Future of Teaching

Ritz-led effort to block teacher certification changes narrowly fails

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

In a close vote today, the Indiana State Board of Education blocked an effort, led by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, to kill proposed changes to teacher certification.

The debate centered on a proposed “adjunct” teacher license. The rules allow for anyone with at least 6,000 hours of professional work and a 3.0 college GPA in the subject they wish to teach to work in a high school. They would not need any background in teaching. The work experience requirements are a change from an earlier version of the proposed rules that would have allowed anyone with a four-year college degree and a 3.0 GPA to teach if they pass a test of content knowledge.

Those who would use the adjunct certificate, now renamed “career specialist,” would not need any teacher training at the start, but would be required to begin a training program when starting a teaching job.

Ritz and other educators on the board — college professor Brad Oliver, principal Troy Albert and teachers Cari Whicker and Sarah O’Brien — opposed the idea as unneeded, arguing existing rules already allow people who change careers to easily become teachers.

But their criticism wasn’t enough. The other six board members voted to pursue the proposal, which will face a vote at a future board meeting as part of the third iteration of the Rules for Education Preparation and Accountability, or REPA III.

The new license is not needed, said Oliver, who is the dean of the School of Educational Leadership at Indiana Wesleyan University.

“There is no question there are teachers out there who did not come through traditional preparation who need to be in the classroom,” Oliver said. “That flexibility is currently in the rules.”

The deans of the education schools at Indiana University, Butler University and the University of Indianapolis, where many teachers are trained, have also spoken out against the proposed rules as diminishing expectations for what teachers should know before they begin working in classrooms.

But the opposing view from other board members was that one more avenue into teaching might help attract additional talented teachers.

“We’re just giving professional people an opportunity,” board member Dan Elsener said.

When the rules were first proposed as part of what was called REPA II in 2012, they brought a wave of protest. Educators who testified against them said the state shouldn’t allow candidates with no teacher training to become classroom teachers.

The state board made some changes to the original proposal in late 2012 but passed the new rules despite a plea from Ritz, who had just been elected but had not yet taken her post, to delay until she could participate in the debate as a member of the state board.

The new rules, however, were never put in place. A missed deadline forced the rules to go back through a year-long approval process. The missed deadline was one of the first signs of tension between Ritz and the rest of the board, who each blamed the other.

Today’s debate centered on the question of whether new teachers, likely those changing careers, should be allowed to teach right away or first take courses in teaching methods.

“I know some great scientists who may not be great teachers,” Whicker said, advocating for some teacher training first.

But most of the board thought the benefits of potentially attracting talented professionals to teaching outweighed the risks. New teachers using the career specialist license would have to begin a training program and would be subject to evaluation. Like all teachers, if they are rated ineffective they could be fired immediately.

“There is no reason to fear this will lead to unqualified educators,” board member Andrea Neal said. “These teachers will be held accountable through the teacher evaluation system.”

The evaluation system was another point of contention on the board today, leading Ritz to exercise her power as board chair to overrule the other board members for the first time since a series of tense meetings last fall.

Board member David Freitas began the meeting with a motion to establish stronger guidelines for how schools judge teacher effectiveness.

On Tuesday, some board members were not pleased to hear staff reports that schools counted test scores for as little as 10 percent of teachers’ effectiveness ratings.

But Ritz quickly denied the motion. Under the board’s rules, which have been debated in recent months, a motion can only be added to the agenda with support from three board members and Ritz, as the chair.

Nearly all the other board members said they wanted to consider Freitas’ motion, but Ritz stuck to her decision.

Afterward, Ritz said she was open to the discussion Freitas wanted to have, but preferred he follow the board’s normal process for adding agenda items, with Freitas forwarding the language for his motion in advance of the next meeting.

In Tuesday’s meeting, Ritz and others questioned how many limits the state board could set for schools under a law that was designed to give lots of local flexibility.

“Allowing it to come in June will allow my department to actually check out the rule-making authority of the board in regards to that topic,” Ritz said after the meeting.

Ritz and the board have disagreed in recent months over her directions to schools about procedures for evaluation teachers, particularly her ruling that schools did not have to use test scores for teacher evaluations in cases where online testing glitches affected their students’ scores last year. Ritz has been generally critical of Indiana’s approach to testing as too punitive.

NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect changes to the proposed career specialist certificate that were not fully detailed in the meeting. Prior rules would have allowed anyone with a college degree and a 3.0 GPA to teach. Work experience was added as a requirement.

Price of entry

Becoming a Colorado teacher could soon require fewer transcripts, more training on English learners

Stephanie Wujek teaches science at Wiggins Middle School , on April 5, 2017 in Wiggins, Colorado. Rural areas are having a hard time finding teachers in areas like math and science. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The rules for becoming a teacher in Colorado are about to change — and officials hope the moves will help attract more math teachers and better prepare educators to work with students learning English.

The changes, which the Colorado Department of Education proposed this week, would also cut down on the paperwork needed to enter the profession and make it easier for teachers licensed in other states to re-enter the classroom after they move to Colorado.

The package of changes also includes a slimmed-down teacher evaluation rubric, the first major revision to the rules under Colorado’s 2010 teacher effectiveness law.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Less paperwork for new teachers. Applicants for a teaching license would no longer have to provide transcripts for every school they attended, only the transcripts for the school that granted them their highest degree. (Many colleges hold transcripts hostage for unpaid debt, even minor ones like unpaid parking tickets.
  • Less paperwork for teachers coming from other states. Experienced, licensed teachers from outside Colorado would no longer need to provide transcripts or prove that their teacher preparation program met Colorado standards.
  • More flexibility about previous teaching experience. Licensed teachers from other states would no longer need to have previously worked under a full-time contract to qualify for a Colorado license.
  • A new credential limited to middle-school math. Right now, Colorado only has a secondary math endorsement, which requires competency in trigonometry and calculus. That’s a barrier for teachers moving from other states with a math endorsement limited to middle school, and some see it as a roadblock for those who feel comfortable with algebra but not higher-level math.
  • Additional pathways for counselors and nurses to get licensed to work in schools.

Two bills making their way through the Colorado General Assembly this session would remove another barrier for out-of-state teachers. To qualify for a Colorado license today, teachers must have had three years of continuous teaching experience. If those bills are signed into law, applicants would only need three years of experience in the previous seven years.

Together, the proposals indicate how Colorado officials are working to make it a little easier to become a teacher in the state, which is facing a shortage in math teachers, counselors, and school nurses, among other specialties, as well as a shortage in many rural districts.

Colleen O’Neil, executive director of educator talent for the Colorado Department of Education, said many of the proposed changes came out of listening sessions focused on the state’s teacher shortage held around the state.  

The changes still don’t mean that if you’re a teacher anywhere in the country, you can easily become a teacher in Colorado. Just six states have full reciprocity, meaning anyone with a license from another state can teach with no additional requirements, according to the Education Commission of the States. Teachers whose licenses and endorsements don’t have a direct equivalent in Colorado would still need to apply for an interim license and then work to meet the standards of the appropriate Colorado license or endorsement.

The rule changes also add some requirements. Among those changes:

  • Prospective teachers will need more training on how to work with students learning English. Most significantly, all educator preparation programs would have to include six semester hours or 90 clock hours of training.
  • So will teachers renewing their licenses. They will need 45 clock hours, though the requirement wouldn’t kick in until the first full five-year cycle after the teacher’s most recent renewal. A teacher who just got her license renewed this year would have nine years to complete that additional training, as the requirement wouldn’t apply until the next renewal cycle. Superintendents in districts where less than 2 percent of the students are English language learners could apply for a waiver.

Colorado’s educator preparation rules already call for specialized training for teaching English language learners, but the rule change makes the requirements more explicit.

“We’re the sixth-largest state for English language learners,” O’Neil said. “We want to make sure our educators are equipped to teach all our learners.”

The rule changes would also “streamline,” in O’Neil’s words, the teacher evaluation process. Here’s what would change:

  • The five teacher quality standards would become four. “Reflection” and “leadership” are combined into “professionalism.”
  • The underlying elements of those standards would be reduced, too. Twenty-seven elements would become 17.

Fifty school districts and one charter collaborative have been testing the new evaluation system this year in a pilot program. O’Neil said most of the feedback has been positive, and the rest of the feedback has been to urge officials to winnow down the standards even further. That’s not a change she would support, O’Neil said.

“The reality is that teaching actually is rocket science,” she said. “There are a lot of practices and elements that go into good teaching.”

The state is accepting additional public comment on the rules until April 20, and a public hearing will be held in May. The new rules are expected to be adopted this summer.

