Tag Archives: teacher preparation

Federal Update: Obama education regulations likely to be repealed

medwt16002Two Obama administration rules involving teacher preparation and accountability are in the process of being scrapped. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to block recently finalized regulations involving teacher preparation and accountability, and the U.S. Senate did the same this week. The resolution to repeal the rules is now on its way to President Trump’s desk for final approval.

The teacher preparation rules were released in October after years of delay due to significant opposition from some stakeholders. The final version did include revisions to temper concerns, but the original proposal remained largely intact. The accountability rules were a piece of the much bigger set of regulations implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and involved a much more contentious debate on the Senate floor. The Senate narrowly passed the repeal measure. (Eight Democrats joined Republicans in voting the repeal the teacher preparation rules, but no Democrats voted to dismantle the accountability rules and one Republican joined them in opposition.)

Proponents of scrapping the regulations say the rules represent federal overreach and fail to convey the intent of Congress. Critics of the repeal believe strong standards are needed in order to hold teacher preparation programs and schools accountable. President Trump is widely expected to sign the rule repeals.

Interestingly, the Congressional Review Act prohibits agencies from issuing new rules in “substantially the same form” without Congress passing a new law that explicitly allows them to do so. While the teacher preparation rules could be readdressed in a more timely manner, since Congress is due to rewrite the Higher Education Act, a new law pertaining to accountability is likely years out.

In the meantime, states will have to rely on statutory language of ESSA to remain compliant under the law. The timing of the effort to do away with these administrative rules interpreting ESSA has created some ambiguity for states that are currently in the process of developing their required state plans for implementing the federal law. Some states have already announced that they will proceed with ESSA state plans that were being developed in alignment with the regulations previously put out by the Obama administration, even though those regulations may no longer be in effect going forward.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 18, 2016

Here’s a look at education news highlights from this busy first week of bill filing in Texas:

SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has compiled an update on the board’s actions this week, which covered topics from textbooks to school finance to educator preparation. This was also the last meeting for two members of the board who are stepping down at the end of their terms this year: Martha Dominguez (D) and Thomas Ratliff (R). Read the full SBOE wrap-up here.


The Joint Interim Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans released its report to the 85th Legislature yesterday with recommendations for changes to TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare to address affordability and long-term viability of the programs. The state’s underfunded health care programs have faced ongoing shortfalls, curtailed in the past by a series of supplemental two-year appropriations and short-term measures. Noting the continuing rise in health care costs and the number of annual new retirees, the committee made up of three state senators and three state representatives is recommending major plan changes by the 85th legislature. The proposed changes are not likely to sit well with affected stakeholders. Citing ambiguous “budgetary constraints the state is facing,” the report offers little hope for increased state funding to alleviate the financial burdens that have been placed on active and retired educators, as well as school districts seeking to offer affordable health care benefits to their staffs and their families. But ATPE reminds members that the report is merely a recommendation and that many legislators will be eager to hear from a broad swath of education stakeholders before taking action in the upcoming session. Read more in today’s blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been conducting a survey regarding state implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The online survey is meant to gather public feedback about the new federal law. Today was the last chance to share input with TEA, as the survey is set to close at 5 pm today, Nov. 18. Read more in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


Monday was the first day of bill pre-filing for the 85th Legislature. ATPE’s Governmental Relations Specialist Bria Moore has been tracking the new bills and shared some statistics for today’s blog. According to the Legislative Research Library, 525 bills were filed on the opening day of pre-filing. While the bills pertained to a number of issues, several focused on hot topics in the education realm such as vouchers and addressing educator misconduct.

ThinkstockPhotos-93490246School privatization has been in the spotlight heading into the 2017 legislative session with vouchers being lauded by both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and President-Elect Donald Trump (R) as a reform priority. HJR 24 by Rep. Richard Raymond (D) moves to tackle the controversial subject by proposing a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the authorization or funding of a school voucher program in Texas. ATPE opposes the privatization of public schools through such programs and has made fighting vouchers a top legislative priority for the 85th legislative session.

Meanwhile, a handful of legislators are filing bills to deal with educator misconduct cases, which were discussed during the interim. HB 218 by Rep. Tony Dale (R) prohibits educators dismissed from their positions in one school district due to sexual misconduct from being hired at another district. Legislation banning this type of action, sometimes called “Passing the Trash,” is another one of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s top priorities for the 2017 legislative session. HB 333 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R) extends the criminal penalty for educators engaging in inappropriate relationships with students to those educators lacking certifications, which would cover teachers in charter schools who aren’t necessarily required to be state-certified. Meyer’s bill would amend a section of the Texas Education Code that previously only applied penalties to certified educators.

