Last November, the Texas State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), on which I was appointed to serve by Governor Rick Perry, narrowly approved a very controversial rule authorizing probationary certification to aspiring teachers who want to be licensed to teach using an alternative to the traditional certification route, typically through the colleges of education. Recently, the State Board of Education (SBOE), in effect, ratified the new rule by failing to veto it. There is nothing particularly revolutionary about this new rule; in fact, there are over sixty so-called alternative certification programs in Texas, and approximately 25% of the new teachers licensed in the state last year used an alternative route. What is deemed by its opponents as so radical about this new route, and what made it so controversial, is the fact that, unlike the other alternatives, it circumvents the traditional “gatekeepers” to the profession—the state education bureaucracy and the colleges of education–and gives the school district superintendents the flexibility and discretion to manage their human resources by determining who is qualified to teach in the classrooms under their jurisdiction.There has been much confusion and misrepresentation in reporting about the new rule itself. Basically, its provisions are as follows: If a prospective teacher who has a baccalaureate or advanced degree in an academic major other than education passes the appropriate certification exams and background checks and is hired by a school district to teach in the subject area of preparation in grades 8-12, the candidate will be granted a probationary certificate for a maximum of two years, at the end of which time the school district decides, based on the teacher’s performance, whether or not to recommend the issuance of full standard certification. The school district must provide evidence that the teacher has been provided intensive support during the probationary period through mentoring and pre-service training.
When this concept was proposed (unsuccessfully) as legislation in both the 2001 and 2003 regular sessions, it seemed pretty reasonable to me, and I have consistently supported it. But from the loud protests of the various constituencies who have a vested interest in the status quo, one might have thought that it was the ruination of public education in general and the noble calling of the teaching profession in particular. At the public hearing conducted by our Board on the proposed rule, there was testimony from fifty witnesses, the large majority in opposition, primarily representing the teachers’ unions and advocacy groups, colleges of education, and assorted education activists. While much of the opposition came from groups to which this new alternative represents a healthy competitive threat, it is instructive to note that significant support for the new rule came from organizations representing school boards and school administrators and personnel directors, who are, after all, the primary customers of SBEC and the teacher preparation system.
In the final analysis, I believe that public policy in teacher preparation should be guided by several priorities as follows, all of which should have as their primary objective the advancement of Texas student achievement:
*We should fully define “highly qualified teacher” for Texas not just in regulatory terms, but in terms of the qualities and performance that are expected, which will necessitate a re-evaluation of the strategic policy document, “Learner-Centered Schools for Texas: A Vision of Texas Educators”, adopted in 1997, as well as the transformation of educator employment terms from “contract” to “at will”, with enhanced compensation based on performance tied to student achievement.
*We should demand the transformation of educator preparation programs into customer-driven institutions by developing assessments of them that are grounded in output- and performance-based criteria, so that Texas becomes the model for value-added evaluation of such programs.
*We should emphasize regulatory rule making that allows for the maximum prudent flexibility for school district administrators to manage their human resources, and demand accountability for student achievement results.
It is my hope that this new rule will represent a truly new route to standard certification for many prospective teachers in Texas and a useful tool for districts to meet a portion of their personnel needs, and not be used simply as a “quick fix” for the widely reported teacher shortages, as some have suggested. To the extent that it is at variance with the existing top-down, compliance- and input-based system of certification governed by the traditional monopoly routes to teaching, it is a small step toward what some have called “competitive certification”, a concept I believe we should embrace and expand.