Category Archives: teaching

ATPE survey, TEA data show pandemic-related decline in student engagement

This spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic sent our educational system into triage mode, Texas educators were asked by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to document “student engagement” using crisis codes in the state’s Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS). The data collected by the agency was released yesterday, but take it with a big grain of salt. The term “engagement” might be a misnomer based on TEA’s definitions, and ATPE’s own survey of Texas educators indicates we have a lot of work to do on re-engaging students.

Student engagement as we familiarly know it typically refers to factors such as attendance, participation in lessons, timely completion of assignments, and students’ attitudes toward learning. For reporting purposes during the crisis, TEA defined an engaged student as one who was responsive and completing assignments, which is rather vague. For example, secondary students in multiple classes were considered engaged if they were completing assignments in any core content area. Therefore, an “engaged” middle school student could have completed some assignments in an ELA course but in no other courses. An “unengaged” student was defined as responsive but not completing assignments, regardless of the underlying reason for the student’s lack of engagement. An “uncontactable” student was defined as not responsive at all.

As defined, the TEA crisis codes seemed to measure whether students were present as opposed to their true engagement. Additionally, these definitions leave out students who may not regularly complete assignments as part of their schooling, such as those who receive special education services.

The student engagement data newly released by TEA, which is still being updated by districts through July 16, showed that 88.72% of students were “engaged.” The agency reported that approximately 11% of students either were not engaged for some time or their school districts lost or had no contact with them. For context, this amounts to approximately 609,000 Texas students who severely lacked the emotional, academic, and social stability traditionally afforded by schools and educators this spring. That’s a disturbing number, even under TEA’s rudimentary definitions of engagement, but input we’ve solicited from ATPE members suggests a much larger number of students became less engaged once schools were forced to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The recent ATPE Membership Survey conducted June 5-19, 2020, included a question on student engagement that we believe provides much more insight about how students were participating and learning during remote instruction this spring. When asked how engaged their students were during remote instruction, just over 65% of ATPE members surveyed said their students were “slightly less engaged” or “much less engaged” on average as compared to their level of engagement during previous in-person instruction. This information was provided by 3,250 survey respondents.

ATPE 2020 Membership Survey results on student engagement during the pandemic-related school shutdown

The misnomer of “engagement” as loosely defined by TEA is even more problematic when applied to the agency’s disaggregated PEIMS data, which are presented in such a way that suggests students of color, low-income students, and students in younger grades were not as “fully engaged” in school this spring as other students. Whether or not these subpopulations of students were engaged is more accurately framed, we believe, by the barriers students may have faced both in accessing school materials and having the necessary instructional support at home. (Having a stable home setting and parents or caregivers who are present make a difference.) Through TEA’s “Strong Start” resources, districts are being encouraged to collect some survey data from families and educators related to barriers as they plan for the upcoming school year.

Where do we go from here? Evidence is mounting that the “COVID slide” will be steep and likely even steeper for students of color, low-income students, and younger students who may not be developmentally ready for remote instruction. With an upcoming school year that will include an even greater emphasis on remote instruction and no plans as of yet from TEA to halt state testing and accountability mandates, it is more important than ever to gather information on the barriers students face and make concrete plans to address them. TEA has said the state intends to use federal emergency dollars to improve connectivity and access to digital devices for students, but these will be of little use if a child has inadequate instructional support at home or no place to call home at all.

Including teacher voices to gather their experiences with students during remote learning and their take on how to improve access to education during a crisis is crucial. ATPE has urged the state and school districts to solicit feedback from educators, including classroom teachers, as they develop plans for the next school year.

An ATPE member told a story of sitting with their student (virtually) to talk through their parents’ loss of income, their fears about the pandemic, and adjusted assignment expectations since the student was now working at a job, too. This is not necessarily “completing an assignment,” but it is engagement and it is at the core of the work that educators do. If you can’t engage a student and have a meaningful relationship, their basic needs will not be met (remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?), and they will never get to a place of learning .

Read this reporting by the Texas Tribune to learn more about the “COVID slide” and the engagement data recently released by TEA.

Setting the record straight on the myth of “temporary” teacher retirement

After representatives affiliated with a national teachers’ union held a conference call with Texas reporters last week, at least one news story sparked confusion and a flurry of inquiries by reporting that it would be possible for teachers to retire “temporarily” during the coronavirus pandemic and later return to their previous jobs.

