Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Details of Teacher Licensure Bill and Some Interesting Safety Votes

We had a marathon meeting of the House Education Committee this morning. That was followed by a short subcommittee meeting and ended with the Chair letting us know she will need to call another meeting either Friday or Saturday of this week. So the slow start in the House has caught up with them and the bills are jammed up waiting to be heard. So Saturday subcommittee meetings are the only answer.

Part of the reason the House went long today was that they had a confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education designee, classroom teacher, and VEA member Atif Qarni. During the campaign the VEA pushed hard on the idea that, then candidate, Northam name a classroom teacher as his Secretary of Education. And he did. For the first time in the history of the Commonwealth we have a classroom teacher as our Secretary of Education. Promises made and promises kept. Thank you Governor Northam.

As I have shared in this blog, there will be changes to how we license teachers in Virginia. The members of the General Assembly see this as one of the solutions to the teacher shortage. House Bill 1125 (HB1125) will be the bill in the House. I wanted to share some things VEA is willing to get behind and those things we can not get behind.

We support changes to some of the license requirements that the General Assembly has added over the years. The changes in this bill are good ones.

HB1125 includes the ability extend a provisional license for up to two additional years. Currently, provisional licenses are three years. If you don't complete the requirements for a full license in that time frame, you are out of the profession. We can support the extension of the provisional license so long as the licensee is effective and is making progress towards achieving full licensure. We believe that there needs to be evidence of good teaching and efforts to move to a full license for any extension. We are hopeful that language fill find its way into an final bill.

The bill also addresses teacher license reciprocity when you have a full license from another state. Currently teachers from out of state must pass the teacher assessments (including PRAXIS and VCLA) at our cut scores. Virginia has the highest cut scores in the country, so this is a big hurdle for some folks. This provision of the bill would remove this requirement for teachers with out-of-state licenses. If we adopt a policy of full reciprocity, I think we need to really take a good look at the testing requirements we place on VA’s teachers. We have the highest cuts scores in the country, we need to look at how well that serves us. Do these tests even measure a new teacher’s preparedness to enter the profession? I think this is an off-session topic we must address. There are cultural biases in these tests, too, which are even more problematic when they stop minority teacher candidates from entering the profession. 

The last section of the bill is an absolute RED LINE for us. The bill allows for locally issued waivers on teacher licenses- no license needed to be a contracted teacher. Content area knowledge does not make you an effective teacher. We must put “content area experts” on a path towards licensure. There are many paths, but we must make sure that anyone contracted by a local school division is a licensed teacher or is on a path to licensure. This is a teacher quality issue and a safety issue.  

Teaching is our profession, and, at the VEA, we are very protective of it, as we should be. We are very concerned by many of the proposed changes we are seeing. Teaching is not easy and not everyone can do it. You need a solid foundation in methods, child growth and development, assessments and measurements, and planning individualized instruction. The content isn’t what makes teaching hard, it’s all of the other aspects of effective teaching that make it hard. When we fill our classrooms with “content knowledge” but remove any requirement that have to learn the hard part of teaching, I promise, our students suffer. 

So that's the bill. Feel free to read it over at the General Assembly web site. There is a whole lot in the bill, and we are hopeful we can work with the patron and get to a good outcome. Stay tuned. 

On another topic, today, killing common-sense safety bills was the order in Senate Finance. They killed a bill that would have prohibited handguns at certain daycare centers and pre-schools and another bill that would increase the penalty for hitting a person if you pass a school bus that is stopped to discharge passengers. Bills that seem to just make sense, don't to some members of the General Assembly. With all the change this session, some things never change.