A new alternative-certification plan for teachers will likely go into effect this spring in Texas, even though it was rejected by the state legislature, barely passed the state Board of Educator Certification, and was voted down by a majority of state school board members.
If the educator-certification board approves it again next month, anyone with a bachelor’s degree who passes both a subject-matter and a pedagogy exam would receive a two-year teaching certificate.
While proponents argue that the proposed rule—which applies only to teachers of grades 8-12—would help relieve the state’s teacher shortage, critics claim it would staff classrooms with unqualified teachers.
“If the medical profession tried to license doctors this way, or the legal profession tried to license lawyers this way, they would be run out of town,” said Donna New Hashke, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.
The legislature defeated the measure last year, but at the urging of Gov. Rick Perry and key lawmakers, the State Board of Educator Certification passed it by a 5-4 vote. (“Texas Ponders Easing Route to Secondary Teaching,” Dec. 3, 2003.)
The plan “will allow Texans with vast academic and real-world knowledge to share that knowledge and expertise with Texas schoolchildren,” said Robert Black, a spokesman for Mr. Perry, a Republican.
Under Texas law, the 15-member state board of education, has three choices when presented with a rule from the certification board: let the rule stand, reject it, or vote not to reject the rule.
To defeat a certification-board rule, two- thirds, or 10 members, of the state school board must vote against it. Even though eight members, or more than half, including one Republican, voted late last month to reject the plan, the outcome did not meet the supermajority test. Now, this latest alternative route goes back to the certification board, which is appointed by the governor, for one last vote, scheduled for April 2.
If approved there—as both opponents and advocates predict it will be—the rule would immediately go into effect. Aspirants who took that route could begin teaching as early as the fall, according to Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.
‘Slap in the Face’
Some members of the state school board were particularly outspoken in their opposition to the new rule.
Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat who voted against the measure, called it a “slap in the face” to Texas teachers.
Others were convinced that the proposed route would greatly benefit schools having difficulties filling teaching slots.
Administrators “can hire a retired petrochemical engineer to teach chemistry,” said David Bradley, a Republican member of the school board who supports the certification plan. “We’re trying to give the districts the opportunity to hire the best-qualified teacher,” he added.
Those teachers would fit the definition of “highly qualified” under the No Child Left Behind Act because they will be certified, Mr. Bradley said.
He also noted that the plan resembles existing alternative-certification programs that have not attracted much criticism.
Under those programs, universities, community colleges, and regional education centers provide preservice training and ongoing support to the new teachers.
In contrast, the new program would be administered by school districts that chose to participate. The districts would be responsible for providing the fledgling teachers with any training, mentoring, or support services the district wants to offer.
When the two- year certification expired, local administrators would be required to evaluate the teacher’s performance and determine if he or she could apply for a long- term license.
Still, it would be up to the districts to determine just how much training and preparation such teachers should receive, a condition that worries many teacher advocates.
“The pedagogy piece is totally missing,” said Ms. Hashke. The candidates could start teaching without training in classroom management, understanding of how children learn, and knowledge of special education requirements, she said.
“These people are going to walk into the classroom,” Ms. Hashke predicted, “and have a rude awakening.”