• by Albert Cortez, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2005
Research validates that effective teaching is critical to all students’ learning. Though one can question whether years of experience, number of degrees or other factors by themselves ensure quality instruction, few would question whether having a certificate to teach in a particular area provides some assurance of being prepared to work in a specific area of instruction.
During recent testimony before the Texas House Select Committee on School Finance, IDRA was questioned about the assumption that certification by itself assures quality teaching. We noted that while certification, by itself, does not guarantee a teacher is prepared to teach, it is highly likely that a certified teacher is more effective than someone who is not comparably prepared.
Certainly colleges of education and certification requirements in most states and the District of Columbia attest to the widespread belief that requiring teachers to be prepared in a manner that allows them to be certified to teach children is an important criteria for assigning teachers to classrooms.
Given this, many people assume that all teachers are certified. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Texas and many other states.
The Texas State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has recently published an assortment of information on its web site that provides some startling insights on the current status of the Texas teaching force. The Intercultural Development Research Association has analyzed these data. This article summarizes that information and assesses implications for Texas schools and the students they serve.
Unprepared Teachers in Texas
According to data compiled and published by the Texas Education Agency and later by the relatively new SBEC, teachers who are not fully credentialed to teach in specific areas have been part of the Texas teaching workforce for many years. Emergency permits granted to school districts allow them to hire personnel who have not earned a Texas teaching certificate or to assign teachers to teach in classes where they are not certified (i.e., a teacher who is certified to teach geography is assigned to teach high school mathematics).
Moreover, data compiled by SBEC reveals that the number of “permit holders” working in Texas schools has been increasing at alarming rates in recent years. In 1995, 8,004 teachers were issued some type of emergency permit, but by 2001, that number had increased to 12,739. The growth is an increase of 4,735, which is 59.2 percent over that six-year span.
In 2002, those 12,739 permit holders constituted about 4 percent of the total Texas teaching population. Though the percentage seems small at first glance, it is not small when one considers that each of these individuals can impact an estimated 20 students at the elementary school level or as many as 150 students at the middle school or high school level.
For example, if each of the 12,739 emergency permit teachers taught an average of 20 pupils, this translates to a quarter of a million students who are taught by teachers who are either not fully certified or assigned to teach in an area outside of which they were prepared. That is enough to fill a 20,000-seat football stadium more than 12 times.
If the number of teachers on permits is split evenly between elementary schools and secondary schools, it means that almost 1 million students were taught by less than well prepared teachers in 2003. See box below.
Certain Subjects More Likely to Lack Qualified Teachers
Analysis of the teacher permit data complied by SBEC is cause for even greater concern when considering the distribution across school levels and subjects. The area with the largest percentage of teachers on permits is bilingual education, where 2,493 of the teachers (23.6 percent of the teachers are on emergency permits).
Other areas with notable shortages include special education with 8.7 percent on emergency permit, foreign languages with 6.8 percent on permits, and biology with 6.8 percent on permits. Texas students are required to pass an exit-level exam that includes math and science, yet 4.2 percent of teachers in math classes and 4.4 percent of those teaching science are assigned on emergency permits. See box below.
Minority Students Less Likely to Have Qualified Teachers
According to SBEC data, on a consistent basis and across almost all subject areas, schools with higher proportions of minority students (75 percent to 100 percent) have the highest percentage of teachers on emergency permits or teaching out of area. The percentage of teachers on permits tends to increase as the percentage of a district’s minority enrollment increases.
These differentials are especially important in subjects of high school English, algebra and geometry, as well as biology – all areas in which a certain level of performance is required for students to be eligible to receive their high school diploma. SBEC data indicate that in 2001, districts with 0 percent to 25 percent minority student populations average 4 percent of teachers on permits. And the figure increases to 6.2 percent in school districts with minority enrollments in excess of 75 percent. These numbers however vary across different subjects and grade levels.
Percentage of Teachers on Emergency Permits by Student Population
Over 75% White
Over 75% Minority
|Sources: State Board for Educator Certification. Distribution of High School Teachers for Selected Courses by Percentage of White Student Enrolled in the District (AY 2002; State Board for Educator Certification. Distribution of High School Teachers for Selected Courses by Percentage of Minority Student Enrolled in the District AY 2002) (Austin, Texas: State Board for Educator Certification, 2002).|
Related data indicate that in the subject of English IV, districts with 75 percent White enrollments had only 14.4 percent of teachers assigned to classes outside of their field of preparation. In districts with 75 percent minority enrollment, 21 percent were assigned out of field. See box at right.
