• by Albert Cortez, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • April 2003
Every school teacher should be well prepared and qualified to work in today’s schools with students from different cultural and language backgrounds. Abundant studies show a connection between teacher preparation and student success. In other words, the more qualified the teacher, the greater the chances that our children will succeed in school. Excellent teachers make a huge difference in the academic achievement of students.
Yet we are faced with the fact that our schools tend to be more successful at teaching White students than Hispanic and other minority students.
The achievement gap is even larger for this country’s 4.5 million children whose first language is one other than English. These students are being taught, in some capacity, by 1.3 million teachers. But only 154,000 of those teachers have had eight or more hours of preparation in the last three years on how to teach these students (NCES, 2002).
Teachers want to do a good job. But many do not have opportunities or support to prepare themselves adequately.
The good news is that this problem has a solution. We have the expertise to develop qualified teachers.
For this development to be successful, it is important that the public understand the issues and become actively engaged in creating a scenario where every student, regardless of color, national origin, religion or gender, is taught by a qualified teacher.
What Are the Issues?
There are not enough prepared teachers to serve all students. We do not have enough teachers for most subjects, particularly in bilingual education, English as a second language (ESL), special education, mathematics and science.
In the 2001-02 school year, 24 percent of all teachers in Texas, for example, were not fully certified. The highest shortage of teachers was in elementary bilingual and ESL classrooms. Reports by the Texas A&M Institute for School-Community Partnerships indicate that one in three new teachers hired was not certified to teach in the area in which they were placed (Texas A&M, 2001).
Few colleges and universities have bilingual or ESL teacher preparation programs. We need teachers to be able to work with students from diverse culture and language backgrounds. But colleges and universities where most teachers get their initial training have been slow in creating teacher preparation programs that will meet this need.
For example, in Texas only 17 out of 169 universities with teacher preparation programs have a specialized program to develop bilingual and ESL teachers. No wonder Texas is facing a critical shortage of bilingual and ESL teachers. What will become of the fastest growing student population in Texas if we continue to shortchange their educational potential by not providing them with good, qualified teachers?
Alternative Certification Not the Solution
Critical teacher shortages have forced policymakers to find other ways of certifying teachers. These alternative routes sometimes are not based at universities or colleges. Some teachers are certified only by passing a certain test or by taking a series of workshops and classes that prepare them to pass the test.
These alternative routes are raising a number of questions about the quality of teachers who are being certified. We should not forget the attempt that Texas made at one time to hire more bilingual teachers by having them take just 100 hours of language training. These teachers were granted a bilingual endorsement to teach without making sure that they knew their students’ language well enough to teach them. The result was disastrous to the majority of their students.
Research is already confirming fears that alternative certification programs have produced mixed results. Many of these teachers need extensive support when they begin teaching, much more so than teachers who have been prepared through a college or university program.
An inadequate number of new teachers is one factor that limits student access to quality teaching. Teacher attrition from the profession also contributes to limited access. Teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates. New teachers soon face the reality of a classroom full of wide-eyed children. The enormous demands, coupled with perceptions of inadequate resources create quick burnout and dissatisfaction.
The first years in teaching are difficult, and teachers need extensive support and guidance. Many states have set up programs to support teachers, such as mentoring and coaching. Although the reasons are not clear, studies attribute the quick turnover to teacher burnout and not to reasons that are monetary.
Whatever the reason for shortages, the end result is that many districts are hard-pressed to find and hire the personnel required to ensure that all students have access to high quality teaching. Though certification does not, in and of itself, guarantee good teaching, it certainly improves the prospects that teachers will be well prepared.
Impact on Students
Information on access to high quality teaching is difficult to locate though states such as Texas routinely collect data on district staff profiles. One Texas Education Agency (TEA) publication Snapshot does include teacher-related information including the total teacher full time equivalents (FTEs) in each district, average teacher salary, average number of students per teacher, and percentage of teachers with one or more permits.
According to TEA’s latest Snapshot:
Educators who have not yet earned the appropriate certification may be granted one of five types of permits in order to perform their assigned duties: non-renewable, temporary classroom assignment, temporary exemption, emergency and district teaching permit. Each of these permits allows a person to be employed in the public school system for varying lengths of time. All but the district teaching permit are for individuals who seek to achieve the appropriate certification but are currently lacking in some credential” [emphasis added] (Texas Education Agency, 2002).
