Tag Archives: mentoring

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 6, 2019

We hope you had a great Thanksgiving break. Here is this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team!

ELECTION UPDATE: A runoff election date of Jan. 28, 2020, has been set for special elections in House Districts 28, 100, and 148. If you live in one of those districts, you may vote in the runoff election regardless of whether or not you voted in the original special election on Nov. 5. Check to see if you are registered to vote here as the deadline to register for the special election runoff is Dec. 29, 2019. Early voting in these three districts begins Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.

If you do not live in one of the House districts listed above, your next opportunity to vote will be the Texas primary elections on March 3, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, 2020! Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to get involved, find activities you can do to drive more participation in elections, and sign up for voting updates.

The candidate filing period for those seeking a place on the ballot in 2020 opened last month and will end on Monday. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote in the coming weeks as we update our website to include profiles of all the candidates vying for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education. Read more election news in this week’s election roundup post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Do you know how your state representative or senator voted on education bills this past legislative session? ATPE’s lobbyists have carefully hand-picked key education votes from the 86th legislative session and uploaded them to all state legislators’ profiles on our Teach the Vote website for your review.

This collection of recorded votes aims to help Texans find out how their own lawmakers voted on major public education issues and ATPE’s legislative priorities in 2019. Use our search page to gain insight into incumbents’ views on public education. Share the information with your friends and family, too, to help inform decisions at the polls during the critical 2020 election cycle. Also, read our recent blog posts to learn more about which education bills are featured and takeaways for using the information contained in our record votes compilation.

Do you have something to say about public education in Texas? Tell us about it in our short, three-question survey. This survey is meant to gather ATPE members’ opinions on education issues, including results of the last legislative session. Don’t worry if you didn’t follow the session too closely, as the ATPE lobby team still wants to hear from you so that we can best represent your voice at the Texas Capitol. Take our “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. Call the ATPE Member Services department at (800) 777-2873 if you’ve forgotten your password for logging into Advocacy Central.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has released another video in its “HB 3 in 30” series explaining the many aspects of the 86th Legislature’s omnibus school finance bill House Bill (HB) 3.

This week’s video explains the new, optional, Mentor Program Allotment which provides funding for districts who have, or implement, a mentor program that meet certain programmatic requirements. ATPE has long advocated for state funded mentoring programs for all new teachers as a way to curb the high cost of teacher turnover as well as support and improve teachers and teaching practice.

Find all of the HB 3 in 30 videos here, along with related presentations.

On Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) held its final meeting of the year. The board discussed several items, including data from the new teacher and principal surveys, the addition of educational aide to the list of certificates high school students can obtain, and other changes to implement numerous bills from recent legislative sessions. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier provided testimony during the meeting asking the board to create a pathway for Master Reading Teachers to retain their teaching assignments once their Legacy Master Teacher certificates expire under HB 3. Look for a post by Andrea in the coming days about today’s SBEC meeting and watch video of her testimony here (located at the 41:00 mark on the archived broadcast).

Part one of the STAAR readability study mandated by House Bill 3 was released on Dec. 2, 2019. The study was conducted by the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at the University of Texas at Austin. The 30-page report generally found that STAAR test passages are mostly at an appropriate level of readability, but was inconclusive regarding if individual questions were “readable” at grade-level or below. Additionally, the study leaves many questions unanswered regarding the measures used to determine readability. Read an analysis of the report by ATPE lobbyist Andrea Chevalier here.

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.”

ATPE and others testify on school finance commission recommendations

This week, the House Public Education Committee received feedback from various stakeholders regarding recommendations of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Tuesday and Wednesday, committee members heard testimony from panels including three former House Public Education Committee chairs, superintendents, trustees, teachers, and representatives of education associations. Rural, suburban, and urban districts were represented, as well as charter and traditional public schools.

The overwhelming majority of testifiers expressed support for the commission’s recommended increase in the spectrum weight and the dual language weight. These would help create equity by funding certain student populations at higher levels. Most witnesses also commended the commission’s recommendation to fund early childhood education, but were concerned with its sustainability and with tying it to third-grade reading scores.

Among the concerns commonly expressed by stakeholders was outcomes-based funding. District leaders said they would like  local flexibility in implementing merit-based, outcomes-based, or performance-based funding mechanisms for their teachers. Apprehension with outcomes-based funding derived from mistrust or lack of confidence in the current assessment system’s ability to accurately capture student learning. In fact, an equal proportion of Tuesday’s discussions seemed to focus on assessment as on school finance. Some leaders expressed that tying funding to tests would reinforce teaching-to-the-test, and some stakeholders suggested that base teacher pay be addressed before additional incentive mechanisms.