“Many teachers are capable of temporarily retiring,” the media report stated, erroneously adding that Texas teachers could “sit out a year or two, still get paid, and come out of retirement after COVID is under control.” The staff of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) asked ATPE and other stakeholders to help them clear up the confusion. The simple fact is that “temporary retirement” is not an option for educators under Texas law!

TRS had this to say in a statement responding to the June 24 news story:

“There are no provisions in the law that allow a teacher to ‘temporarily retire.’ A news article published on June 24 by a north Texas media outlet stating as much is mistaken. While the law allows a retired teacher to return to employment without restriction after a 12-month break in service, the teacher’s retirement annuity amount would be fixed as of the retirement date. Any employment after retirement does not increase the annuity amount.”

Exactly what is the law, and what considerations should educators be aware of as they are making retirement decisions in the wake of COVID-19? The first step is considering whether or not an educator is eligible to retire.

Educators who began teaching prior to 2007 and have not had a break in employment since then may be eligible to retire and receive a regular pension if they are at least 65 years of age with five or more years of employment, or they meet the “Rule of 80.”  The Rule of 80 is met when an educator’s age plus their years of service credit equal 80 or more. (For example: 50 years of age plus 30 years of service credit equals 80.)  Those educators who have not worked continuously since 2007 must meet the rule of 80 and be at least 60 years of age to retire, or they may retire at 62 years of age if the educator had not earned five years of service credit prior to 2014 or has not worked continuously since 2014.

Educators who are not eligible for full retirement may still be eligible for early retirement, but they are subject to early retirement penalties. To be eligible for early retirement, an educator must either be  55 years old with five years of service credit or have at least 30 years of service credit without having met the Rule of 80. The penalty for early retirement can be as much as a 53% reduction of your standard annuity if you are between ages 55 and 64 and have between five and 19 years of service credit, but do not meet the Rule of 80.

Additional factors to consider include the fact that the amount of your pension is greatly impacted by your pre-retirement years of service, TRS’s lack of an automatic cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), and the impact of the retire-rehire surcharge.

The amount of an educator’s annual annuity is determined by taking the average of their highest three to five years of salary and multiplying that figure by a percentage, which for those receiving a regular retirement, is determined by multiplying their years of service by 2.3. For example, a teacher with 20 years of service credit would have 46% applied to their salary figure; if their highest average salary amount is $60,000, the educator would be eligible to receive an annuity of approximately $27,600 per year. A teacher whose highest average salary was also $60,000 but had 30 years of service credit would be eligible to receive approximately $41,400 annually.

Once you retire, you cannot earn additional service credit and your annuity cannot be recalculated, even if you go back to work after sitting out a year.

In addition to lost credit for service worked after retirement, the unpredictability of a COLA is another factor that can make early retirement less attractive. A fixed annuity with no regular COLA built in, and the possibility of only infrequent one-time COLAs, tends to lose its purchasing power over time due to inflation. Locking in the amount of your annuity much earlier than you might have otherwise planned to retire may magnify this effective decrease in your annuity’s value over time, on top of the other reductions discussed above.

Finally, although you can retire and then return to work after sitting out for 12 months, those retired educators who do return to work on more than a half-time basis will be subject to retire-rehire surcharges. The amount of the pension surcharge is equal to the amount of both member and state contributions on the compensation paid, which is currently 15.2%.  A health benefit surcharge is also due for TRS-Care, which is currently $535. While the educator’s employer can choose to cover these surcharges, they often pass them on to the retiree.

As you can see, an educator’s decision to retire early, with the intention of making it a “temporary” retirement in which the educator would sit out a year or two before returning to the classroom, comes with many significant financial consequences. ATPE urges educators to carefully consider these factors before they take an action that could permanently and negatively impact their future standard of living and their ability to truly and fully retire at a later date.

Note: There are a number of variables that affect an educator’s annuity, including start date, breaks in service, total years of service, retirement age, and other individual benefit decisions. Figures cited in this blog post are used for illustrative purposes only. Texas educators should contact TRS directly for assistance calculating the individual pension benefits they are eligible to receive.