Other notable bills filed on Monday included HB 77 by Rep. Will Metcalf (R) which is an extension of SB 149 from the 2015 legislative session allowing for alternative paths to graduation. ATPE strongly supported Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) SB 149 last year, which is set to expire without an extension. We’ll be watching Rep. Metcalf’s bill closely, along with any others that help to reduce the emphasis placed on high-stakes testing – another ATPE legislative priority.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for more coverage of pre-filed bills in the weeks to come.


tea-logo-header-2In other TEA news this week, final accountability ratings have been released for the state’s 1,200+ school districts and charters 8,600+ campuses. Preliminary ratings were revealed back in August, as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported for Teach the Vote. After that announcement, 104 appeals were filed by districts and campuses. The agency granted appeals and changed ratings for nine school districts and 21 campuses. The overwhelming majority of schools received a “met standard” rating. Read more in this Nov. 17 press release from TEA.

Also from TEA, the agency issued correspondence to school administrators this week reminding them of school district responsibilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The letter from Penny Schwinn, TEA’s Deputy Commissioner of Academics, addresses “child find” obligations to identify students potentially in need of special education and consequences for districts that fail to comply. The letter also clarifies IDEA provisions aimed at preventing misidentification and disproportionate representation of students as children with disabilities. The state’s Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS), under fire recently, is also mentioned in the correspondence along with a reminder that districts should avoid delaying or denying special education referrals in order to complete Response to Intervention (RTI) phases. The agency writes also that it is creating a new unit with the TEA Division of IDEA Support to provide additional support to districts and education service centers, with further details to be provided “at a later date.” Read the complete Nov. 17 letter from TEA here. Also, watch for a guest post with more on these issues next week on the Teach the Vote blog.



Preparation, training, and support that educators deserve

Students School College Teaching Learning Education ConceptAs we reported following the board’s meeting last month, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) recently revised a number of rules involving educator preparation in Texas. The lengthy and thorough process to rewrite the rules lasted about a year. The rules cover preparation, program requirements, pathways to certification, and more, and they seek to raise the quality of training all teachers receive before going into the classroom where they are expected to excel.

One of ATPE’s policy priorities involves a strong focus on all aspects of the teacher pipeline, and that starts with high-quality training for Texas educators. ATPE recognizes that we do a disservice to our teachers and our students when inadequately prepared educators are placed in the classroom and expected to achieve excellence. We also recognize that we cannot expect teachers to stay in the profession if they aren’t strongly prepared to enter the classroom in the first place.

ATPE knows that Texas teachers are incredible and work hard in their classrooms (and beyond!) every day to provide a great education for the students they teach; they deserve high-quality preparation that will provide them with a strong, solid base and great potential from which they can continue to grow.

Research also backs ATPE’s focus on ensuring all Texas teachers receive the high-quality preparation and support they deserve. A sampling of those findings include: that access to an effective educator is the most important school-based factor affecting a student’s success; that we can better prepare Texas teachers and create a higher achieving student body by raising standards for educator preparation; that candidates seeking certification through the state’s most popular pathway, alternative certification (or a post-baccalaureate path that can currently involve as little as two weeks of training), are leaving the classroom at a faster rate than their peers; and that teacher turnover could be costing our state up to billions of dollars.

SBEC’s new rules are not extreme and they represent a lot of compromise with interests that thought original proposals went too far. Still, they set a foundation and represent a positive step. Here are some of the ways SBEC’s new rules seek to improve preparation:

  • a two-tiered system of probationary certification for alternative certification candidates, which better identifies a candidate’s level of training and requires supplementary support for less prepared candidates;
  • revised measures of accountability for EPPs, such as a newly established new-teacher survey;
  • a more appropriate definition of “late hire” candidates, who are put in the classroom as the teacher-of-record with significantly less coursework and training; and
  • an increase in the number of coursework hours a candidate must receive prior to an internship or clinical teaching.

The rule revisions and rationale for the changes can be read in their entirety here. They now go to the State Board of Education (SBOE), which will review them at its meeting in two weeks and can affirm the proposals or send them back to SBEC for further review.

Educational Aide Certificate

The SBEC rules also include recent changes to educational aide certificates. The new rules specify that beginning Sept. 1, 2017, all educational aide certificates issued will be valid for two years. The current validity period of an educational aide certificates is five years. Concurrently, the fees associated with renewing an educational aide certificate will be reduced to $15 (from $30). Those aides with lifetime certificates will not be affected by this change.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) provided several reasons for this move in their rationale to SBEC, including a large number of unused certificates and the issues this can cause with TEA’s investigations and prosecutions divisions. According to TEA staff, a total of 227,910 educational aide certificates were issued in the 2014-15 school year, but only approximately 53,791 educational aides were actively employed.

As TEA has explained it, although only 53,791 educational aides were employed in schools, the investigations and prosecutions divisions remain responsible for all 227,910 certificate holders, meaning they are using resources to pursue any certificate holder accused of wrongdoing. As TEA put it, “Shortening the validity period for the educational aide certificate would focus TEA investigative and prosecutorial resources only on those who are actively using the educational aide certificate in a Texas public school.”

