Sunday, June 22, 2008

Texas Alternative Education Standards: Raising the Bar

An AP wire service piece was published this morning, as seen in The Chron, with reports that Texas is considering raising its minimum standards for educator training in its alternative certification program.

“The new state requirements would impose tighter rules on who could be accepted to alternative certification programs, which are widely used by those looking to get into teaching from another career.”

“Under the proposal by the State Board for Educator Certification, so-called "alt-cert" programs could only take students who maintained at least a 2.5 grade-point average in college. The students then must also achieve a set number of training hours before facing students in the classroom.”

Now I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand Texas needs quality teachers in the classrooms, not people who barely made their way through college. On the other hand, those who can make it through an undergraduate program with a 2.5 GPA might be able to secure a job with higher pay or at least one that has advancement potential that doesn’t involve becoming a principal or counselor.

This, I take it, is the reasoning behind the words of education lobbyist Kevin O'Hanlon who is quoted in the article saying:

“What all of the various requirements are going to do is keep folks from signing up to be teachers.”

There is truth to that, but what I am thinking is that this may not be such a bad truth. The reason I say this is just this: I have known some really good teachers, and also some real bad teachers. Some of the good teachers are graduates of the “alt-cert” programs, but nearly all of the bad ones are also.

I believe that the “alt-cert” programs, while they play a necessary role in drawing individuals from previous careers and directing these people into the classroom where needs are high, especially in math and science, are doing their jobs almost too well.

Sure, alt-cert programs have put bodies in the classroom, but some of these bodies are woefully ignorant and don’t know their content area. Others of these, while strikingly intelligent, should never let their shadows fall across the entrance to a school. Some people who know about lots of things haven’t the foggiest idea how to teach those things to someone else – let alone a child.

Alt-cert programs should screen for these two types of people, but regrettably they don’t appear to be.

Now I have looked at these new alt-cert minimum standards, and while they are more rigorous than the ones in place right now (possesses a Bachelor’s degree and still breathes) many don’t approach the minimum standards and requirements of the post-baccalaureate program at the University of Houston (aka southeast Texas’ teacher mill), although in my shopping around from one alt-cert program to another, some actually do.

But in that program, in Region 4 Educator Certification Services’ requirements, there is an option, an option mind you, to serve one year as an intern, or twelve weeks as a student teacher.

For the one-year option, you are paid a 1st year teacher’s salary, for the 12-week program, you work for free. Now which of these two would YOU opt for?

The main difference between these two options, though, is not the money, it’s the training. The one-year internship may, just may include association with a mentor, but that mentor is not ever in the room with you while you teach, and, truth to tell, the mentor has a full load to teach as well, and is not paid one extra dime to be a mentor. So training, in this case, includes being escorted to your classroom, and having the door slammed shut as you turn to face all those eager young minds for the very first time.

The twelve week option is the one that shouldn’t actually be an option, but a requirement. You stand in a classroom with an experienced teacher as that teacher gradually turns control of their classes over to you. This training not only separates good teachers from bad ones, but readily identifies for all to see, those who clearly should never, ever, teach.

So I have to disagree with lobbyist O’Hanlon. While I agree with his point, and while I know where he is coming from, I also know what it’s like to receive students who advance from a lower grade who were subjected to the instructive techniques of the clueless.

It’s not really a very pretty sight to see.

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