Showdown in Texas teacher preparation

In the past few years, special-interest groups have seized on teacher shortages in some states as an excuse to push legislation and regulations that throw open the classroom door to teachers with little to no preparation. Arizona recently passed legislation that allows someone with no formal teacher preparation or teaching experience to get a teaching certificate. Last year, Utah changed its teacher-licensure rules to reduce requirements for prospective teachers to a bachelor’s degrees and a passing score on a content-area test; Utah no longer requires any teacher training for licensure.

The Texas Legislature, during its recently adjourned session, considered legislation that was framed by supporters as a way to address the state’s teacher shortages. The bill, pushed by a couple of well-resourced for-profit teacher-preparation providers, would have allowed Texas programs to provide less support to teacher-candidates by weakening requirements for field observation and supervision. The bill also would have eliminated accountability requirements for programs that prepare teachers to teach in high-needs areas, such as mathematics, science, bilingual education and special education.

The programs advocating for the bill would have benefited financially from its passage. By allowing three of the five required candidate observations to be done by video, programs can save a significant amount of money by having field supervisors watch and score videos from home, leaving candidates without the immediate support and feedback that is critical to their development. Similarly if programs are not held accountable for pass rates on content exams in high-needs areas, then it doesn’t matter – to the program, at least – who they accept and what support they provide those candidates along the way: throw open the doors! After all, the program will receive the tuition dollars regardless – but if a candidate prepared in one of these programs can’t pass the exams required for certification, she’ll be left with the bill, but not a teaching license.

But unlike what we’ve seen happen in some other states, education and civic leaders in Texas said enough is enough: Weakening the preparedness of new teachers will only makes teacher shortages worse in the long run, and even more importantly, low-quality programs are bad for kids. Acting collectively, advocates for students and teachers stopped the legislation that would have weakened the quality of teachers entering Texas classrooms.

A broad informal coalition of educators, which included superintendents, teachers, teacher-preparation program leaders, non-profit organizations – including Deans for Impact – bilingual educators, teacher educators, and special education educators, coordinated their efforts to speak with a united voice against the claims that programs need fewer requirements to address teacher shortages. The coalition testified in public hearings, called legislative offices, signed joint letters and continued to bring people into the group by sharing the effects of the legislation with others committed to quality teaching. By collectively – and continually –articulating the importance of quality preparation to legislators, this informal coalition prevented the worst provisions of the legislation from being enacted into law.

What happened in Texas can happened in other state capitols: civic and education leaders can join together to promote legislation that strengthens teacher preparation and oppose changes that undermine it. Those who care about the preparation and quality of our nation’s teachers need to engage in conversations with legislators to ensure that legislators and agency officials understand the importance of preparation. If we don’t work – collectively – to help policymakers understand the importance of quality teacher preparation, then the chance remains for harmful quick fixes to drive the policy agenda.

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