Stakeholders representing small and midsize districts (up to 5,000 students) also expressed concern with the commission’s recommendation to move the small and midsize funding adjustment out of formula, which could alter funding to these special student populations, affecting the districts’ ability to meet federal obligations for financial maintenance of effort under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Overall, stakeholders also expressed concerns with any funding changes that were not part of the base formula, given that similar funding approaches in the past have been less reliable. An example cited was Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) funding under House Bill (HB) 4 of 2015, which created an optional grant program should districts decide to offer high-quality Pre-K. Another potential funding change discussed this week was the Cost of Education Index (CEI). While some testified that they were uncomfortable with the idea of the CEI being eliminated, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) reiterated his intent for definite removal of the CEI in any school finance overhaul this session.

While this week’s testimony nearly always touched on teacher compensation, an important aspect of teaching beyond pay arose in the conversations: mentoring. A few witnesses expressed that the best first-year investment is a mentor teacher and that having mentor teachers is another way to provide extra compensation. Special education is another topic that came up during the hours of testimony, even though it was not widely broached by the commission last year other than through a discussion of funding for dyslexia. In testimony, several special education advocates suggested revamping the way special education is funded, which is currently done by placement rather than services. Chairman Huberty was favorable to the ideas presented.

Monty Exter

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, was last to testify Wednesday evening. He shared that ATPE supports the commission’s recommended changes to the weights, local flexibility in spending weighted dollars, and increases to the basic allotment. He expressed concerns with outcomes-based funding and suggested an adequate base increase for teachers and others on the education team first. Exter also offered that inputs should be incentivized as well, in a similar way to how high-quality Pre-K was incentivized through the HB 4 grant program. Lastly, Exter testified that teacher quality is related to educator preparation, another topic that cannot be forgotten when discussing increasing teacher effectiveness.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 30, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:

During the final interim meeting of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, lawmakers discussed mandate relief and innovation, the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program, and educator misconduct. Members of a working group of policy stakeholders, which included ATPE, agreed to send 20 recommendations to be considered during the 86th legislative session next year. ATPE member Aletha Williams testified on the need for mentors in the teaching profession in order to help retain employees. The committee also discussed implementation of Senate Bill (SB) 7, an educator misconduct bill passed last session, and discussed the possibility of creating a “Do Not Hire Registry”  for educators who have previously engaged in misconduct. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provides more information in this blog post.


School finance commission working group meeting, Nov. 27, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenue met Tuesday to finalize its recommendations before they’re presented to the full commission. The group debated the merits of recapture, often referred to more commonly as “Robin Hood,” the mechanism by which the state redistributes funds from property-rich districts to property-poor districts. While Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who chairs the group, expressed his desire to do away with recapture, others such as Rep. Diego Bernal (D -San Antonio) and Rep. Ken King (R – Canadian) questioned how equity could be preserved without the program or how Texas could implement a “sharing” system among recaptured funds. Ultimately the working group voted to advance the governor’s tax cap plan, which would increase funding for schools that improve outcomes and cap property tax growth at 2.5 percent, as well as Bettencourt’s recapture “sharing” plan to the full commission.

The full commission is meeting today and will meet at least twice more in December to receive recommendations from the working groups and finalize its report to the legislature. A more detailed account of Tuesday’s meeting can be found in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

According to data from the Texas Secretary of State, more than 7 million registered voters in the state did not participate in the midterm elections earlier this month. Members of the Texas Educators Vote coalition, including ATPE, are working to change that.The group aims to create a culture of voting in schools and communities and demonstrate how rewarding and easy it can be to for ordinary people to perform their civic duty. You can help their efforts by participating in this voter registration survey that asks educators to share details on their involvement in get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts and, specifically, efforts to help eligible students become registered to vote. The survey provides information to the Texas Civil Rights Project, which creates a map of high schools where students are registered to vote. Submissions must be completed by 5 pm on Friday, December 7.


ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann and GR Director Jennifer Mitchell met with visiting education experts from Armenia on Nov. 30, 2019, at the ATPE state office.

Members of the ATPE lobby team had the privilege of meeting today with a delegation from Armenia to discuss education issues, including school funding, recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, and the role of educator associations in advancing the education profession.

The group is visiting the United States as part of the U.S. State Department’s Visitor Leadership Program, which fosters citizen-to-citizen diplomacy for emerging leaders and coordinates opportunities for cross-cultural sharing between dignitaries from over 90 countries. The program was formed shortly after WWII and boasts such famous alumni as Tony Blair, Anwar Sadat, Margaret Thatcher, Nicolas Sarkozy, Indira Gandhi, and others.

