If 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.
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.