Naked City

Poof! You're a Teacher!

Texas teachers' organizations are hopping mad about last week's vote of the State Board of Educator Certification to open the door to uncertified teachers in Texas. The SBEC voted 5-4-1 to allow school districts to grant two-year "temporary teaching certificates" to anyone with a college degree who passes the certification exam, to teach in the subject for which they have a degree. Currently, the state's alternative certification program requires both advanced study in the prospective teacher's discipline, and specific training in education before a teacher can be certified.

In theory, under the new rules a school district will provide training to the instant teachers. But there are no provisions to create standards for such training, nor any state accountability for the outcome -- the district will inform the SBEC that a teacher has been trained, reviewed, and is ready for standard certification.

Opponents objected as much to the manner of the board's action as to the decision itself. In what is becoming a pattern in the Rick Perry era, although the Legislature twice rejected similar bills in its last two sessions, advocates for the idea -- notably House Public Education Committee Chair Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, and an alliance of school district administrators -- used the governor-appointed SBEC to outflank the Lege and even the elected State Board of Education. SBEC decisions are subject to SBOE review, but if the SBOE does not act within 90 days, the new regulation takes effect -- and the SBOE is not scheduled to meet until 96 days after the SBEC's Nov. 7 vote.

Grusendorf and other supporters of the new rule defended it as a tool to help administrators in "managing human resources" and helping to fill the 45,000 vacancies in Texas schools. Even the Texas Association of Business weighed in, suggesting that classrooms might be a good haven for workers who've lost jobs due to high tech layoffs. That defense lent credence to the charge, by Richard Khouri of the Texas State Teachers Association, that the SBEC rule would create a job market for "recession migrant teachers ... who would check into a classroom for a while and then move on."

"This vote was based on politics and ideology," said Brock Gregg, director of governmental relations for the Association of Texas Professional Educators. "This rule will not help improve the education of our children. It may, in fact, make the state's teacher shortage worse and bring down student achievement."

Five hours of testimony at last week's meeting overwhelmingly opposed the rule change, but the few voices that counted belonged to the Texas Association of School Boards and its sister group of school administrators. The five members voting for the change were school superintendents Annette Griffin and Bonny Cain; Celia Phalen Abbott (wife of Attorney General Greg Abbott); Austin teacher Cynthia Saenz (wife of Texas Assistant Secretary of State Luis Saenz); and James Windham, a Houston-based investment management consultant with Windham Capital Advisory Services.

Teacher groups are asking the SBOE to call an emergency meeting to overturn the rule, and Chair Geraldine Miller said she would consider such a request, if enough members want it. It would take a two-thirds vote of the 15-member board to reject the rule.

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