Surveys illuminate parent and teacher worries in light of COVID-19

With numerous unknowns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to be able to gauge how parents, families, and educators feel about the current state of emergency learning and potential paths forward. A few recent surveys shed a little light on views of the general public, teachers, and parents about education in light of the pandemic.

Families and educators alike are adjusting to new realities, and perceived needs for improvement, in areas such as communication, are rising to the surface. There appears to be widespread worry about students and opposition to an extended year calendar. The coming school year is set to look quite different, potentially with fewer students and teachers in the classroom as some sit out the return to school awaiting the development of a vaccine.

Here’s a closer look at findings of the recent surveys:

Learning Heroes Parent 2020 Survey

Learning Heroes conducted their nationwide annual public school parent survey this spring and gathered important information about how parents are dealing with the pandemic. The research entity partners with multiple national organization such as PTA and the National Urban League “to inform and equip parents to best support their children’s educational and developmental success.” The Parents 2020 survey was conducted in English and Spanish and with a focus on low-income parents and parents of color. The survey found that while parents are mostly hopeful and grateful, 65% are also anxious/worried. Parents are most worried that their kids are missing important social interaction at school or with friends. They are more concerned with too much screen time for their child than being able to pay their bills and having enough food. The survey found that 56% of a child’s awake time involved a screen.

There is a disconnect between parents and teachers that shows the importance of effective communication channels. Parents feel more appreciation for teachers, but only 33% of parents say they have regular access to the teachers, unfortunately. Furthermore, 47% of parents feel that personal guidance for how to best support their child is extremely helpful, but only 15% have received this resource. Eighty percent of parents find texts and phone calls to be the most effective, but the main communication channel seems to be email. Even though parents feel more connected to their child’s education than ever before, they still have an overinflated view of their child’s abilities, with 92% believing that their child is learning at or above grade level. (NAEP Scores for 2019 suggest the actual percentage of students performing at or above grade level is closer to 37%.)

The way remote learning meets or doesn’t meet parents’ expectations likely translates into parents’ feelings about the coming school year. Parents with higher income and reliable internet who feel prepared to support learning consider the remote learning environment to be better than expected. Parents of elementary school children, those missing technology, and the ones with annual incomes below $37,000 feel remote learning is harder than expected. Only 23% of parents say they are using resources they find on their own, mostly from general websites such as YouTube. Parents are looking forward to being more engaged in their child’s learning into the next school year, hoping to get a better understanding of what they are expected to learn and finding more time to talk to their children about their assignments. Perhaps longing for a sense of normalcy, parents favor making summer school courses available so students can catch up rather than starting the school year early. Even more parents don’t want the 2020-21 school year to extend into the 2021 summer.

USA Today/Ipsos Public Polls of Parents and Teachers

USA Today and Ipsos conducted two public polls, one surveying the general public and parents of K-12 students and another one targeting K-12 teachers.

Both surveys found that less than half of the respondents are in favor of resuming school resuming before there is a vaccine. A broken line of communication also surfaced in these two polls, with both parents and teachers expressing that the other has struggled to support their child’s online learning. Similar to the overinflated view of mastery found in the Learning Heroes survey, parents conveyed that their kids have adapted well to online learning. In contrast, teachers said online and distance learning have caused their students to fall behind.

The general public, parents, and teachers mostly support a return either to five days of in-person schooling per week, or returning to school in-person two to three days per week with distance learning on other days. As in the Learning Heroes survey, there is less support for starting school earlier in the summer and continuing into the following summer. When school does resume, 59% of respondents said they would likely pursue at-home learning options.

In general, the majority of both parents and teachers are worried about their students. Parents and teachers agree that social distancing won’t be easy for kids. Just as 68% of parents said their child would find it difficult to follow social distancing guidelines, 87% of teachers said its likely they will have difficulty enforcing social distancing. The majority of teachers plan to wear masks and the majority of parents plan to have their kids wear masks.

We may see a wave of retirement in the coming months, the surveys suggest, as teachers report working longer hours than they did before. Even fewer teachers believe they are paid fairly compared to the time before COVID-19. One in five teachers say they would leave their job if schools reopen, including 25% of teachers over the age of 55.

Related: ATPE wants to hear from you! Educators are invited to take our COVID-19 Educator Impact Survey between now and June 3, 2020. Find out more here.

