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Rep. Mike Villarreal says that Texas students may have a teacher who has never practiced teaching

In the flurry to pre-file legislation before the Texas legislative session starts in January, state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, announced a proposal he said "would end the practice of Texas schools hiring full-time teachers with no classroom teaching experience."

"Parents are shocked when I tell them that their children may have a teacher who never spent one minute practicing teaching but is now responsible for educating a classroom full of kids," Villarreal said in a Nov. 30 press release. "If we are serious about improving education, we need to listen to the research about the importance of student teaching. We shouldn't hand the classroom over to a teacher who has never stood in front of a class and taught a lesson."

Any questions? We decided to check how much practical experience is required of newly-minted Texas schoolteachers.

On its website, the State Board for Educator Certification lists the basic requirements for becoming a Texas teacher: a bachelor's degree, teacher training through an approved program (universities and "other entities" such as for-profit programs) and completion of state teacher certification tests. Texas has 177 teacher preparation programs, run by providers including universities, school districts and for-profit companies, according to a November 2009 Houston Chronicle news story.

Traditional university programs include a student-teaching component prior to graduation. For aspiring teachers who already have a college degree, SBEC suggests "alternative certification and post-baccalaureate programs." According to the website, "many of these programs can be completed in a year, during which time you may have a paid teaching position in a public school classroom."

According to the Texas Education Agency, 7,500 new teachers during the 2010 academic school year were certified through university programs, and 11,567 were certified via alternative programs.

Asked to back up Villarreal's statement, Peter Clark, his legislative director, pointed to those teachers who are in alternative programs. "They do not receive their full certification until the end of that first year teaching," he said in an e-mail. "But during that full school year they are the teacher of record responsible for a classroom, and they may have started that year without ever standing in front of a classroom of students and delivering a lesson plan."

According to state law, teacher candidates who serve a year-long internship have a "probationary certificate" until they complete the year, but during that time they're classified as a "teacher" on school campuses.

Does that mean they haven't had any teaching practice before entering the classroom?

Karen Loonam, a TEA deputy associate commissioner, told us that it "is possible" for someone to start teaching without any practice teaching "but highly unlikely since our rules require 30 clock-hours of field experience in the classroom and 80 hours of training prior to entering the classroom." According to state law, 15 of those 30 hours of field experience must be spent performing "professional educator activities" while interacting with students, teachers and faculty in a school setting "that is part of regular classroom instruction."

According to Villarreal's press release, his legislation "would require a teacher candidate to undertake 15 hours of practice teaching to become full-time teachers... this legislation would ensure that the 15 hours on campus are spent delivering lesson plans rather than merely observing, assisting with administrative functions or attending school events."

In an interview, Janice Lopez, the education agency's director of educator standards, told us the law doesn't require that those 15 hours in the classroom are spent teaching. "We require that they go through training and hopefully that training is interactive — interacting with students while observing a certified teacher," Lopez said.

Loonam told us that usually the field experience is "a combination of activities for an individual to see the realities of the complex job of teaching — how does the teacher develop lesson plans... observing students... classroom management. We've tried to put in our rules some requirements to help these people get prepared before entering the classroom," she said.

Loonam also told us that school districts' "late hires" may start teaching in the classroom without having those 15 classroom hours.

"If a principal finds out on a Thursday — and school's going to start Monday — that she just lost a teacher for whatever reason, she needs to find someone to fill that vacancy," she said. If there's a teacher shortage in that particular district, the district may hire a prospective teacher who knows about the subject to be taught but doesn't have the required training. The new teacher is then assigned a certified teacher as a mentor and completes training throughout the school year.

Ed Fuller, a researcher for the University Council for Educational Administration, an interstate consortium of higher-ed institutions, called the Texas education code's practice-teaching requirement "vague."

"Teachers are not, in fact, required to complete any practice teaching or student teaching before becoming a teacher of record" — a teacher who has sole responsibility for a class, he said. Fuller said teachers without any experience come largely from alternative certification programs that don't offer student-teaching training.

But according to Vernon Reaser, who heads an alternative teacher-certification program based in Houston, the alternate route is more demanding than the single semester of student-teaching required by university programs. Alternate-route teacher candidates must first complete a year of professional teaching — the internship — as a real teacher before the principal decides whether the teacher should be certified, said Reaser, president of A+ Texas Teachers. He told us most prospective teachers who are certified through the program do practice teach, "and those that don't will get it anyway in the first few months.

"This is the person's career, not just a temporary assignment like student teaching is," he said. "They have to perform well that year just like every other teacher does in order to keep their job."

We also consulted Pamela Hall, a personnel administrator for the Austin Independent School District, who told us the district rarely hires individuals without teaching experience, but when it does, it's through the state's alternate certification programs. Such teachers are on probation for their first year, she said.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a TEA spokeswoman, told us the agency does not keep information on how many individuals never taught before becoming classroom teachers. She said that information is kept by each certification program.

Time to grade Villarreal's statement.

We did not find a precise count of teachers in Austin or Texas public schools who started without teaching practice, though, significantly, it's undisputed that schools can — and do — hire teachers lacking even a minute of experience teaching a class.

We rate the statement True.

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Our Sources

Press release from Rep. Mike Villarreal: Quality teaching takes practice; Villarreal announces new legislation to require student teaching, Nov. 30, 2010

State Board of Educator Certification, How to become a teacher in Texas, accessed Dec. 8, 2010

Texas Administrative Code, Education; State Board for Educator Certification; Requirements for educator preparation programs; preparation program coursework and/or training, accessed Dec. 8, 2010

Austin American-Statesman, Teacher inequality found; study: less experienced staffs, more turnover in East Austin schools, Oct. 19, 2010

Austin American-Statesman op-ed by Meria Carstarphen, Austin Independent School District Superintendent: "Great teachers abound at Austin schools, Nov. 7, 2010

Houston Chronicle, New standards would force teacher training to make the grade, too, Nov. 8, 2009

Teacher preparation programs in Texas: policy recommendations to improve practice, by Ed Fuller, presented to the State Board for Educator Certification, May 9, 2008

Analysis of beginning teachers in Texas with no pre-service field experiences, by Ed Fuller, accessed Dec. 14, 2010

E-mail interview with Peter Clark, legislative director for Rep. Mike Villarreal, Dec. 8, 2010

E-mail interview with Debbie Ratcliffe, communications director, Texas Education Agency, Dec. 8, 2010

Interview with Ed Fuller, special research associate, University of Council for Educational Administration, University of Texas at Austin, Dec. 8, 2010

Interview with Pamela Hall, executive director of human resources at the Office of Educator Quality, Austin Independent School District, Dec. 8, 2010

E-mail interview with Vernon Reaser, president, A+ Texas Teachers, Dec. 9, 2010

Interview with Karen Loonam, deputy associate commissioner, educator certification and standards, Texas Education Agency, Dec. 16, 2010

Interview with Janice Lopez, director of educator standards, Texas Education Agency, Dec. 16, 2010

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