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August 23, 2004     (512) 463-0300

Senate Education Committee Examines Student Achievement

The Texas Senate Committee on Education is examining a wide range of issues as it prepares its final report for the 79th Legislature, which convenes in January. Today's meeting in Austin began with an examination of early childhood education.

Gaynor McCown, Executive Director of The Teaching Commission, told the committee members that there are shortages of teachers in the math and science areas, but that this situation could change. She also reviewed successful programs in other states. The committee is also examining how teachers in Texas are trained. Dr. William Wale, from the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), said that over the past few years fewer institutions in the state had been in danger of losing their accreditation, and that all universities were meeting the standards that had been set. Michelle Janusek also of the SBEC said they were doing a better job of checking for compliance and oversight than in the past.

In the examination of preparation programs, the committee heard from Deborah Jolly from the Texas A&M University College of Education. She described A&M's professional development center which enhances the secondary school student teaching experience. Sharon Gray, from Alternative Certification for Teachers in the Rio Grande Valley, described how her organization helps students who want to be teachers discover how they can best use their skills.

Regarding educator certification, Mary Charley of the State Board for Educator Certification reviewed current requirements and described the process by which educators are certified. She said all applications for certification are now online. Board representatives also discussed how prospective educators are subjected to criminal background checks and fingerprinting. Given the shortage of teachers in certain disciplines, committee Chair Florence Shapiro said that she understands the frustration with the slowness of the background checks and the rest of the certification process, saying "the system is not sophisticated enough for the 21st Century".

Teacher recruitment is also an issue in Texas. Michelle Rhee, Chief Executive of The New Teacher Project, said his organization specialized in recruiting experienced teachers as well as those who are newly certified. Rhee told the committee that alternative certification has been "given a bad name" by districts that would hire "anyone" when late summer approached and they still had unfilled positions. She described how The New Teacher Project had successfully found teacher applicants both inside and outside of the traditional process, as there are many people who might not have considered teaching in college, but went into the profession later in life.

Gayle Fallon from the Houston Federation of Teachers testified that his district is replacing the same positions "over and over", that the main problem is a high turnover rate. He said that student teachers need "some degree of pre-service training to show them what a real child looks like", that they are simply unprepared to teach 25-35 students.

The Committee also heard about efforts to keep teachers in Texas, professional support of teachers in the classroom and current levels of teachers' salary and benefits.

The Texas Senate Committee on Education is chaired by Sen. Florence Shapiro. Membership includes Vice-Chair Sen. Royce West, Sen. Kip Averitt, Sen. Kyle Janek, Sen. Steve Ogden, Sen. Todd Staples, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, Sen. Tommy Williams, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini. The committee took public testimony following the invited witness panels. The committee stands recess subject to the call of the chair.

An archive copy of the meeting may be seen at the audio and video archive pages.

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