From SXSW EDU: Growth mindset holds promise in education

When SXSW EDU was cancelled back in March 2020, those in the education community were disappointed to miss out on a week-long learning adventure in Austin, Texas. The annual event brings together masses of educators for a huge education conference that often brings about innovative and forward-thinking ideas. On May 5, by special invitation, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier attended the rescheduled and now-virtual SXSW EDU 2020 keynote address on growth mindset in education entitled “A Science of Human Motivation for the Next Decade.” Here are some takeaways from the event:

Keynote speaker Dr. Carol Dweck is a psychologist and professor at Stanford University. She is a pioneer in mindset research, who explains that growth vs. fixed mindset is about the differing beliefs that our talents and abilities are either static or can be developed. Having a growth mindset impacts peoples’ ability to accept challenges and learn, which is crucial for students and for our future workforce. Data show that students with a growth mindset have better academic outcomes, including in reading. Interventions with students to foster a growth mindset can lead to these results, but such interventions can be costly and labor-intensive. Furthermore, teachers must also have a growth mindset in order for growth mindset interventions to work.

Dr. Mary Murphy is a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University. She explained in her SXSW EDU remarks that those in power, such as teachers and professors, are “culture-creators” and the “setters” of mindsets. Students who believe their professors or teachers ascribe to certain stereotypes (e.g. “Asians are good at math,” or “women are bad at science”) become subject to “stereotype threat,” which causes under-performance of the negatively stereotyped group. For instance, a study of STEM college courses revealed that professors with a fixed mindset doubled the achievement gap between their white and black students.

Murphy explained that mindsets can be communicated through language and other cues. A teacher with a fixed mindset might say to a student, “It’s okay. You’re just not a math person.” On the other hand, a teacher with a growth mindset might say, “Mistakes are opportunities to learn.” True growth mindset classrooms involve growth of the teacher as well as of the student, and they are not any less rigorous than other types of classrooms as they involve plenty of critical feedback and opportunities for improvement.

Dr. David Yeager, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, talked about growing growth mindset teachers. He built upon Murphy’s explanation of the importance of teacher language and shared about a study that involved providing growth-mindset language to students. Students who had a note on their assignment that said, “I’m giving you these comments because I have high standards and know you can meet them,” demonstrated reduced racialized gaps in performance. Yeager warned against using false growth mindset language, such as simply encouraging students to “try harder” without showing them a path or providing help.

Learning about growth mindset and implementing practices related to growth mindset are possible for adults as well as students. In fact, as we have seen from the research, a student learning to adopt a growth mindset could be zapped of the benefits if adults in the room have a fixed mindset. During the coronavirus pandemic, many teachers have found new ways to implement growth mindset techniques, such as virtual office hours and increased opportunities to give students ownership over their work and the content (e.g. recorded video lessons that students can pause and rewind and repeat).

As an association supporting the state’s largest community of educators who are dedicated to elevating public education in Texas, ATPE has long advocated for laws and policies that will position our members to inspire student success. A major piece of our work involves developing Texas’ future education workforce. ATPE strongly supports educator preparation that requires comprehensive pedagogical training and includes research-based strategies, one example of which would be fostering growth mindsets. For those already in the profession, ATPE supports quality professional development to continue the growth and learning of all personnel.

Learn more about SXSW EDU Online here.

ATPE continues advocacy for Master Teacher fix

While it is not uncommon for Texas teaching certificates to come and go as they keep up with the needs of an evolving education system, the legislature’s abrupt decision in 2019 to eliminate prestigious Master Teacher certificates caught many by surprise. To address this issue, ATPE’s lobbyists have been working diligently with state leaders and officials to ensure that the expertise and value of Master Teacher certificate holders is upheld.

Under House Bill (HB) 3 passed by the 86th Texas legislature in 2019, Master Teacher certificates can no longer be issued or renewed, effective September 1, 2019. The bill also repealed the authorizing statutes for those Master Teacher certificates, which were offered in Reading, Mathematics, Science, and Technology, essentially wiping them from existence. Master Teacher certificate holders will now find their certificates marked with a “legacy” notation, as designated by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC).

