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1 in 5 new Texas teachers were hired without certification last year

Schools are leaning on uncertified educators as they grapple with vacancies

Nearly 1 in 5 new teachers hired in Texas last year went into the classroom without a state certification, new Texas Education Agency data reveals. The sharp spike raises questions about the preparedness of thousands of educators who are entering the profession at a tumultuous time.

State officials want to bolster educator quality, but Texas is struggling with teacher shortages in key areas. The scramble to fill vacancies contributed to the growing number of uncertified teachers, worrying some education researchers.

“Certification may not be perfect, but it does suggest some commitment to the field and some level of preparation and training,” said Ryan Franklin, policy and advocacy director at the nonprofit Educate Texas.

On Tuesday, the Texas House public and higher education committees met to tackle the longstanding issue of teacher recruitment and retention in a marathon hearing. Some speakers pointed to the significant number of teachers entering the field without certifications.

Kelvey Oeser, a deputy commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, told lawmakers that roughly 40% of newly hired teachers last year were either uncertified or came through an alternative certification program.

“This means that these teachers are less likely to receive the extensive preparation and training necessary to be successful,” she said.

Schools are under pressure to fill slots as teachers contend with burnout and the pandemic. That’s had some schools turning to the various entry points uncertified teachers can take to the classroom.

But doing so raises questions about how ready such teachers are to take on a classroom. Novice educators — whether they go through traditional training or not — often struggle at first, state data show.

Typically, to become certified in Texas, teaching candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, complete an educator preparation program, pass related exams, submit a state application and go through a background check.

They learn about how to manage student behavior, plan lessons, serve children with disabilities and other critical skills.

Texas allows a variety of ways for districts to hire uncertified teachers, said Toni Templeton, a research scientist at the Education Research Center at the University of Houston. Among them: Professionals from other industries can be tapped to teach career and technical education courses in their related fields.

“We should not be quick to make assumptions about the districts’ decisions to hire uncertified teachers,” she said. “The increase in uncertified teachers could be due to districts exercising flexibilities granted to them by state policies.”

Since 2015, the state has allowed schools to loosen teacher certification requirements under a program called Districts of Innovation. Three years after its inception, more than half of Texas public school students were attending such districts.

Now more than 800 public school districts — out of over 1,000 — have the flexibility to allow non-certified people to teach in specific areas. Not all who have such flexibility use it, however.

That demand for teachers in industry-specific courses factors into the number of uncertified educators. But there’s a dearth of available information on which courses new uncertified hires are teaching and where they are concentrated across the state.

Templeton noted that her team hasn’t yet studied the degree to which those teachers are impacting students, but she expects researchers will try to zero in on it as numbers are climbing.

The exemption was commonly used to allow schools to hire industry specialists who could teach high schoolers in career and technical education classes. However, districts can extend the flexibility to other courses — including core subjects — and to lower grade levels.

Dallas ISD trustees, for example, approved a plan in June that allows principals to hire recruits for elementary schools or in core subjects at the secondary level without a teaching certification. Such hires must undergo training on classroom management and effective teaching practices throughout the school year. They must also meet certain other criteria, including holding a college degree.

“We’re not choosing this alternative because we don’t want certified teachers in every single classroom,” DISD trustee Dan Micciche said at the time. “We’re choosing this as a tool because we can’t get enough certified teachers in every classroom. So what’s better?”

Without enough permanent teachers, schools may be forced to scramble to combine classes or rely on a carousel of substitutes.

Dallas ISD brought in about 335 teachers via the new exemption as of mid-September, said Robert Abel, the district’s chief of human capital management. DISD employs more than 10,000 teachers.

“So far, we’ve had nothing but positive reports for their performance in the classrooms,” Abel said.

Other districts made similar moves as staffing challenges mounted. Many specify that an uncertified teacher must be degreed or have a professional license related to their subject.

About 40% of the uncertified new teachers last school year were at charters, according to TEA data. Such campuses are public schools but operate independently and have more flexibility on some requirements, such as around certification.

Teacher turnover

Texas employed 376,086 classroom teachers in the 2021-22 school year, according to the TEA. Nearly 12% of them left the profession that same year, up from about 10% in recent years.

Over 8,600 teachers retired in 2021 — about 1,000 more than the previous year before.

At the same time, university systems are producing fewer traditional teacher candidates.

Schools across Texas hired roughly 43,000 new teachers last year, and more than 8,400 did not have a state certification.

Last year’s share –— roughly 20% — is nearly double the previous year, when it was closer to 11%. A decade ago, only about 6% of new hires in Texas did not hold a state certification.

Roughly 28% of new teacher hires — the largest share — were classified as “re-entry” last year. That means they were previously certified and working, but are now resuming employment as a teacher after a break or reassignment.

The large number of re-entries underscores Texas’ retention problem, said Catherine Horn, director of the Institute for Educational Policy Research and Evaluation at the University of Houston. What drove those teachers away in the first place and why are they coming back now, she asks.

“That, to me, identifies a potentially low-hanging fruit policy solution,” she said, explaining that policy makers should get at the root causes of what occurred in those cases.

Meanwhile, about 19% of new teachers came into the classroom on an intern certificate. These are typically people who are teaching on a probationary status through an alternative certification program, though they are considered a teacher of record.

About 3% of new hires had an out-of-state teaching certification, while about 15% came in with a standard certificate after going through clinical teaching and getting employed in the first possible year.

Some areas — such as in bilingual or special education — must have teachers who hold certifications.

Dominique McCain, a managing director with Commit Partnership, said she expects the number of uncertified new hires to drop as state leaders focus on teacher recruitment and retention.

Gov. Greg Abbott, for example, assembled a task force to investigate solutions to teacher vacancies. The group is expected to finalize its recommendations by February, near the start of the legislative session.

McCain is also heartened by the work she sees districts doing to support, train and guide their uncertified teachers in order to help them succeed and stay in the profession.

“The onus is on the district to ensure that those people are not only being supported by mentors and tenured teachers, but also by administrators who can make sure they’re getting access to the knowledge and the skills that they need to be able to support students through their learning,” she said.

(Todd Williams, chairman and CEO of Commit, supports the Education Lab through the Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. Additionally, Educate Texas is an initiative of Communities Foundation of Texas, which serves as a fiscal sponsor of the Education Lab.)

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Sydney Smith Hicks, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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