Districts of Innovation

Regardless of the SBOE’s actions on these newly revised certification rules, another piece of education policy has the potential to interfere with SBEC’s work: Districts of Innovation (DOI). The DOI law was created by the Texas legislature last session, and it allows certain school districts to opt out of the majority of the Texas Education Code, including provisions requiring quality teacher preparation and certification. ATPE will continue to advocate for high-quality educator training for all Texas educators and will encourage the upcoming legislature to join SBEC in its quest toward raised standards as they consider the potential negative effects of the broad exemption opportunities created under the DOI statutes. Fore more on DOI, visit our DOI Resource Page at atpe.org.

Federal Update: ED releases long delayed teacher preparation rules

U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education (ED) has released a final set of regulations that lay out federal stipulations for states’ teacher preparation programs. The rules have seen delays since 2014, when an initial iteration was released. That initial proposal garnered significant input, and while some revisions are included in the newest version, the original proposal remains largely intact.

Under the newly released regulations, states will be required to develop a rating system aimed at evaluating the success of its teacher preparation programs. One piece of that rating system must analyze how programs’ teachers perform based on a measure of student academic achievement. This was a highly controversial piece retained from the original proposal, which was heavily-reliant on student test scores, but the newer version does provide flexibility with regard to how states determine student success. Ultimately, if programs don’t perform well on the state’s rating system, states will be required to cut off access to federal grants aimed at supporting teachers who teach in high-need certification areas and in low-income schools (or TEACH grants).

Teacher Standing in Front of a Class of Raised HandsThe rating system must also include the job placement data, retention rates, and feedback of programs’ graduates as well as the feedback from their graduates’ employers. Initial reactions to the final version of the regulations have been mixed. While some support the higher accountability to which programs will be held, others have concerns with the unintended consequences that could result, such as the effect a measure of student achievement could have on the support available for teachers going into high needs schools.

As we shared last week, Texas is at the end of a process to revamp its educator preparation accountability system. Much of what Texas has and is in the process of implementing is in line with the standards to be enforced by ED under its new regulations. One missing piece, however, is the inclusion of student achievement. While such a measure is included in Texas law and rules governing educator preparation programs (EPPs), to date, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been unable to find a valid way to measure student outcomes. TEA has, however, included a student growth measure in its new teacher evaluation system, the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS). The new system is in its first year of implementation statewide, but the measure of student growth piece is still in the pilot phase. ATPE and other organizations have filed legal challenges based in part on the inclusion of value-added modeling (VAM) as a element of the T-TESS model. The final commissioner’s rules for T-TESS outline four ways in which schools may assess student growth for purposes of teacher evaluations; VAM, which many consider to be an unfair and unreliable statistical calculation for this purpose, is one of the four options. Despite the pending litigation, the student growth piece of T-TESS  is set to take effect statewide next school year. With the new federal rules for EPPs calling on states to look specifically at the performance of students taught by those programs, it seems likely that Texas will at least consider further extension of the same questionable VAM methodology for EPP accountability.

For related content, read the perspectives of Kate Walsh with the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). She highlights her thoughts on the new regulations, including why she doesn’t disagree with ED’s decision to omit the previously required use of student test scores or VAM.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King and President Obama have stood by the administration’s new regulations and are joined by those who support stronger regulations for teacher preparation in the United States, but the rules have received criticism from congressional leaders and other stakeholders. As all of this plays out, two things create some uncertainty: 1) regardless of who is elected, it is relatively unknown how a new president would implement these regulations, and 2) Congress has been toying with reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, which has a questionable likelihood but would entail fresh laws that could render these new teacher preparation regulations meaningless. Plus, the price tag of implementing these regulations would be high for states (latest estimates from the administration indicate $27 million per year for the next 10 years). Bottom line, the final version of the regulations released today might not be the end of the road. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 12, 2016

Happy Friday! Read highlights of this week’s education news:

skd282694sdcOn Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released preliminary financial accountability ratings for the state’s public schools for the 2015-16 school year. As was the case with the 2014-15 ratings, TEA announced that nearly 98 percent of Texas school districts and charter schools have earned superior ratings under the School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST).

Under the FIRST rating system, 15 financial indicators are used to assign each school district or charter school a letter grade of A, B, C, or F, along with a corresponding financial management rating of Superior, Above Standard Achievement, Meets Standard, or Substandard Achievement. In the most recent analysis, four districts and four charter schools were assigned an “F” grade through the FIRST rating system. Seventeen districts and 10 charters earned “B” grades, and there were no “C” grades assigned this year. Districts and charters that are displeased with their assigned ratings may appeal the preliminary findings before TEA releases the final financial accountability ratings in October.