This change has left many of our state’s nearly 5,000 Master Teachers perplexed as to the status of their certificates and their teaching assignment prospects. Once their Master Teacher certificate expires, will they be able to continue teaching in their current position? Take the popular Master Reading Teacher certificate as an example (82% of Master Teachers hold this certificate). First issued in 2001, this certificate was designed for those who wanted to go above and beyond – only obtainable by educators who had already been teaching on a standard certificate. Because the certificate is EC-12, in some cases it allows an educator to obtain a teaching assignment for which they wouldn’t otherwise be eligible if they held only their underlying standard certificate. Teachers in this situation who want to maintain their current assignments must either pay to take a test for earning an appropriate credential, request permission to remain in their assignment on an expired certificate, or find another job.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifies before SBEC, Dec. 6, 2019

ATPE has been working with SBEC, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), members of the legislature, and state leaders to remedy this issue for several months. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier submitted written testimony at an SBEC meeting on October 4, 2019, written and oral testimony at the December 6, 2019 SBEC meeting, and written and oral testimony at the February 21, 2020 SBEC meeting. ATPE also submitted public comments on the rule review of Chapter 239, Student Services Certificates, which is where the original Master Teacher certificates were housed in the Texas Administrative Code.

These efforts have led to important developments, including a letter of intent being shared by House Public Education Committee chairman and HB 3 author Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) and a decision to add a discussion item to the agenda for an upcoming SBEC meeting on May 1, 2020, aimed at finding solutions to the Master Teacher issue. (The May 1 SBEC meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. and will be broadcast here. ATPE will also provide updates on the meeting here on our Teach the Vote blog.)

In unexpectedly dramatic fashion, Chairman Huberty’s letter in response to ATPE’s advocacy was delivered into SBEC members’ hands as ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier was delivering her testimony on the Master Teachers issue during the February SBEC meeting. The letter stated that the intent of the elimination of the Master Teacher certificates was to avoid naming confusion with the newly created “master teacher” designations under the state’s new Teacher Incentive Allotment, also included in HB 3.

“Our intent was never to abandon the expertise of these highly trained educators,” Huberty wrote in the letter. “Holders of legacy master teacher certificates should be entitled to maintain their existing assignments without interruption, additional cost, or the need to seek additional certifications.”

Responding to the requests from ATPE and the letter from Chairman Huberty, SBEC members voted to create a separate agenda item for the May SBEC meeting to discuss options for Master Teacher certificate holders. ATPE has also sent a letter letter to Gov. Greg Abbott expressing our appreciation for his interest in the issue.

Master Teacher certificate holders underwent time-intensive, rigorous, and often costly educator preparation programs in order to receive this extra credential. Their roles are content-specific and include teacher mentoring duties as they support the other professionals on their campus. Master Teachers are also highly educated, with 67% having either a master’s or doctorate degree. In many cases, the Master Teacher certificates (especially the Master Reading Teacher certificate) are highly prized, and at least in the early days of the certificate, were accompanied by stipends. Furthermore, Master Reading Teachers’ focus on literacy is crucial to the reading success of the state and is directly related to many of the aims of HB 3.

As this issue progresses, ATPE will continue to work carefully to preserve the hard work and expertise of Master Teacher certificate holders and share updates here on our advocacy blog.

Another poll shows strong support for public education

On the heels of a voter survey conducted by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune regarding state funding for public education (republished on Teach the Vote here), the Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) Foundation has also released a new statewide poll this week about Texans’ attitudes toward public education. Both polls show support for public schools and educators with a desire for increased funding of public education.

The RYHT Foundation poll found that 77 percent of Texans express trust and confidence in their teachers, and 70 percent believe that teacher pay is too low. The poll also showed that 60 percent of the Texans responding were concerned that our state’s standardized tests may not effectively measure student learning. Half the respondents said they were not confident that Texas’s “A through F” accountability grading system accurately represents school quality. The poll also asked respondents about the top challenges they believe teachers are facing, the biggest problems affecting the public schools in their communities, and what their feelings are about wraparound supports for students, such as mental health services.

In a press release from RYHT, Foundation President Shari Albright said, “We’re pleased to be the first organization in the country to commit to an annual statewide poll about public education issues.” Albright added, “We thought it important to provide this service to Texans on an annual basis, both to understand the challenges and help find ways to improve our public schools.”

