Upholding Standards for the Teaching Profession

On a busy day in state House and Senate education committees, we want to highlight one issue in particular raised by companion bills in both chambers. SB 1278 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and HB 2924 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) reflect the agenda of private, for-profit educator-preparation programs calling for lower standards of entry into the teaching profession. Texas AFT strongly opposed the companion bills in oral and written testimony, and we were joined in that stance by many other education organizations and individual educators.

As one teacher witness put it, these bills would set up both fledgling teachers and students for failure. The notion that standards must be lowered to address a teacher shortage is based on a false premise, she said. There’s not a teacher shortage but rather a shortage of people who want to stay in a profession with dwindling respect.

Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi laid out the full argument against these profit-driven bills, which were left pending in committee, in this written testimony:

The issue with this bill is whether the Legislature takes teaching seriously as a profession or not. Cutting teacher preparation standards appears to address only the concerns of private educational preparation providers (EPP), and not any concerns of school districts, administrators, or teachers.

The state requires the accreditation status of an EPP to be determined at least annually, based on performance standards established in rule by SBEC. This bill would essentially reverse the advances made by SBEC to increase the quality of teacher preparation provided by educator preparation programs.

In November 2016, the SBOE approved recent SBEC changes that revised rules affecting EPP ratings and accreditation. EPPs are rated on numerous factors, including the passing rate of candidates who have finished all EPP requirements, the number of times a candidates takes a test before passing, and other factors designed to assess the quality of instruction provided by an EPP. These changes were opposed by EPP providers throughout the rule revision process, and this bill would now undo the increased standards SBEC just passed by overlooking multiple failing attempts by teacher candidates.

Another quality standard that would be diminished is the requirement for field-based experience. Section 21.051 of the Texas Education Code currently states that field-based experience is earned when a candidate has “actively engaged in instructional or educational activities under supervision.” SBEC also considers field-based experience to be an essential part of teacher preparation and noted during the recent rules revision process, “Because field-based experiences fulfill an essential role in preparing educators, clarifying these provisions would improve the preparation of educators and provide consistency among preparation programs.” The recent rule revisions clarified that a maximum of 15 (out of 30) field-based hours may be provided by electronic transmission and that the transmission must be from an authentic school setting in an accredited public or private school, by content certified teachers, with actual students in classrooms, and with content or grade-level specific classrooms/instructional settings, and written reflection on the observation.

This bill seeks to reverse these recent gains made by SBEC, and it would create inconsistency among EPPs in standards of educator preparation. The bill would create a lower-quality process for “field-based experience” that allows teaching candidates merely to “observe” another teacher, on video or online, who is “actively engaged in instructional or educational activities.” This would be a significant decrease in the quality of field experience we currently expect of our teachers.

The bill also suggests that experience as a substitute teacher is sufficient to fulfill the requirement of actively engaging in instructional or educational activities. We disagree and think that substitute teaching experience is not necessarily experience “actively engaged” in instructional or educational activities, and it is certainly not under supervision, as currently required in the Education Code.

Current SBEC rules require at least five formal observations of each candidate. The language in the filed version of the bill would turn this low, minimum requirement into a maximum requirement. In practice, some high-quality EPPs provide many more than the minimum requirement of five observations in a face-to-face setting. The bill would state that SBEC “may not require more than five support visits by a field supervisor during the course of an internship,” which may discourage the practice of EPPs providing additional visits. Recent rule revisions passed by SBEC clarified that these formal observations must be face-to-face. Many EPPs complained of the costs associated with providing face-to-face observations. Their opposition appeared to stem from profit concerns, not concerns about educational standards for the benefit of students.

If the Legislature wants to be serious about recognizing and elevating the teaching profession, this discussion should not be about lowering standards for teacher candidates. It should be about examining why EPPs are having difficulty preparing candidates who can successfully complete certification exams.