The Senate Education Committee and the Senate Higher Education Committee met jointly on Tuesday to discuss two interim charges both committees have been tasked with studying: (1) the ongoing implementation of House Bill (HB) 5, which passed in 2013, particularly as it relates to college and workforce readiness; and (2) whether educator preparation programs (EPPs) are properly preparing teachers for the rigors of the classroom, especially in light of teacher shortage areas and retention issues.
ATPE was present at the hearing to monitor discussions on the first charge and testify on the second charge. The hearing consisted of four panels of invited witnesses followed by public testimony. The higher education and public education commissioners presented information on the first charge with respect to the current state of college and workforce readiness in Texas. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath presented data supporting improved college and career readiness as a result of HB 5, with expressed hesitation that it is too soon to tell exactly where things are trending (in large part due to a lag in data collection that became a topic of concern throughout the hearing). Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes was less optimistic, presenting data that showed Texas lagged behind other states in preparing high school students for college.
A second panel of school district, college, and business officials also served as invited witnesses. Significant discussion was had with regard to dual credit courses and a bill last session that expanded high school students’ access to such courses. While some members praised the legislation, others expressed concern about the inconsistency in transferring courses among state institutions. Commissioner Paredes said the rigor of dual-credit courses needs to be reviewed and told members that passing a dual-credit course does not mean a student is college ready, although the state should work toward that goal.
The remaining two panels were focused on educator preparation, teacher retention, and teacher shortage issues. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) presented information on the current state of teacher demographics in Texas: more than one third of Texas teachers have been in the classroom for five years or less (which is consistent with data for the past 20 years); the average Texas teacher teaches for 11 years (also roughly consistent over the past 20 years); teacher attrition rates have been relatively constant over the past few years, but district turnover rates are especially high in rural districts; Texas hires about 82% of the teachers it produces every year; and the average five year retention rate of teachers produced by traditional universities is 76% versus 66% among alternatively certified teachers. Other invited witnesses expressed alarm with regard to statistics showing that retention rates for teachers in their first or second year and in shortage areas, such as STEM and special education, are lower than the average.
Invited and public testifiers shared comments on the entire teacher pipeline. Witnesses shared methods for addressing these issues at hand through recruitment, preparation, support, and retention. ATPE’s testimony also supported a focus on the entire teacher pipeline and highlighted some proposals we continue to support with regard to addressing the issues of educator preparation and retention.
- ATPE supports tools that recruit the best and brightest to join the profession, such as loan forgiveness programs, competitive benefits packages, and improved salaries. ATPE also supports raised standards for individuals entering the profession, because raising standards has shown to improve the prestige of the profession and in turn attract more of the best and brightest to enter the profession. It also improves the profession’s ability to demand change.
- ATPE supports raising standards for all EPPs in order to ensure teachers are properly trained for the rigors of the classroom. Especially in the case of alternative certification providers, where teachers are put into the classroom as the teacher of record after only weeks of training in some cases, it is critical that we ensure teachers are properly prepared to enter the classroom and stay in the profession.
- ATPE supports incentives for EPPs that serve to fill shortage areas. Those could include financial incentives such as cutting or eliminating programs’ fees or non-monetary incentives such as rewarding programs through the EPP accountability system.
- ATPE supports mentor and induction programs that support teachers in the initial years of teaching or when they are assigned to teach outside of their certification field. Studies consistently show that such programs have a big impact on retention rates. It is also a small investment for a big return; estimates have suggested the cost of teacher turnover in Texas is as high as $1 billion per year.
- ATPE supports increased and standardized requirements with regard to the support that EPPs are required to provide to their candidates once they are in the field teaching.
- ATPE supports adding a measure of teacher quality to the accountability system so that districts are held accountable to progress toward the equitable distribution of quality teachers throughout the district. (Data presented at the hearing showed an inequitable distribution of high quality teachers, a fact that prior research commissioned by ATPE has also shown.)
The full hearing can be viewed here. The Senate Education Committee meets again next month to study another interim charge related to digital learning.