Read complete results and additional information about the new RYHT Foundation poll here.

Educator resources for Holocaust Remembrance Week and related legislation

Hamburg classroom in 1933

First grade pupils study in a classroom in a public school in Hamburg, Germany, June 1933. Jewish pupil Eva Rosenbaum (with the white collar) is seated in the center desk on the right. On Dec. 12, 1938, Eva left for England on the second Kindertransport. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Eva Rosenbaum Abraham-Podietz. Photo sourced from the USHMM Website.

For those of us who are old enough, we may have heard stories from our grandparents or parents about the unimaginable death and sadness of the Holocaust. My grandfather was a Belgian paratrooper for the Allies and told us painful, often angry accounts of his time before and during service. I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. a couple of summers ago. While I traversed the permanent exhibit, I came across photos and descriptions of teachers who had lost their lives due to their profession, which had become politicized, and due to their commitment to their students, often taking great risks to hide children. As a former teacher, this hit home particularly hard. While we mourn the victims of this tragic time in our past, it is important that our students know the significance of the Holocaust as we say, “Never again.”

This week in Washington, DC, the U.S. House passed H.R. 943, referred to as the “Never Again Education Act” to provide grants and resources for Holocaust education programs. The legislation by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) has numerous bipartisan co-sponsors, including the following members of the Texas Congressional delegation: Reps. Colin Allred (D), Brian Babin (R), Joaquin Castro (D), Dan Crenshaw (R), Henry Cuellar (D), Lizzie Fletcher (D), Bill Flores (R), Sylvia Garcia (D), Vicente Gonzalez (D), Lance Gooden (R), Kay Granger (R), Will Hurd (R), Sheila Jackson Lee (D), Kenny Marchant (R), Michael McCaul (R), Pete Olson (R), Van Taylor (R), Marc Veasey (D), Filemon Vela, Jr. (D), Randy Weber (R), Roger Williams (R), and Ron Wright (R). ATPE members can follow this bill’s progress on Advocacy Central.

In 2019, the 86th Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1828 by Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), which directs the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) to provide materials for a statewide Holocaust Remembrance Week, beginning with this school year (2019-2020). Governor Greg Abbott (R) chose this week of Jan. 27-31, 2020, for Texas to observe Holocaust Remembrance Week, due to January 27th’s significance as International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the day that the most infamous concentration camp, Auschwitz, was liberated by Allied troops.

As also featured on the ATPE blog, the THGC has listed Holocaust Remembrance Week resources on its web page for this week and future Holocaust Remembrance Weeks. Additionally, Texas is home to several Holocaust Museums:

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website also has several resources specifically for teachers, students, and an online exhibition.

Texas enrollment in ed prep programs is up, completion is down

A new report released by the Center for American Progress, an independent, nonpartisan policy institute, provides an analysis of the enrollment and completion decline impacting educator preparation programs (EPPs) nationwide, as well as a special inside look at what California and Texas are doing to address this issue.

In Texas, more aspiring teachers are enrolling in EPPs but fewer candidates are completing them.

From 2010 to 2018, EPPs experienced a nationwide decline in enrollment and program completion. Despite this trend, Texas saw just under a 10 percent increase in enrollment from 2010 to 2018. This was due to massive gains in the non-IHE (institution of higher education) alternative certification industry, which grew by nearly 30,000 students.

Source: Center for American Progress.

Texas’s increase in enrollment was not met with a matched increase in completion. In fact, EPP completion in Texas declined more than 15 percent during the 2010-2018 time period. Furthermore, the percentage change from 2010 to 2018 in completion rates for non-IHE alternative programs is only slightly above 0%, which means that even though these programs enroll the most students, they are getting demonstrably worse at helping them reach the finish line.

The enrollment boom in Texas can be attributed to the largest non-IHE alternative certification program: Texas Teachers of Tomorrow, formerly known as A+ Texas Teachers. But enrollment and completion numbers simply don’t match up, according to the report. The authors point to the model of the for-profit Texas Teachers program, which requires a small fee upfront and then thousands of dollars from future paychecks. As noted in the report, the Texas Teachers program is entirely online and self-paced.

Source: Center for American Progress.