View TEA’s full press release about FIRST ratings here.


ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann were in Chicago this week for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) 2016 Legislative Summit. The NCSL Summit is the largest gathering of its kind where legislators, staff, and policy stakeholders from all over the country meet to discuss, learn about, and share perspective on national, state, and local policy issues.

Exter and Kuhlmann attended a variety of sessions within the education and election tracks this week, met with Texas legislators and their staffs, and networked with other policy and education professionals throughout the country. Session topics included, to name a few, a presentation of opposing views on the constitutionality of vouchers, discussions on new opportunities and limitations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and the rollout of a new NCSL report on what states can learn from policies common among the highest performing nations. Kuhlmann and Exter are excited to bring back what they’ve learned and utilize the connections they’ve made to help ATPE achieve its policy goals.


As more school districts opt to pursue designation as Districts of Innovation (DOI), we want to remind you about ATPE’s DOI resource page available here. View updated information on school districts that are using the DOI law to claim exemptions from various state laws, including school start date provisions, requirements to hire certified teachers, and elementary class-size limits. Each DOI is required to notified the Commissioner of Education of its local innovation plan, although no formal approval by the commissioner is required by law. TEA is also providing a list of those DOIs that have supplied their innovation plans to the agency. Commissioner Mike Morath still has not yet finalized administrative rules for implementation of the DOI law, but 23 school districts have already adopted their innovation plans and filed them with TEA. The DOI law will be among topics discussed at upcoming interim hearings of the Senate Education Committee.


Next week, the Senate Education Committee is holding another interim hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 16. The interim study topics for this meeting are school board governance and training; local policies that could achieve better student outcomes, particularly for low-performing schools; pre-kindergarten grants, and raising standards for teacher preparation programs. ATPE will be participating in the meeting and will provide a full report next week.


Comic Speech Bubble, Congrats, Vector illustrationTwo ATPE members are among Texas finalists announced for the 2016 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). ATPE congratulates Kirk Evans, a teacher at David and Lynda Olson Elementary School in Allen ISD, and Andrea Miller, a teacher at B.J. Smith Elementary School in Mesquite ISD. Evans and Miller both teach fifth-grade science and have been recognized for their achievements in elementary science teaching. View TEA’s press release about the award finalists here.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 1, 2016

Today is April 1, but we’re not fooling when we tell you it was a busy week at the Texas State Capitol. ATPE’s lobby team has the latest news affecting public education:


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended several hearings on Wednesday where the topics of discussion included the state’s budget and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Of particular interest was how to fund TRS-Care, which is facing a considerable shortfall heading into the next legislative session. ATPE was among several education groups to testify about the healthcare funding needs of our state’s active and retired educators. Read Josh’s blog post from yesterday to learn more.


Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

The Senate Education and Higher Education Committees held a joint interim hearing this week on teacher pipeline issues and the ongoing implementation of 2013’s House Bill 5, which overhauled the state’s graduation requirements and accountability system. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided testimony to the committee. Read her blog post this week to learn more about the hearing on Tuesday.


Monty Exter

Monty Exter

Earlier this week, some students experienced significant issues while taking the online version of the STAAR test. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that upon returning to the system after having left it for a variety of reasons, students found that the work they had already completed on the test was gone. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) quickly released a public statement from Commissioner Mike Morath on Tuesday acknowledging the problem and the fact that it was unacceptable of both the agency and ETS, the state testing vendor, to allow such an issue to have occurred.

On Wednesday, TEA released another statement providing some technical instructions from ETS. Of particular note, the agency also stated in bold typeface, “For students who were not able to complete an online test because of the technology issues related to the STAAR online testing platform, districts are not required to have the students complete the test(s) and should feel under no obligation to do so.” The technical difficulties with the online STAAR testing come on the heels of existing criticism over test administrators’ being require to clock students’ break times during the test and growing concerns about the STAAR tests being unfair to students in special education programs.


If you’re planning to submit public comments on the Commissioner of Education’s proposed rules for the state’s new recommended appraisal system for principals, your deadline is Monday, April 4. Click here to view the proposed rules for T-PESS, which would take effect during the 2016-17 school year.

The commissioner has also proposed brand new rules for “Innovation Districts” authorized under last session’s House Bill 1842. The new law allows certain acceptably performing school districts to propose local innovation plans and receive exemptions from various state regulations. Public comments on those rules will be accepted through May 2. Click here to learn more.

Rules implementing a new pre-Kindergarten grant program have now been finalized. Click here to view the commissioner’s adopted rules, including responses to comments submitted by ATPE and other stakeholders after the rules were proposed.

