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Published in Print: December 3, 2003, as Texas Ponders Easing Route To Secondary Teaching

Texas Ponders Easing Route To Secondary Teaching

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Professionals from other fields who want to teach in Texas will have an easier way to get into the classroom, if a highly contested new proposal gets the approval of the state board of education in February.

The alternative-certification plan would allow anyone who has a bachelor's degree and who passes two teacher-certification tests to teach in secondary schools. The measure cleared its first hurdle when the State Board for Educator Certification approved it by a 5-4 vote on Nov. 11. One member abstained from voting, and another was absent.

"This is a 'die on the sword' issue for us," said Donna New Hashke, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. "We fought it all the way."

The intent of the proposal, which the legislature originally voted down last spring, is to provide school districts with another option for filling teacher shortages, Mr. Kettler said.

If the legislature had approved the plan, the state board of educator certification would simply have implemented that law. Instead, at the urging of the governor's office and some state legislators, the certification board passed the alternative- certification rule, which must now be approved by the state board of education.

If the state school board approves the new rule, which would apply to teachers of grades 8-12, it could go into effect as early as next April, according to Ron Kettler, the interim executive director of the certification board.

Under the new plan, once a candidate passed separate subject-matter and pedagogy exams, he or she would receive the two-year certification.

It would then be up to individual districts to provide training, mentors, and classroom-management instructions, Mr. Kettler explained. At the end of the two-year period, the district would be required to evaluate the teacher's performance, which would determine if the teacher could apply for a long-term license.

The only measure that the state would require districts to use in evaluating alternatively certified teachers is student performance on state exams, Mr. Kettler said. Districts would be free to add other criteria to the assessments.

'License to Lie'

Opponents of the plan point out that districts could assign teachers who received certification under the program to fields other than those in which they earned their undergraduate degrees.

And because those teachers would be certified, state law would not require districts to inform parents of their education and qualifications, said John Cole, the president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

"It is a license for school districts to lie to parents, who will naturally assume that the person teaching is a real teacher," he asserted.

Texas has 115 existing programs that cater to candidates seeking alternative certification. The programs, which are housed at universities, community colleges, and regional education centers, provide preservice training and other support services while the candidates spend a year teaching and taking courses in such topics as classroom management and lesson planning.

Last year, 14,000 people entered teaching through those 115 programs, according to Mr. Kettler.

As for the new program, Mr. Cole contended, it "is all about school districts not wanting to pay more money to compete with industry for math and science teachers." He added that the state has more people holding teaching certificates than it has open slots for those educators.

"They need more people in the classroom, but this isn't the way to do it, " Ms. Hashke of the Texas State Teachers Association said. "It says that teachers are not professionals—that anybody can do it."

Vol. 23, Issue 14, Page 16

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