Districts in Texas report that 5.2 percent of all teachers hold one or more active permits of some type. According to TEA, the number of permits issued varies by subject area and student population served. The major designated teacher shortage areas in Texas include special education, ESL, bilingual education, science, mathematics, foreign languages, and technology applications (Texas Education Agency, 2002).
Distribution of Teachers on Permits
In order to provide some insights on the distribution of teachers with permits across Texas school districts, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) reviewed the data. IDRA rank-ordered all public school districts by the percentage of teachers with one or more permits and analyzed the distributional characteristics of various sub-groupings of these districts. The box below summarizes key data gleaned from our analysis.
Perhaps the most noteworthy observation is that most of the state’s school districts employ teachers who are on temporary permits, although 321 (31.1 percent) reported having no teachers with permits. These 321 districts had a total enrollment of only 224,703 pupils, accounting for about 5 percent of the state’s 3.9 million pupils. Many of these districts tend to be smaller – less than 500 – though a few larger affluent districts such as Highland Park in Dallas were included.
Another 376 school districts reported having between 0.01 percent and 4.9 percent of their teachers with at least one permit. Collectively these 376 school districts enrolled more than 2.1 million pupils or approximately one half of the state pupil enrollment.
More disturbing was the observation that 208 of the 1,035 (20.1 percent) Texas school districts had between 5 percent and 9.9 percent of their teachers on one or more permits. Even more disconcerting was the observation that these 208 school districts enrolled 1,031,000 pupils, almost one fourth of all students educated in the state’s public schools.
Eighty-three school districts, with a total of 453,480 pupils, reported that 10.0 percent to 14.9 percent of their teachers had at least one permit. Houston Independent School District was one of the 83 and accounted for more than half of pupils in that single category.
Another 26 school districts enrolling a total of 67,264 pupils reported that they had between 15.0 percent and 19.9 percent of their teachers with at least one permit.
Surprisingly 21 districts reported that more than 20 percent of their teachers had one or more permits, though these schools reported a total enrollment of only 8,398 students.
IDRA proposes that if the statewide teacher FTEs total approximately 270,000 and if, in fact, 5 percent of teachers are not fully credentialed to teach in the area to which they are assigned, an estimated 13,500 teachers are impacted. Multiplying the number of teachers by an average class size of 15 students yields a total of 202,250 pupils affected by the lack of quality teaching.
What Needs to be Done?
Research shows that schools and other institutions have already identified ways to recruit persons with specific skills. They offer incentives to get other professionals into the teaching field and tap community resources such as normalistas (people who were trained to be teachers in Mexico and other countries) to pursue teacher certification in this country. Some also provide incentives for people in the community to pursue a college degree and teacher certification.*
Policymakers have special responsibilities to provide resources at the national, state and local levels to alleviate the teacher shortage situation and ensure that all students have qualified teachers. There are important things that colleges and universities and individuals can do as well. Community members play an important role in supporting efforts aimed at developing cadres of teachers who are prepared to work with diverse student populations. Whatever solutions are proposed it is clear that a united and coordinated effort among numerous sectors is needed.
*For more information on IDRA’s Project Alianza, see http://www.idra.org/services_to_educator/services_to_educator/alianza// or call IDRA at 210-444-1710.
Where to Go for More Information
Intercultural Development Research Association, www.idra.org
Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/ctpmail 206-221-4114
Institute for School University Partnerships, Texas A&M University
National Clearinghouse for English Language Learners, http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/
Quality Counts Survey 2003, Education Week, http://counts.edweek.org/sreports/qc03/index.cfm
Texas Education Agency, www.tea.state.tx.us
Fuller, E. Estimates of the Teacher Shortage in Texas Public Schools for the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 Academic Years (Austin, Texas: State Board for Educator Certification, June 18, 2002).
National Center for Education Statistics. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 2002).
Texas Education Agency. Snapshot 2000-01 District Profiles (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, Winter 2002).
Albert Cortez, Ph.D., is the director of the IDRA Institute for Policy Leadership. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2003, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2003 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.]