ThinkstockPhotos-126983249_surveillanceNext week we expect to see the official filing of a new rule proposal from the commissioner to guide the implementation of last year’s Senate Bill 507 requiring video surveillance cameras in certain special education settings. Commissioner Morath has already asked the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to provide an opinion on some questions that are considered open to differing interpretations based on the language of the bill. These include clarifying the specific settings in which the video surveillance is required and who may obtain access to the video footage. That request for an OAG opinion remains pending.

ATPE also expects to share an announcement soon about the release of adopted commissioner’s rules implementing the new T-TESS recommended appraisal system for teachers. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

On the agenda for next week, the State Board of Education will be meeting in Austin starting Tuesday, April 5. View its agenda and find links for watching live streams of the hearing on the TEA website here. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will be in attendance and will provide updates for Teach the Vote. Also next week, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) holds its meetings Thurday and Friday, April 7-8. View the TRS agenda and other materials here, and watch for updates from ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson. Negotiated rulemaking on the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) also continues next week in Washington, D.C.

Finally, join us in celebrating ATPE’s 36th birthday today!


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 14, 2015

Follow us on Twitter!

Follow us on Twitter!

Happy Friday! Here’s a recap of education stories you might have missed this week from the Teach the Vote blog and the ATPE lobby team on Twitter.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) this week published test questions from the 2015 administrations of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). The released tests include STAAR exams for reading in grades 3-8; writing in grades 4 and 7; science in grades 5 and 8; social studies in grade 8; Algebra I; English I; English II; biology; and U.S. history; plus some STAAR test questions for math in grades 3-8. TEA stated in a press release, “Because the mathematics tests have undergone major revisions, there are not enough approved test questions in reserve to permit the release of full tests this year.” View the released test questions here on TEA’s website.


Several newsTweet 8-7-15 outlets this week reported on the State Board for Educator Certification’s recent move to make it easier for individuals with no previous education experience to become certified as school superintendents. Under current SBEC rules, one must first be certified as a principal (which requires two years of prior experience as a classroom teacher) and hold a master’s degree in order to be admitted to a superintendent certification program in Texas. SBEC voted last Friday, Aug. 7, to formally propose a rule change that would do away with those prerequisites. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, who testified against the proposed change at last week’s board meeting, is featured in several of the news reports, such as this one from Lubbock’s Fox 34 News/MyFoxLubbock.com. ATPE members have long supported the premise that superintendents need education experience in order to be effective. ATPE’s Legislative Program, in fact, includes a recommendation that the state require administrators to have at least five years of classroom teaching experience. The SBEC board is expected take a final vote on the rule change in October. To learn more about the proposed change, read our blog post from last week.


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was a guest on KURV 710 News Talk Radio’s afternoon feature, “The Drive Home with Davis & Roxanne” on Aug. 13. The program, which aired live in the Rio Grande Valley yesterday, covered the topic of teacher shortages that have been reported in some parts of the country. Exter explained that Texas has not suffered shortages in the same manner Tweet 8-13-15as some other states, but enrollment in teacher preparation programs certainly did decline following the Texas Legislature’s massive education budget cuts in 2011. Exter and the radio hosts talked about several reasons that teachers often cite for leaving the profession and challenges they face in the classroom, including student discipline concerns, paperwork and other onerous requirements associated with student testing, plus inadequate training and support for new teachers. Exter also explained how teachers can benefit from becoming members of professional organizations such as ATPE.


Non-profit news reporting website The Texas Tribune, which ATPE has sponsored in the past, is featuring a series of reports this month on new laws taking effect in September. The “31 Days, 31 Ways” series included two stories this week on impending changes to Texas education laws. First, the Texas Tribune showcased a new truancy law aimed at reducing criminal penalties for students who fail to attend school. Tweet 8-11-15That article, which is also republished on our Teach the Vote blog, includes a flowchart to help you understand the new truancy processes for students and educators. In addition, yesterday’s Texas Tribune featured a story on changes to the state’s school accountability system. The article discusses Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s House Bill (HB) 1842, passed earlier this year, which modifies the timeline and actions associated with progressive sanctions against campuses that are not meeting academic standards. For instance, the new law requires TEA to close or appoint a board of managers to operate schools that have been academically unacceptable for five years. ATPE staff members were briefed by TEA officials this week on implementation of the new law; they noted that the board of managers requirement would not take effect until the 2018-19 school year and cautioned that implementation of some aspects of the bill may be hampered by the legislature’s failure to put money into the budget for HB 1842.

SBEC votes to water down superintendent certification standards, looks to baseball and business for guidance

SBECIf you visit the website of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and look up its description of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), you’ll read that SBEC “was created by the Texas Legislature in 1995 to recognize public school educators as professionals and grant educators the authority to govern the standards of their profession.” For multiple legislative sessions, SBEC has been threatened with the possibility of being disbanded by the legislature through the sunset review process. Again and again, educator groups have come to the defense of SBEC, defending educators’ rights to set the standards for their own profession through a board that is made up primarily of educators. That’s why it’s disappointing when SBEC takes actions that are so clearly inspired by outside business interests and those with no education experience whatsoever. Today, unfortunately, was one of those days, as SBEC took a step that will make it easier for individuals with no education experience to take on important leadership roles in public education.

