By Richard Lee
Senate Media Services
(Austin) Prospective teachers would have a more rigorous path to the classroom and stronger continuing education under a pair off bills passed by the Senate Tuesday. Forty percent of Texas public school teachers are certified under the alternative certification program, where people who have college degrees but didn’t study education can learn how to become classroom teachers. Under current law, a candidate for alternative certification need only have a 2.5 grade point average and 15 hours of classroom training to get into a teacher preparation program. Amarillo Senator Kel Seliger thinks those standards need to be higher. “We need ever better, more motivated teachers,” he said.
His first bill, SB 892, would increase standards for prospective teachers using the alternative certification route. While individual candidates could still have a 2.5 GPA, the entire entering class must have an average GPA of 3.0. The requirements for classroom training would double to 30 hours and all of those training hours must happen inside of a classroom. The bill would also put a limit on how many times a program graduate can take the certification test. Today, a candidate can attempt that test as often as they want, but Seliger’s bill would limit that to five attempts. Finally, the bill would require teacher certification programs to report how many candidates successfully complete their programs and how well they do in the classroom, to allow the state to determine the relative quality of certification programs.
Seliger’s second bill, SB 893, is aimed at maintaining teaching standards and development throughout a teacher’s career. Seliger doesn’t think that the current evaluations are frequent enough or helpful enough for teachers. “Current law requires teachers to be evaluated as infrequently as once every five years and post-evaluation, teachers are provided often with very little constructive feedback,” he said. “Professional development is often delivered on general subjects in a one size fits all manner and the salary schedule mandated by law is rarely used and is antiquated.”
His bill would require annual evaluations of classroom teachers, and would rate teachers by discipline standards, student success, and the teacher’s efforts to improve professionally. Continuing education would be aimed at specific needs determined through the evaluation process, and would be offered in a variety of formats. It would give teachers more flexibility to pick their preferred professional development programs. It would eliminate the current salary schedule but keep in place the minimum salary requirements for teachers. “This bill places such value on teachers that it puts together evaluation and remediation measures so that each teacher can be the best teacher they can possibly be,” said Seliger.
Also Tuesday, the Senate approved a measure that intends to keep doctors educated in state medical schools practicing in Texas. SB 18, by Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, would do this by creating a granting framework for new residency programs. Nelson, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said that the Senate version of the state budget already earmarks $60 million for improving the residency system in Texas, and SB 18 would set the guidelines and parameters under which this money would be awarded. Nelson also said the program would prioritize residencies in geographically underserved areas and understaffed specialties. “Patients cannot access the healthcare they need without a strong medical workforce,” she said.