance of having properly trained teachers in the classroom.
The report showed that poor and minority elementary students scored higher on the state assessment when their teachers were certified in the subjects they taught. ("Texas Study Links Teacher Certification, Student Success," May 12, 1999.)
But the parent-notification measure has not been popular with Texas administrators, who argue that they're doing the best they can under difficult circumstances to keep their schools properly staffed.
"This bill creates an undue paperwork burden and an undue reporting requirement on school districts, when the shortage of classroom teachers is widely known,'' said Johnny Veselka, the executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators. "We believe [administrators] are making every effort to find the best possible teachers to fill vacancies."
Mr. Veselka himself received a letter telling him that his daughter's speech teacher hasn't completed the requirements for speech certification. Because the teacher is licensed to teach theater arts, he said, "I'm very confident she's doing an outstanding job in that classroom.''
In Houstonthe state's largest district, with 210,000 students and 13,000 teachersadministrators sent out letters for 950 teachers, or 7 percent of the workforce. Dallas, with nearly 10,000 teachers, mailed 631 letters.
In the 63,000-student El Paso district, only 2 percent of the teachers qualified for the notification.
"We try to be real aggressive with recruiting,'' said Gary Napier, a spokesman for the El Paso district.
Earl Jones, the principal of Lincoln Humanities and Communications Magnet High School in Dallas, sent out letters for just two of his 77 faculty members. A permanent substitute is teaching special education, while a person with a business background is teaching history.
In both cases, Mr. Jones said, "the community knows them. That made the transition of sending out those letters a lot better. It wasn't a big deal.''
None of the several hundred parents whose children are taught by either of the two teachers complained, the principal added.
Still, the issue of finding qualified teachers isn't far from Mr. Jones' mind.
"There just aren't as many individuals going into education and coming out of colleges being certified,'' he said. "We have to come up with an innovative way of attracting personnel.''
In the meantime, said Sylvia Ostos, the president of the Texas PTA, parents whose children are being taught by unlicensed teachers should be aware of the situation and redouble their efforts to help their children succeed in school.
"We need to be more of a partner in just being aware of what is going on,'' she said.
Vol. 19, Issue 10, Page 18