SBEC is holding its regular meeting today, Aug. 7. Shortly before lunch, the board voted to give preliminary approval to a rule change that would allow someone to become a school superintendent despite having neither experience as a classroom teacher and principal nor managerial experience. The change was apparently instigated by one of two stakeholder groups that TEA convened late last year to recommend revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 242, Superintendent Certificate, Rule §242.20 on “Requirements for the Issuance of the Standard Superintendent Certificate,” and Rule §242.25 on “Requirements for the First-Time Superintendent in Texas.” One stakeholder group was believed to be composed primarily of business leaders, which favored allowing non-educators to fill superintendent vacancies. An additional stakeholder group made up of administrators and school board trustees also made a recommendation to the board, but their recommendation only allowed for non-principals who have three years of specific managerial experience within a school district to seek superintendent certification. That latter recommendation was also included as a separate pathway to superintendent certification. Neither pathway, however, would require any teaching experience.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

At today’s meeting, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified that successful superintendents need both teaching and managerial experience. “Every superintendent needs a strong understanding of how education works, the needs of every student, and how administrative influence can change educational outcomes,” Kuhlmann told the board. “This is something that can only be gained from first-hand experience in the classroom.” Sharing input from an ATPE member who serves as an assistant superintendent, Kuhlmann outlined the types of daily decisions made by superintendents that require both managerial experience and the “perspective of classroom teaching.” ATPE was the only educator group to testify against the proposed rule change for new superintendents today.

The most outspoken advocate on the board for the rule change to allow “non-traditional” superintendents to be hired without need for a waiver was public SBEC member Laurie Bricker of Houston. Bricker expressed her belief that school boards should have authority to hire someone like Michael Dell or Bill Gates to serve as a their superintendents. She authored a last-minute substitute motion, ultimately accepted by the board, that removed language that would have required a school board of trustees to post publicly its reasons for hiring any such “non-traditional” superintendent under the new rules being proposed today. Dr. Rex Peebles, Assistant Commissioner for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, who serves as a non-voting member of SBEC, spoke against that change, arguing that transparency to the community and especially to faculty members working within the school district should be required. Bricker rejected a suggestion by SBEC member Suzanne McCall, a teacher, to add a requirement for TEA to approve the hire of any “non-traditional” superintendent, which McCall viewed as an extra layer of oversight and protection. Bricker was adamant that elected school board trustees alone should have blanket authority for hiring superintendents. Another public member who serves on the SBEC board, Leon Leal, compared the proposal to Major League Baseball, arguing that professional baseball teams have been very successful after being given authority to hire managers who were not former players.

In the end, SBEC members McCall and Kathryn Everest, a school counselor, were the only ones to vote against the motion to water down the superintendent certification rules. Next, the proposed rule change will be published for public comments and SBEC will have another opportunity to approve it on second and final reading at its next meeting. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

In more positive news, the board approved allowing at least one classroom teacher and one counselor to serve on its Educator Preparation Advisory Committee (EPAC). The request to add teacher representatives to the existing committee was made by ATPE’s Kate Kuhlmann in testimony today. The committee, made primarily of representatives of educator preparation programs (EPPs), meets quarterly to provide input on issues relating to EPPs. The EPAC has existed since 2006, and SBEC only recently voted to add some school district representatives to the committee. Today’s action in response to ATPE’s request will ensure that classroom teachers can also participate in discussions about preparing future educators and the need for any regulatory changes.

Today’s SBEC agenda also included discussions of future changes to certification exams and rules pertaining to admission to an educator preparation program. Some of those changes were necessitated by legislation passed earlier this year. How the board handles disciplinary cases involving educators was an additional topic of discussion today.

SBEC meets to address GPA requirement, sanction authority and new certification exams

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met in Austin last week—Friday, Oct. 24—to address a broad agenda. The meeting included final adoption of minor changes to SBEC’s disciplinary authority, a discussion of the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) decision to veto a recently modified SBEC rule that includes a minimum GPA requirement for educator preparation program (EPP) candidates, an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff on new certification exams, and more.

Adoption of changes to SBEC’s sanctioning authority over Texas educators:

ATPE testified both orally and in writing before SBEC at its August meeting in opposition to two proposed amendments that sought to change rules surrounding SBEC’s sanctioning authority of Texas educators. ATPE expressed concern that the proposed amendments removed the “willfully or recklessly” limitation in current rule for certain violations relating to an educator’s duty to report information to SBEC or TEA. We further relayed that without these limitations, educators could be sanctioned for not reporting information of which they may not have been aware. At the August meeting—where SBEC took a preliminary vote on the proposed language of one of the amendments and voted on final adoption of the other—we were able to make small revisions to the proposal that received final adoption but still found the deletion of the language troubling.