In Algebra II, districts with 75 percent or more White enrollment have half the percentages of teachers assigned outside their field as do districts with 75 percent minorities.
In biology, high minority schools have one third more of their teachers on permits than schools with 75 percent or more White enrollments.
Uneven concentrations of teachers who are provided emergency permits go beyond minority concentrations. Certain urban and rural school districts are challenged by the need to hire a significant number of their teaching staff on an emergency permit basis, for a variety of reasons.
The listings in the box below provide data on Texas school districts with 100 or more teachers on emergency permits, at least once, sometime between 1999 and 2002. It is evident from a cursory review that most are urban and central-city systems – ironically the same groupings that reflect higher levels of under-achieving students in Texas. Data compiled since 1999 reflect that this is not a unique trend in many of these Texas communities.
Texas is not unique in its struggles to attract and retain high quality teachers. At the national level, there is ongoing debate on how to attract and retain quality teachers where both sides of the debate agree that there are too many teachers who lack adequate subject-matter knowledge (ECS, March 2000). The fact that the problem has not only persisted, but seems to be growing in Texas should be cause for great concern.
It certainly concerns students who are taught by unprepared personnel and then are subjected to state assessments where this lack of access to quality teaching is not even acknowledged, much less considered in high-stakes graduation decisions.
It affects parents who may assume that all school systems are equitably staffed and who thus may not understand why their children do not achieve at high levels.
It impacts school systems who resort to emergency permits in response to their inability to recruit and retain quality teachers (a problem that may be exacerbated by a limited supply of new teachers).
And, finally, it impacts communities that are the recipients of students who are not prepared for college success or job requirements.
The first step in any improvement or reform process is acknowledging the existence of the problem. Texas has a problem reflected in high numbers of teachers on emergency permits and uneven distribution of those teachers. Once acknowledged, state leaders who control the state teacher preparation process must act, decisively, purposefully and with a sense of urgency because our children, all our children, are entitled to quality teaching.
Emergency Permits, 1995 to 2001
|Permit Type||1995||1996||1997||1998||1999||2000||2001||Change 1995-2001|
|Local District Permit
|Total Number of
Number of Permit
|Source: Fuller, E. Number of Emergency Permits Types (1995-2001) (Austin, Texas: State Board for Educator Certification, 2002).|
Number and Percent of Texas Public School Teachers on Emergency Permits by Selected Subjects, 2002
Number of Teachers
Number of Teachers
General and Other Sciences
Health and PE
Other Foreign Language
Elementary (self contained)
|Note: Both the number of teachers and the number of permits are duplicate counts. A teacher assigned to teach two subjects is counted once for each subject.
** Some teachers hold English, Social Studies Composite, and Science Composite emergency certificate. These teachers were included in the English Science and Social Studies totals, but were not included in the counts for other subjects.
Source: Fuller, E., and B. Akin. Number and Percent of Texas Public School Teachers on Emergency Permits by Selected Subjects (2002) (Austin, Texas: State Board for Educator Certification, 2002).
School Districts With 100 or More Teachers on Emergency Permits*
|Source: Fuller, E., and B. Akin. Number and Percent of Texas Public School Teachers on Emergency Permits by Selected Subjects (2002) (Austin, Texas: State Board for Educator Certification, 2002).
*These districts had 100 or more teachers on emergency permits at least once between 1999 and 2002.
>Education Commission of the States. Two Paths to Quality Teaching; Implications for Policy Makers (Washington, D.C.: Education Commission of the States, March 2000).
Fuller, E. Number of Emergency Permits Types (1995-2002) (Austin, Texas: State Board for Educator Certification, 2002).
Fuller, E., and B. Akin. Number and Percent of Texas Public School Teachers on Emergency Permits by Selected Subjects (2002) (Austin, Texas: State Board for Educator Certification, 2002).
National Center for Education Statistics. Out of Field Teachers. Percent of Public School Students Taught Selected Subjects, by Teachers Without Certification or a Major in the Field That They Teach, by Minority Concentrations and School Poverty, 1999-2000 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Institute for Education Sciences, 2004).
State Board for Educator Certification. Distribution of High School Teachers for Selected Courses by Percentage of White Student Enrolled in the District (AY 2002; State Board for Educator Certification. Distribution of High School Teachers for Selected Courses by Percentage of Minority Student Enrolled in the District AY 2002) (Austin, Texas: State Board for Educator Certification, 2002).
Albert Cortez, Ph.D., is the director of the IDRA Institute for Policy and Leadership. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2005 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]