For the past two months we have regularly reported on the State Board for Educator Certification’s preliminary decision to water down superintendent certification standards in Texas, which would remove the requirement that superintendents first obtain two years of classroom teaching experience, among other crucial qualifications, for some superintendent candidates. Today, ATPE submitted formal comments on behalf of our more than 100,000 educators across the state opposing the controversial plan.
The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) took the preliminary vote and advanced the proposal in August, despite testimony from ATPE that stressed our members’ belief that classroom teaching experience, in addition to managerial experience and a strong educational background, is a critical contributing factor to the success of an administrator. The hybrid proposal advanced by the board was instigated by two stakeholder groups, one consisting of members from the education community and one consisting of those in business. Each group essentially created a new pathway to becoming a superintendent: substituting education specific managerial experience for principal certification and substituting business experience for principal certification and a master’s degree, respectively. Under the latter pathway presented by representatives of the business community, a district’s board of trustees would be given blanket authority to hire a non-traditional superintendent without proof to parents, school personnel, and taxpayers why such a candidate is otherwise qualified. Ultimately, both pathways were included in the proposed revisions.
Rationale and excerpts of ATPE’s written comments on the proposed rule change:
ATPE’s formal comments submitted today to SBEC again stressed the need for superintendents to bring well-rounded experience to the job, including experience teaching in the classroom, managerial experience, and an advanced educational background:
“ATPE members and educators at all levels across the state support the need for teaching experience prior to obtaining a superintendent certificate, because those working in the field know that every superintendent needs a strong understanding of how education works, the needs of every student, and how administrative influence can affect educational outcomes… ATPE’s superintendent members tell us this teaching experience is critical because without it, administrators cannot fully understand classrooms and the needs of students within them – classrooms and students they make decisions about daily.”
And, as our formal comments stress, ATPE members are not alone in their stance on the issue:
“Educators across the state also support our members’ opinion that high standards and experience in education, in addition to managerial experience, are critical to the success of superintendents. In fact, a 2009 informal survey asked Texas administrators whether the two-year classroom experience requirement in SBEC rules was adequate, and 92 percent of respondents agreed it was insufficient.”
Proponents of SBEC’s rule change suggest that such a revision is necessary in order to capture the non-traditional superintendent candidates that districts might find to be great hires. As the rule change was being proposed by SBEC in August, names such as Michael Dell and Bill Gates were mentioned as the types of business, finance, and managerial experts who might desire to become superintendents but would not want to commit to traditional superintendent training programs. Setting aside for now the rhetorical question of whether a Bill Gates or Michael Dell would ever truly desire to become a school superintendent in Texas, ATPE has questioned the merits of the rule-backers’ claims that districts do not otherwise have viable means of hiring non-traditional leaders. In our formal written comments, we point out that districts already have the option to utilize a waiver process in order to hire a non-traditional superintendent candidate. The difference between current law and the proposed rule revision is that current law provides for a more transparent and responsible process for hiring such a candidate.
The waiver process under current law requires school districts to provide the qualifications of non-traditional superintendent candidates and justify why those candidates would be a beneficial hire for that district. It also allows for a transparent and accountable process under which key stakeholders, such as those employed by the district and parents of students, are notified and applications are vetted and approved by the Texas Education Agency. None of this would be true under the proposed revisions where school board trustees are given blanket authority to hire the nontraditional candidates they see fit.
“ATPE believes that removing the requirements for keeping local communities – and especially school employees and parents of students – informed about the rationale for these major decisions would be a grave mistake. It will likely lead to school morale challenges with faculty members feeling disenfranchised, parents increasingly questioning the leadership of the district, and a disconnect between school board members and the taxpayers and voters who placed them into office.”
For all of these reasons above and more, which you can read in our full formal comments, ATPE opposes this certification rule change and urges members of SBEC to reject the proposed revisions. SBEC will take a final vote on the proposed revision at its October 16 meeting. If you would like to submit your own input on the proposed rule change, the public comment period officially ends Monday, October 5. Information on submitting written public comments can be found here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this issue later this month after the SBEC meeting.