Texas Licensing Panel Trying To Broaden Teacher Pool

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A new strategy aimed at recruiting teachers in Texas would no longer demand that prospective educators have backgrounds in the subjects they planned to teach or degrees from schools of education.

The Texas State Board for Educator Certification voted Nov. 17 to scrap those rules when consolidating three temporary credentials into one "transitional permit." The newly styled permit, which requires the approval of the state school board, would be aimed at individuals who were not graduates of traditional or alternative teacher-preparation programs and were not certified in other states.

Instead, teachers could be hired based on relevant life experiences and tested against a battery of state standards once they had entered the classroom, said Patrick J. Shaughnessy, a spokesman for the board. "The permit is designed for people who want to change careers. They know their subject and only have to be trained to teach," he said.

For example, a candidate who had earned a bachelor's degree in English but had spent many years working in a biology lab might be considered well-qualified to teach high school science, under the certification-board proposal.

Other Deterrents

Teachers' union leaders argue, however, that the plan is riddled with problems.

Issuing such permits would open the door to a generation of untrained educators who would ultimately be asked to teach outside their fields by administrators desperate to fill vacancies, charged John Cole, the president of the 36,000-member Texas Federation of Teachers.

Moreover, the plan would require administrators to notify parents of such situations only if their students' teachers failed state content exams— tests that would be taken a year after the new teachers had started their jobs.

Currently, districts must notify parents in writing if their children are being taught by educators who are not trained in the subjects they are teaching. ("Texas Notifies Parents of Teachers' Shortcomings," Nov. 3, 1999.)

Out-of-field teaching "has a devastating effect," Mr. Cole said. "If you have a teacher who has never had Algebra 1, [students] who get to Algebra 2 aren't going to understand it. Nor will they understand geometry or, for that matter, physics."

In addition, union leaders maintain, the plan would fail to increase the teaching force because it doesn't deal with significant deterrents to the profession: low salaries and bad benefits.

Hiring Flexibility

But Mr. Shaughnessy argued that the new plan would not relax, but strengthen standards.

New teachers would have to pass state academic-content exams within 12 months of obtaining the transitional permits and demonstrate teaching skills and student knowledge within three years, he said. The measure would also require teachers who held such permits to enroll in a state-approved teacher-certification program within six months of being issued the permit. In the meantime, they would have to be provided with mentors and professional-development opportunities by their school districts.

Under current regulations, temporary credentials are assigned to new teachers who have already been admitted to schools of education and have completed a minimum of six college credits related to the fields in which they teach, according to Mr. Shaughnessy. They must pass state content exams within three years of the credentials' being issued.

Proponents of the new plan say it would give administrators flexibility in hiring and eliminate barriers for many prospective teachers.

"This is trusting school districts and superintendents to judge who is qualified to teach," said Cindy H. Clegg, the director of personnel services for the Texas Association of School Boards.

Some administrators say that hiring patterns wouldn't change. They also dismiss the unions' contention that districts will place teachers out of field.

"I don't see whether it will make that much difference for Dallas or across the state," said Debra Ware, the interim associate superintendent for human-resource services for the 162,000- student Dallas schools.

But Mr. Cole maintained that many districts fib about their placement of teachers to fill classrooms. "Fifty percent of all teachers in Texas are teaching at least one course a day in an area where they are not certified," he said.

The certification board, however, contends that only about 18 percent of teachers fit into that category.

Vol. 20, Issue 13, Page 16

Published in Print: November 29, 2000, as Texas Licensing Panel Trying To Broaden Teacher Pool
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