During their visit to Texas, the education experts from Armenia also met with representatives of the Texas Education Agency and visited local schools. Other cities they will visit during their trip to the U.S. include San Antonio, plus Pensacola, Florida, Cleveland, Ohio, Boston, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC. Representing ATPE during today’s meeting were Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell and lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann.


12 Days of Voting: State Board of Education

Early voting is underway NOW for the November 6 elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote TODAY! In this post, we’re taking a closer look at the State Board of Education (SBOE).

The SBOE doesn’t usually make the news unless it’s because of a political fight over textbooks or controversial changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) dealing with subjects like the Alamo or evolution.

Not that these things aren’t important, but they overshadow other significant work that the board undertakes at its quarterly meetings in Austin.

Here’s a great example:

In its most recent meeting, SBOE members unveiled their long-awaited Long-Range Plan for Public Education, the result of more than a year of soliciting stakeholder feedback and holding community meetings to chart a course for the next 30 years of public education in Texas.

Some of the plan’s recommendations include boosting mentorship programs, tightening up the standards for educator preparation programs (EPPs), and improving wraparound supports for children facing a variety of challenging home situations. The board has listened to educators at every step of the way, and the result is a plan that aims to lift up the education profession.

At the very same meeting, the board spiked a dangerous certification rule proposal opposed by ATPE that would have created a backdoor for underqualified teacher candidates. The board also unanimously acted to restore nearly a half billion dollars in school funding being held back by the General Land Office (GLO).

Oh, and about those TEKS discussions: SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich (R-The Woodlands) recently led the board in a redesign of the TEKS review process intended to allow more educators to participate in the process. So if you are an expert in the field and would like to be involved in crafting and streamlining the curriculum, your chances of getting the opportunity are greater than ever.

None of these positive outcomes would have been possible if SBOE members were not willing to listen to what educators have to say. That’s why electing pro-public education candidates to the SBOE is important to guide this important institution going forward.

Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on this and other public education issues.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting and making informed choices at the polls. While it is illegal to use school district resources (like your work e-mail) to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, there is NO prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 general election runs Monday, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

Senate committees meet to study college readiness, teacher pipeline

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.

ThinkstockPhotos-178456596_teacherThe 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.

ATPE expresses concern over teacher evaluation plans during House committee hearing

The House Public Education Committee held an interim hearing yesterday, May 14, to discuss the state’s new plans for teacher and principal evaluations and other issues relating to teacher quality. The Speaker of the House asked the committee to study these issues during the interim.

Yesterday’s hearing consisted of four panels of invited witnesses, followed by public testimony from several stakeholders, including ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe. Stoebe served on a steering committee of teachers appointed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to give feedback on the new evaluation system and proposed teaching standards. Read more about the steering committee’s work and the state’s plans for the new evaluation system in the upcoming Summer 2014 issue of ATPE News.

The first panel of invited witnesses yesterday consisted of teachers and principals who shared their experiences with innovative instructional practices, such as using flipped classrooms. For the second panel, former Commissioner of Education Jim Nelson appeared on behalf of the Texas Teaching Commission. He explained the commission’s 2012 study of issues relating to the teaching profession and noted that most of the time was spent discussing teacher evaluation and compensation. Representatives of the state’s four largest teacher groups who initially served on the commission withdrew from it in late 2012 because they could not support directions being taken by the commission on several issues, including evaluation. Nelson testified that commission members believe student growth should make up more than 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

Representatives from TEA made up the third panel. Michele Moore, Associate Commissioner for Educator Leadership and Quality, and TEA Deputy General Counsel Von Byer were there to provide updates on teacher quality initiatives and explain the new teacher and principal evaluation system developed by TEA. Legislators on the committee expressed concern regarding the timeline for implementation of the system, which calls for piloting in the 2014-15 school year and full statewide implementation in 2015. TEA staff acknowledged that without a special session, the Texas Legislature would have to change state law to require statewide implementation prior to receiving feedback from the pilot study. TEA also confirmed that the value added-portion of the new evaluation system as proposed will not even be completed until mid-June.

ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday testified as part of the fourth panel along with representatives of TCTA, Texas AFT and TSTA. All four invited witnesses stressed concern over TEA’s decision to include a value-added measure at the individual teacher level in the new evaluation plans. Each of the panelists pointed to an abundance of research suggesting VAM is an inaccurate measure of teacher performance for purposes of high-stakes employment decisions. Due to this research, Canaday conveyed that  ATPE had suggested to Commissioner of Education Michael Williams that VAM be used only at the campus level or higher for evaluation purposes, as opposed to the individual teacher or classroom level.

Canaday also explained how the design of the new evaluation system had been dictated by the terms of an NCLB waiver that Texas has been trying to secure from the U.S. Department of Education. In a letter sent to House Public Education committee members on the eve of the hearing, Commissioner Williams insisted that the NCLB waiver was not the reason for the evaluation changes. However, as Canaday explained to legislators yesterday, the federal government, through Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has demanded that student growth make up at least 20 percent of teacher evaluations and has used the NCLB waiver process as a means of forcing states to adopt controversial reforms, such as tying teacher evaluations to test scores or adopting the Common Core national curriculum.

All members of the panel of teacher group advocates encouraged TEA to continue to negotiate with the U.S. Department of Education and seek an extended timeline in which to work. At minimum, an additional year is needed before statewide implementation so that any data or feedback from the pilot year can be incorporated and changes made where necessary. “We should tell Secretary Duncan that we are Texas and we have 5 million students and we want to get this right,” Canaday told the committee. “We need to be negotiating from a position of strength and asking for an extension of time or different parameters.” Canaday also pointed out that parents would never tolerate the use of controversial VAM methods, which she likened to “secret statistical voodoo” in some instances, to make high-stakes decisions about students, such as determining their class rank or course grades. “If VAM is not good enough for students, why are we insisting that it be used on teachers?” she asked rhetorically.

Additionally, Canaday reiterated ATPE’s belief that in order to improve the profession and better recruit and retain teachers we should raise standards to enter the profession, offer all new teachers mentoring opportunities, pay teachers more professionally and give them career advancement opportunities that don’t necessarily require them to leave the classroom. She also told members about the TELL Texas survey on teachers’ working conditions, which is taking place now and has the potential to generate valuable data that can assist us with teacher retention efforts and improving student achievement without the use of test scores. Canaday urged legislators on the committee to follow up with school leaders back in their districts to encourage full participation in the TELL Texas survey, which ends May 31.

View an archived broadcast of the full hearing here.

Senate Congressional hearing on teacher preparation

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing March 25 to discuss “Teacher Preparation: Ensuring a Quality Teacher in Every Classroom.” The hearing was the seventh in a series of hearings focused on efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). A panel of five professionals from academia, government and the education field offered opinions during the hearing on best practices for teacher preparation programs and how the federal government can help build success.

A common theme among the panelists is nothing new to the Committee: reduce and streamline reporting requirements. The panelists wish to see federal reporting—as it pertains to the teacher preparation and teachers in the profession—that results in meaningful data which can be used by states, districts and professionals to better understand and improve teacher preparation and support.

The hearing touched on a myriad of topics. The Senators present at the hearing asked questions pertaining to mentoring efforts, training for the diverse classrooms teachers currently teach in, program accreditation and more. The full hearing can be viewed here. And be sure to check out ATPE’s written testimony, which was submitted to the committee in response to the hearing.

We want to know what you think. What sort of teacher preparation and training efforts were most influential for you as you began your career? What support has helped you most as you strive to become a more effective teacher? What do you think the federal government, state government and districts should focus on to make you an even better educator?

Congressional hearing discusses teacher preparedness and training

On Feb. 27, the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training met in a joint hearing entitled “Exploring Efforts to Strengthen the Teaching Profession.”

The discussion was driven by a panel of four witnesses representing teacher preparation programs and efforts throughout the nation. They discussed elements of their respective programs and how those can be duplicated or utilized. They also offered views on how the federal government and states can be useful in strengthening teacher training, support and certification.

There was consensus among the panelists on many topics. Some of those include:

  • The necessity of a mentor for new teachers. Rhode Island assigns a teacher/coach to every new teacher to serve as a trusted adviser who is there to provide support but not evaluate.
  • The need for a diverse workforce of teachers equipped to address the diverse settings in which they teach.
  •  A desire to see reporting requirements at the federal level significantly reduced and improved so that the data collected is useful to states and programs in accomplishing their teacher preparation goals.
  • Encouraging a more innovative and collaborative approach to preparing teachers for the workforce. This includes collaboration of all available resources: higher education, districts, schools, teachers and etc.
  • The importance of ample and meaningful clinical training that exposes potential teachers to the varying types of schools and settings they will encounter.