Last week, as the board voted on final adoption of the second proposal, ATPE was pleased to see the inclusion of additional changes. In response to our comments at the August meeting and the comments submitted by others after the conclusion of that meeting, TEA staff presented SBEC with substitute text for the proposed rule change. While the substitute text maintained the removal of “willfully and recklessly,” it narrowed the scope of what an educator is required to report in order to avoid certain violations, which ATPE views as a productive revision. SBEC approved the substitute language and adopted the amendment.

Discussion of SBOE’s recent rejection of the minimum GPA rule for EPP candidates:

Earlier this year, SBEC began rewriting several provisions in 19 TAC Chapters 227, 228, and 229, relating to educator preparation. Included among the changes was language pertaining to the minimum GPA requirement for most candidates seeking admission into an EPP. The rule change was prompted by the passage of House Bill (HB) 2012 by the Texas legislature in 2013, a comprehensive teacher quality bill that ATPE supported. ATPE has published several updates regarding the many developments of this rule change, which included an initial decision by SBEC to raise the minimum GPA requirement, a subsequent reversal of that decision by SBEC, and, most recently, the SBOE’s rejection of the ultimate SBEC decision maintaining the state’s existing minimum GPA requirement of 2.5 or lower for EPP candidates. An overwhelming majority of SBOE members agreed with ATPE and other stakeholders that the current GPA floor is too low and urged SBEC to return to the drawing board.

At SBEC’s meeting last week, the TEA staff presented an update on the SBOE decision to reject the GPA rule and outlined three potential scenarios under which to move forward: (1) SBEC can begin new rulemaking and reconsider the GPA requirement, (2) SBEC can seek an opinion from the Office of the Attorney General about the requirements of HB 2012, or (3) SBEC can do nothing and allow the legislature an opportunity to clarify the law. (There has been some disagreement over the intent of the language in HB 2012 relating to the GPA requirement. Some believe the bill requires SBEC to set a minimum GPA no higher than 2.75, while others believe the bill requires 2.75 to be the floor. Both sponsors of the legislation have stated their intent that the minimum GPA be set at 2.75.)

A majority of SBEC members spoke in favor of revisiting the matter and asked TEA staff to provide clarifying and more extensive data on the GPA issue. Again last week, ATPE provided written testimony to SBEC explaining our position in support of a more rigorous GPA requirement, which is based on studies that show we can better prepare Texas teachers and create a higher achieving student body by raising standards for entrance into the profession. We are pleased the board chose to revisit the GPA requirement at its March 2015 meeting and encourage SBEC to initiate rulemaking once again.

Update on new Core Subjects EC-6 and Core Subjects 4-8 tests:

TEA and SBEC have spent the last year developing new Core Subjects EC-6 and 4-8 assessments—another requirement of HB 2012—and an appropriate timeline for implementation of the new certification tests, which will replace existing Generalist exams and will first be administered in January 2015. In response to ongoing feedback from stakeholders, TEA staff informed SBEC last week that they will institute a pilot period beginning in January and will collect data on candidate test performance. During the pilot period, candidates will be able to take the test at no charge. If a candidate fails to pass the exam during the pilot period, he will simply be able to pay to take the old Generalist assessment. TEA will provide SBEC with data collected during the pilot period at its August 2015 board meeting and recommend additional changes to the exams if necessary.

SBEC members were particularly concerned about the amount of time that is required to take the new tests and expressed interest in taking a look at the number of field test questions included on the exam. They also asked to see disaggregated data on pass/fail rates during the pilot period to ensure there is no bias.

Other business:

  • SBEC voted to begin live streaming its board meetings, a change ATPE welcomes as it will increase transparency and provide for more efficient dissemination of information. Watch for more information from TEA on this development.
  • SBEC took a preliminary vote to reduce many of the fees relating to certification services. For example, the fee for an applicant requesting a standard certificate was reduced from $75 to $65.
  • SBEC adopted a statement in response to the Sunset Advisory Commission Staff Report, which in part recommends abolishing SBEC and transferring its power to the Commissioner of Education. The statement opposes the recommendation to dissolve the board and stresses the importance of a governing board made up of education professionals. The Sunset hearing addressing this report will be held on November 12 and 13. ATPE also submitted recent comments to the Sunset Advisory Commission in response to the latest staff report.