In contrast to Texas, California has experienced proportional declines in enrollment and completion across all program types. California has far fewer alternative certification programs and has implemented policies to improve teacher preparation and retention. These efforts include teaching residencies, a required state-approved induction program, stipends for teachers in high-needs schools, and university partnerships with STEM organizations and nonprofits to aid in the recruitment of math and science teachers.

These findings regarding educator preparation are crucial to keep in mind as we address teacher recruitment and retention in Texas, which has long been an ATPE legislative priority. Texas has incubated a pathway to teaching that despite its popularity may be associated with lower outcomes with respect to long-term employment opportunities, considering that teachers trained in alternative certification programs in Texas have a lower retention rate than those from traditional EPPs, at 65.8 percent compared to 75.2 percent according to the Texas Education Agency. The increased funding for teacher compensation in this year’s House Bill 3 was necessary for current teachers, but there is no pay raise that can turn an under-prepared teacher into an effective teacher. It remains important for Texas policymakers to ensure that new teachers are prepared to face the rigors of the classroom, whether they have chosen a traditional route to teaching or an alternative route in which so much of their training takes place online. Additionally, improving recruitment into traditional teacher training programs, which could start as early as high school, is a shift that must happen to generate a well-prepared, lasting educator workforce.

Here are some of the other highlights of the report regarding nationwide trends:

What is the extent of the 2010-2018 decline?

  • More than one-third fewer students enrolled in EPPs.
  • There was a 28 percent decline in program completion.

Is the decline consistent across race, gender, and academic discipline?

  • Male, and Black, Latinx, and indigenous teacher candidates experienced steeper enrollment declines.
  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and special education subjects experienced completion declines.

Were there any cases of increase in enrollment and/or completion, despite the overall decline?

  • Non-IHE alternative certification programs experienced an enrollment increase of 42 percent, which was driven mostly by Texas.
  • There was a 30 percent increase in completion for credentials relating to teaching English-language learners or bilingual education.

What policy recommendations can we take away from these findings?

  • The federal government should use Title II reporting to collect data that can be used to generate more specific information about the decline in order to target policy.
  • States should improve data collection and reporting on teacher supply and demand to develop specific solutions.
  • States should approach non-IHE alternative certification programs, and particularly those operating as for-profit programs, with a critical eye.

New School Year, New Laws: Mentoring, Training, and Professional Support

Thank you for joining us on Teach the Vote to learn more about how the bills passed during the 2019 legislative session will impact the Texas public education system. So far, we have looked into changes made to laws governing student discipline, school safety, curriculum and instruction, assessment, and special education. In this week’s “New School Year, New Laws” post, we will talk about something just for educators – professional opportunities.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Mentor teacher program

HB 3, the multi-billion dollar school finance bill passed this session, included a mentor program allotment and an updated mentor teacher program. The allotment will provide funds to school districts that are implementing a mentor teacher program for educators with less than two years of experience. This allotment will help districts provide stipends to mentor teachers, schedule release time for mentors and their “mentees,” and fund mentor training.

Under the requirements of the bill, a mentor teacher must agree to serve in that role for at least one school year and must start their assignment no later than 30 days after their mentee begins teaching. Additionally, districts must assign a mentor to a new classroom teacher for at least two years. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will adopt rules to specify how many mentees can be assigned to a mentor.

The qualifications for serving as a mentor teacher are much the same as they were under previous law. For example, mentors must complete certain mentor training and have at least three full years of teaching experience. HB 3 adds that, to serve as a mentor, a teacher must also demonstrate interpersonal skills, instructional effectiveness, and leadership skills. Lastly, mentors must meet with their mentees at least 12 hours per semester, which can include time the mentor spends observing the mentee. During these meetings, HB 3 outlines specific conversation topics such as orientation to the district, data-driven instructional practices, coaching cycles, professional development, and professional expectations.

Districts are required to provide mentor training and training on best mentorship practices before and during the school year. Districts are also required to designate mentor-mentee meeting times and schedule release time or a reduced teaching load for mentors and their mentees.

This provision of HB 3 took effect immediately upon the final passage of the bill.

HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Autism training

HB 3 allows school districts and charter schools to provide financial incentives to teachers who complete training through an education service center (ESC) on serving students with autism.

This provision also became effective immediately.

HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Teacher literacy achievement academies

HB 3 includes a focus on improving reading instruction for students in kindergarten through third grades. By the 2021-22 school year, districts must ensure that each classroom teacher in grades K-3 and each principal at a campus with grades K-3 has attended a teacher literacy achievement academy. Created in 2015 by the 84th Texas legislature, teacher literacy achievement academies are targeted professional development opportunities to enhance instruction, especially for special populations. Additionally, HB 3 now requires that each K-3 teacher or principal must have attended a teacher literacy achievement academy before their first year of placement at a campus in the 2021-22 school year.

Current law regarding teacher literacy achievement academies states that, from funds appropriated, teachers who attend an academy are entitled to receive a stipend in an amount determined by the Commissioner from funds appropriated by the legislature for the program. The academies have been funded through the appropriations process since their inception, and this program will receive $9 million over the next biennium.

This provision of HB 3 also took effect immediately.

Senate Bill (SB) 1757 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe): Math and science scholars loan repayment

Under previous law, the math and science scholars loan repayment program was open to teachers who met the following criteria: they completed an undergraduate or graduate program in math or science; are certified to teach math or science (or on a probationary certificate); have been employed as a full-time math or science teacher in a Title I school for at least one year; are U.S. citizens; are not in default on any other education loan; and have not received or are not receiving any other state or federal loan repayment assistance. Additionally, the teacher must have had a cumulative GPA of 3.5. Under SB 1757, this GPA requirement is lowered to 3.0 for the loan repayment program.

The teacher must also enter into an agreement with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to complete four consecutive years of employment as a full-time classroom math or science teacher in a Title I school. Under previous law, the teacher also had to commit to an additional four years teaching in any public school, though not necessarily a Title I school. SB 1757 changes this requirement to allow the THECB to determine how many additional, non-Title I school years (not to exceed four) a teacher must teach.

Also, SB 1757 now allows student loan repayment assistance for education taking place at a nonprofit, tax-exempt, regionally accredited college or university. This bill was effective Sept. 1, 2019.

SB 37 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo): Student loan default

If you’ve ever renewed your teaching certificate, you might have noticed that the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) can deny your renewal if you are in default on a student loan. SB 37 changes the law so that SBEC is prohibited from considering student loan status. This law took effect Sept. 1, 2019. However, SBEC still has to change its own administrative rules regarding student loan default and certificate renewal requirements. The board will discuss this at the next SBEC meeting on Oct. 4, 2019. Follow us on Twitter and check back on our Teach the Vote blog for updates about this meeting


In next week’s installment of our “New School Year, New Laws” blog series, we will discuss professional responsibilities, such as recent changes that were made to educator misconduct and reporting laws.

For more information on laws impacting educators, be sure to read the new report from the ATPE Member Legal Services staff, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature.”

Texans in Congress cosponsor federal bill to double teachers’ tax deduction

There is good news to report from the nation’s capital, as some members of Congress are looking to double a popular tax deduction that benefits educators. H.R. 878, the Educators Expense Deduction Modernization Act, was filed by Democratic Congressman Anthony Brown of Maryland and has garnered support from some members of the Texas delegation.

The bill as filed would allow teachers to deduct up to $500 from their federal taxes (instead of $250 under current law) for any classroom supplies that they purchase. The permanent tax deduction also would be adjusted for inflation.

The following Texans have signed on as cosponsors of H.R. 878:

  • Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-018)
  • Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX-030)
  • Rep. Filemon Vela, Jr. (D-TX-034)
  • Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-015)
  • Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX-23)

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX-23)

In signing on to become a cosponsor of H.R. 878 today, Texas Congressman Will Hurd appears to be the first member of the Republican party to do so nationwide. Hurd issued a press release lauding the bill and noting ATPE’s support for it.  “There’s no good reason why our teachers should pay out of their own pockets for the resources needed to do their jobs, which is why I’m proud to cosponsor this bill today,” said Rep. Hurd.

ATPE recognizes that many of our members routinely spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars out of their own pockets to help provide students with the supplies they need to thrive in the classroom. We appreciate those among our Congressional delegation who are supporting this bill to help give teachers additional, modest tax relief, and we hope that other members of our delegation will join the bipartisan effort. View ATPE’s press release about the federal tax deduction legislation here.