The panel was also asked about the use of high stakes testing to measure how well a training program prepares teachers for the field. While one panelist said such tests are too inconsistent and unstable to use as a valid measurement, the others felt they could be used to an extent. They agreed that test scores should be used carefully and among multiple measures. One panelist added that her program uses a composite of student achievement over three years as a part of an overall assessment of teacher preparedness.

There was also a varying degree of support for differentiated pay as a tool to better recruit and retain teachers of different fields – particularly mathematics and science teachers due to the significant pay gap between using their expertise as a teacher versus another industry. The panelists felt differentiated pay could be useful but that it would need to be used carefully. One panelist stressed how cautious a state should move forward with such a plan in order to prevent other critical teachers from being underpaid or undervalued. The panelists all agreed that raising teacher compensation would improve teacher recruitment and retention.

ATPE submitted written testimony to the subcommittees in response to the hearing. Our testimony addresses policy recommendations for both the federal and state governments on strengthening the teaching profession. View our written comments here.

Vote for candidates who will raise the standards for becoming a teacher in Texas

This is the fourth post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: Of all school-based factors that affect student success, research shows that teacher quality is the most important. Despite pioneering the national accountability movement, Texas has lagged behind other states in terms of standards for becoming a teacher. Early on, state leaders embraced the concept of alternative certification pathways, but they failed to take necessary steps to ensure that all educators, regardless of how they become teachers in Texas, have the necessary content knowledge and foundational skills to be effective. In other words, the state’s minimum qualifications for admission to an educator preparation program and subsequent teacher certification have not been high enough to foster a high-quality educator workforce and raise the prestige of teaching. Taking advantage of our relatively low state standards, private educator preparation programs—including alternative certification programs—have flourished, but they have not always prepared their students adequately for the rigors of teaching. Here in Texas, the focus of lawmakers has too often been on “getting rid of bad teachers” on the back end instead of working to create more outstanding teachers on the front end.

It is time to elevate the stature of the education profession to match the high-outcome expectations we have for public school students: Texas must raise its standards for entrance into the profession in order to compete globally and keep up with rising accountability demands on our schools and students. The highest performing countries on international benchmarks have recognized that selective recruitment is essential. Singapore, for example, allows only the top one-third of its college graduates to even apply for teacher training programs. Finland accepts only 10 percent of its applicants for teacher training and then requires them to undergo five years of intensive schooling before they are allowed to teach. In South Korea, where teaching positions are highly competitive, schools recruit the top 5 percent of high school students to enter the education field. All three countries have greatly outperformed the U.S. on international measures such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).[1] The lesson for Texas: Educator preparation and certification should never operate as a “volume business,” cranking out new teachers who are ill-equipped to enter the classroom and setting them up for likely failure and frustration in their first few years on the job. The focus must shift from quantity to quality.

Texas also needs to invest in teacher quality: Initiatives for recruiting, training and retaining high-quality teachers are essential to the success of public education, but too often our elected officials have declined to fund those programs. ATPE has been advocating for a statewide, state-funded mentoring program for all new teachers, coupled with a rigorous training program and mentor stipends, incentives for districts to accommodate mentoring during the school day and strict quality control standards. We have provided state policymakers with an outline for the program and even pointed them toward federal funding sources to help defray its cost, but many legislators and statewide elected officials continue to believe it’s too expensive. We disagree, and so do the numbers: It has been estimated that teachers leaving the classroom cost the state of Texas half a billion dollars each year, making it well worth the smaller investment it would take to keep great teachers in the profession.

You can make a difference with your vote: Too frequently our efforts at reforms that would improve teacher recruitment, retention and quality have been thwarted by politicians who want to lower the standards for entrance into the profession and limit funding for public education overall. This is another area where hefty campaign contributions from wealthy businesspeople in the private sector have impeded progress. The only way to combat this problem is by electing candidates who truly understand what’s at stake and are willing to make sometimes hard decisions for the benefit of public education. Before you vote in this important primary election, research the candidates using our 2014 Races feature and find out if they are likely to support teacher quality measures such as mentoring and raising the bar for entrance into the education profession. Be an informed voter and help make a difference on March 4 or during early voting this week by supporting pro-public education candidates.

[1] According to the most recent 2012 PISA report, Singapore and Korea rank among the top five countries overall. Finland fell a bit to 12th on the list in 2012 but remains among the top five countries for reading scores. Meanwhile, the U.S. sits at 36th on the international list. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the government of Singapore pays its teachers to earn 100 hours of professional development annually; Finland has no standardized testing; and Korea has some teachers earning seven-figure salaries.