SBOE rejects rule, sends strong message to SBEC on GPA requirements for future educators

The State Board of Education (SBOE) today took the rare step of rejecting a rule that had been previously adopted by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). In August, SBEC adopted amendments to rules that establish minimum requirements for individuals to enter an educator preparation program (EPP). A bill passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013 – House Bill (HB) 2012 –required SBEC to make certain changes to the requirements, including minimum GPAs and college credit hours required to become a teacher. SBEC decided on a rule that kept most of the entrance requirements unchanged, but state law requires the SBOE to review all rulemaking decisions made by SBEC and gives them an opportunity to effectively veto the certification board’s decisions.

Responding to testimony from ATPE in May, SBEC initially proposed raising its minimum GPA requirement from 2.5 to 2.75, but the board changed its mind in August and adopted a rule keeping the minimum GPA for EPP candidates at 2.5. SBEC’s rule allows candidates to satisfy the 2.5 GPA requirement based either on their overall GPA, or the average during their last 60 hours of college coursework. Thus, it is currently possible to enter an EPP in Texas despite having an overall GPA of less than 2.0. The state’s rule also allows EPPs to waive the GPA requirement altogether for up to 10 percent of their candidates.

A majority of SBOE members seemingly agree with ATPE and some other stakeholders who support raising the GPA floor for EPP candidates. Especially for alternative certification candidates who are employed as teachers of record almost immediately, before completing their training and passing state certification exams, a minimum GPA requirement helps ensure that new teachers have an adequate academic foundation to be successful in the high-stakes environment of teaching. Texas has been criticized in a number of reports and research studies for setting its standards for becoming a teacher too low, especially when contrasted with other states and countries that recruit their teachers more selectively. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter stated in a press release, “We owe it to prospective teachers to hold our state’s programs to higher standards, because admission criteria that are too low merely set new teachers up for failure.”

During both the SBEC and SBOE debates on the minimum GPA rule, there was disagreement as to the intent of the language in HB 2012 relating to the GPA requirement. Some believe the bill requires SBEC to set a minimum GPA no higher than 2.75, while others contend that the bill requires 2.75 to be the minimum GPA allowed by SBEC. This week, HB 2012 author Rep. Mike Villarreal wrote a letter to SBOE members explaining the legislative intent behind his bill and stating his belief that EPPs “must require an overall grade point average of 2.75 for admission.” Villarreal added, “We know that teachers have a significant impact on student learning and outcomes in the classroom. We must ensure that we are attracting the best and brightest individuals to the profession by adopting nationally recognized entrance requirements. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and the National Council for Teacher Quality both recommend a 3.0 GPA for admission in an educator preparatory program.” SBOE member Donna Bahorich also told fellow board members that she received word that the Senate sponsor of HB 2012, Sen. Dan Patrick, likewise believed that the legislation would require a minimum 2.75 GPA.

Several of the state’s private alternative certification providers, operated by for-profit companies, testified before SBEC and SBOE that the state’s minimum GPA requirement should not be increased. They argued that raising EPP admission standards would keep potentially great educators from entering the profession and lead to teacher shortages. ATPE testified, and several SBOE members noted today, that the exceptions in the rule already cover those individuals who may not have had good GPAs in college but are capable of becoming highly effective educators. Even if the minimum GPA is raised from 2.5 to 2.75, those exceptions in the rule will still exist. In fact, statewide statistics proffered by the Texas Education Agency earlier this year showed that only 11 percent of recently certified teachers would have been unable to satisfy a 2.75 GPA rule, and there has been no data presented to show that raising the state’s GPA requirement would cause teacher shortages.

Today, SBOE members voted 12-3 to reject SBEC’s rule that would keep the state’s GPA rule as is at 2.5 with exceptions. The vote forces SBEC to reconsider the issue and propose another rule. In the meantime, the existing GPA rule, requiring a minimum 2.5 GPA with exceptions allowed, will remain in effect pending further action by SBEC. The next SBEC meeting is set for Oct. 24. According to Exter, today’s rule rejection by SBOE was the first since SBEC was last reorganized under state law. The SBOE is authorized by law to reject SBEC rules on educator preparation and certification but cannot rewrite them.

While the SBOE’s vote today does not change the existing rule or force SBEC to adopt a higher GPA standard, it sends a strong message that legislators, policymakers and stakeholders expect Texas to raise its standards for educator preparation. “From high-stakes testing, to graduation requirements, to school accountability ratings, our state’s leaders have expected educators and students to perform increasingly well, but our teacher recruitment efforts and educator preparation standards have not kept up,” said ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday. “Keeping our standards low in order for some alternative certification programs to maximize their profits through higher enrollment numbers is not in the best interest of teachers or students. There are a number of factors that can contribute to teacher shortages, but fears that a slightly higher GPA requirement will leave school districts with no one to hire are completely unfounded. Our goal is to increase the pool of qualified teachers, give them the tools they need to succeed before they enter the classroom and elevate the prestige of the education profession so that Texas teachers can command the compensation and respect they deserve.”

Related: Read ATPE’s press release about today’s SBOE vote.