Texas begs for teachers with or without credentials
The Christian Science
March 05, 2004
By Kris Axtman | Staff writer
state program invites other kinds of professionals - and fresh controversy over
qualifications - into schools.
Now, after a year of education courses,
mentoring, and exams, he's in his second year as head of a bilingual
fourth-grade class at an inner-city school - one of 800 Houston professionals
who take this alternate route each year. He's considered one of the district's
most dedicated teachers, but he questions the logic of a new statewide program
that makes it easier for college grads to join him. The program, passed last
week by the State Board of Education, allows college graduates without education
degrees to teach simply by passing a test. No college courses required.
It's the latest step in states' effort to fill vacant teaching positions, and
among the most radical. While teacher shortages are easing in some areas, they
remain a problem elsewhere, especially in the Sun Belt. Texas, for instance,
needs 45,000 new teachers annually - more than double the 20,000 new
certifications it issued last year, according to the State Board of Educator
"We don't see this as a cure for our teaching shortages," says Marty De Leon,
legislative council for the Texas Association of School Boards, which supports
the new program. "But it will provide one more staffing option."
Texas isn't alone in resorting to more expedient routes: 43 other states had
alternative paths to certification in 2002. But the battle here has sparked a
fierce debate over standards, with many educators and academics arguing that
such programs draw less committed teachers and diminish the profession's
Under the plan - which had failed twice in the Legislature and still needs a
final vote from the Educator Certification Board April 2 - college graduates can
teach grades 8-12 in subjects that relate to their majors, once they've passed a
subject-area exam and a certification test. They're provided with mentoring and
support in the first two years, and their certificates are valid for two years,
after which the state can issue a permanent certificate.
But critics say the program would put untrained teachers into classrooms at a
critical time. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires "highly qualified"
teachers in classrooms by 2005, though states set their own standards for the
"[Teaching] is a profession. It's not just babysitting a bunch of kids," says
Linda Bauer, a member of the State Board of Education who voted against the
proposal. "If we want them to continue in the profession beyond two years, we've
got to have people who have invested some time" in becoming teachers.
Most states have incentives for recruiting and keeping teachers, from raising
salaries and giving signing bonuses to forgiving loans, coaxing retirees back,
and mentoring new teachers.
In addition to tapping professionals, many states are looking overseas to fill
positions. Texas is in the forefront, with nearly a third of America's 10,000
foreign teachers working in its public schools.
Spanish-speaking teachers are especially critical here. The Dallas
Independent School District, for instance, is recruiting teachers on both
sides of the border. It needs 220 Spanish-speaking teachers next year and is
offering alternative certification programs for them as well.
While some states are doing better filling teaching positions because of the
tight economy, there's still a significant challenge - even outside the Sun
Belt. "There are a whole lot of baby-boomer teachers getting close to retirement
and we are going to be in quite a pinch when they do," says Michael Petrilli, a
senior aide in the US Department of Education's department of innovation and
improvement. To that end, he says, "We have encouraged states to make changes to
the traditional system of certification. It's possible to raise standards for
new teachers, and at the same time, lower some of the barriers that keep
talented people from ... the classroom."
The question as to who makes a better teacher is hotly debated. Few studies
compare the quality of teachers who've come from traditional routes to those who
follow alternative routes, but many studies do show that the smarter the
teacher, the better the student, says Mr. Petrilli.
For his part, Torres says the five college-level education courses required in
HISD's program were invaluable. (HISD is unsure if it will use the new voluntary
statewide program, which could take effect April 22, since its alternative
certification program is working so well).
"I found those courses very helpful because, to tell you the truth, there were a
lot of issues about child development and cognitive ability that I had no clue
about," says Torres. "There is no way that someone who doesn't have the proper
training in education is going to be successful in the