By Chris Patterson
Improving Texas public schools depends on qualified teachers. Thats why the threat of a teacher shortage prompted the Texas Legislature to create the State Board for Educator Certification in 1995.
But SBEC has done nothing to fix the problem In fact, SBEC has increased the likelihood that children sit in classrooms without an academically qualified teacher.
Since its inception, SBEC has methodically dismantled the academic requirements for prospective teachers. Today, you could be certified to teach algebra even if you never took algebra in college.
According to education research, there are two factors that contribute to being a good teacher. The first is a broad body of academic expertise in the field being taught. The second is an expansive vocabulary.
SBEC requires only that prospective teachers pass the academic equivalent of the TAAS for the grade they hope to teach. This means a seventh-grader could meet the SBEC academic requirements for teaching the sixth grade. Parents should be frightened. These requirements dont mesh with what we know about good instruction.
SBEC is divorcing academic knowledge from teacher certification even further. Two years ago, SBEC drafted a proposal to let teachers teach subjects and grades outside their certification for three years.
If SBEC wants educators to teach outside their certification, why have certification in the first place? Fortunately, the State Board of Education had the authority to veto this misguided idea.
Of course, SBEC is hoping to change that. They want to be autonomous. That would be a disaster for teachers and children.
Many Texans had hoped SBEC would craft an alternative to traditional teacher certification that would allow knowledgeable individuals to bypass teacher education programs that are weak in academics and strong in fuzzy teaching methods
Over the past seven years, SBEC has only increased the number of teachers with alternative certification by a paltry seven percent. Last year, school districts reported that 25 percent of new teachers were not certified to teach in the classrooms they were hired to lead.
If increasing the number and qualifications of teachers isnt SBECs main concern, what is? SBEC recently completed work on a new ethics code for teachers. This new code would prohibit a teacher from sharing her professional and personal judgment with parents about their children, unless the law compels schools to release such information. What could SBEC find wrong with open, honest parent-teacher communication?
It is clear that either SBEC should be placed directly under the authority of the elected State Board of Education, or that individual districts be allowed to decide who is qualified to teach – provided there is full disclosure to parents of teacher qualifications.
Growing bureaucracies and expanding regulations will never produce classrooms staffed by academically qualified and responsible teachers.
Texas children, parents, teachers and taxpayers deserve better. As the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission reviews SBEC this year, Texans have an opportunity to reshape the educator certification process in a way that makes it more responsive to the academic needs of our children while enhancing parental involvement.
(Chris Patterson is the director of education research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Her research can be found on the web at www.tppf.org)
By Chris Patterson