Submit written feedback online or send an email to the State Board of Education at state.board@cde.state.co.us.

bias in the classroom

‘Disciplinarians first and teachers second’: black male teachers say they face an extra burden

PHOTO: The Laradon School
A teacher and a student at The Laradon School in Denver work together with tactile teaching tools.

As a first-year teacher, Pierce Bond took on a remarkable responsibility: helping other teachers by disciplining or counseling misbehaving students.

That left him to make tough choices, like whether to disrupt his own class mid-lesson to handle problems in the school’s detention room. “Sometimes you have to make that decision,” he told an interviewer. “Do I stop whatever I’m doing now to go deal with this situation?”

The burden was placed on him because he is one of small share of black men in the teaching profession, posits a study published this month in The Urban Review, a peer-reviewed journal. The study relies on interview 27 black male teachers in Boston’s public schools — including Bond, who like others, was identified by a pseudonym — and found several experiences like his.

“Participants perceived that their peers and school administrators positioned them to serve primarily as disciplinarians first and teachers second,” write authors Travis Bristol of Boston University and Marcelle Mentor of the College of New Rochelle.

The paper acknowledges that interviewees were a small, non-random sample of teachers in one district, and their results might not apply elsewhere. But other researchers and policymakers, including former Secretary of Education John King, have acknowledged the phenomenon, which may contribute to schools’ difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers of color.

“Children of color and white children need to see different types of people standing in front of them and teaching them,” said Bristol. “After we recruit [teachers of color], we have to be mindful about how they are positioned in their building and draw on the things they are doing that are successful.”

In the study, which draws from Bristol’s dissertation on the experiences of black male teachers, a number of them described a similar experience: colleagues assuming that they were better able to deal with perceived behavioral issues, particularly among black boys.

One veteran teacher, Adebayo Adjayi, described how older students were regularly sent into his early elementary classroom, making his regular teaching role significantly more difficult.

“Adjayi recognized that his classroom became the school’s disciplinary room, a holding area, and he had become the school disciplinarian,” the researchers write. “Without considering the type of environment that would most support [the school’s] students who were deemed misbehaving, the fifth graders were placed in the same classroom as the prekindergartners.”

Christopher Brooks, a high school teacher, explained how seemingly small favors for colleagues began to add up. “He first said yes to one teacher who asked him, ‘Can you just talk to so-and-so because he’s not giving up his phone?’ and then to another colleague who asked, ‘Can I leave Shawn in here? He can’t seem to sit still.’ By that time, it had become the unspoken norm that Brooks would attend to his colleagues’ misbehaving students,” the study says.

Brooks says this played a role in how he arranged his day, since he knew he needed to be prepared to receive additional students some periods or solve a problem during lunch.

Other teachers told the researchers the the extra responsibilities don’t bother them.

“I understand it because I know how to speak the kids’ language,” said Okonkwo Sutton, a first-year charter school teacher. “I’ve had a very similar childhood and background as many of them.”  

Some of those interviewed questioned the assumptions behind the idea that they should serve as disciplinarians. Peter Baldwin, a novice teacher, described how a colleague suggested he would be able to help one struggling student by talking “man to man.”

“I don’t think he was just gonna respond to me better than others because I’m me, or because I’m a male or because I’m black,” Baldwin said. “I think because I sort of invested time … we’ve built a relationship.”

There’s little if any research on how this additional work or stress affects black male teachers’ job satisfaction, retention, or performance. But there is evidence that teachers of color leave the classroom at a higher rate and are less satisfied with their jobs than white teachers.

At a national level, the numbers are striking: only 2 percent of teachers are black men. Meanwhile, research has repeatedly linked black teachers to better outcomes — test scores, high school graduation rates, behavior — for black students, and that’s led to national pushes to diversify the predominantly white teaching profession, as well as local programs like NYC Men Teach.

The study emphasizes that the findings don’t apply to all black male teachers, and doesn’t try to quantify the experience of being treated as disciplinarians. But the authors suggest that treating black male teachers that way could be unfair to them, their colleagues, and their students.

“School administrators should work to develop more expansive roles for black male teachers and become more cognizant of how black male teachers are implicitly and explicitly positioned in their schools,” the paper says. “Equally important, administrators should work to develop the capacity of all teachers to support and engage all students.”