Thursday, January 10, 2019

VEA's Teacher Diversity Bill and An Attack On Our Union

This morning was the first meeting of the Senate Education and Health Committee and they took no time at all getting started. They reported bills and referred bills at lightning speed. A VEA bill and a bill that attacks educator unions were both referred to the afternoon sub-committee meeting for full hearings. Usually some of these larger, more controversial bills come up later in session. Not this year.

Senate Bill 1236 (Senator DeSteph, VA Beach) is an attempt to undermine the role of the VEA and our local affiliates. Interestingly, this bill came out of a local issue the Virginia Beach Education Association (VBEA) faced and fought off. So even though the VA Beach School Board was able to take care of their issue through local organizing and the work of locally elected officials, Senator DeSteph decided to make the issue a legislative issue and is trying to add to Code language his local school board rejected. We were glad to have the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) with us opposing this bill. The bill reported 3-2 with our two champions Senators Locke and Howell voting to stop the bill. The fight will likely be on the floor of the Senate as the full committee will likely report on party lines.

On another note and in really, really good news, VEA initiated Senate Bill 1397 is a direct result of the recommendations that came out of VEA's Teacher of Color Summit. Diversity among Virginia’s student population continues to increase, non-white students made up 49 percent of Virginia’s student population in 2016-17, up from 39 percent in the 2003-04 school year. Virginia’s teacher workforce is nearly 80 percent white. Research shows that diversity in schools, including racial diversity among teachers, can provide significant benefits to students.  Improving teacher diversity can help all students. Teachers of color are positive role models for all students in breaking down negative stereotypes and preparing students to live and work in a multiracial society. Both quantitative and qualitative studies find that teachers of color can improve the school experiences of all students. PK-12 students of color also do better on a variety of academic outcomes if they are taught by teachers of color.By 1998, in response to the National movement to high-stakes testing, Virginia added passing standardized, professional assessments (PRAXIS) for entry into teacher education programs and for earning your initial teaching license. These assessments show significant pass rate gaps between white teacher candidates and minority teacher candidates.Candidate screening tests also inadvertently perpetuate historic inequities.

In order to diversify our teacher workforce, we need to address the three inflection points where standardized professional assessments create road blocks to minority teacher candidates entering the profession.Virginia needs to examine the three inflection points for teacher licensure where the current requirements bar entry for minority candidates: 

  1. Entry into traditional teacher education programs 
  2. Earning their initial license 
  3. Completing the requirements of a provisional license

SB 1397 eliminates the requirement, established by the Virginia Board of Education, that all individuals seeking entry into a traditional teacher preparation program must pass the professional assessments. We know these assessments unfairly screen out minority teacher candidates. It would allow colleges and universities in Virginia to establish their own entry requirements into their programs. The bill also grants authority to the Virginia Board of Education to develop an alternative evaluation that would allow a teacher candidate to demonstrate proficiency in the relevant content area, communication, literacy, and other core skills for educators before being granted an initial teaching license. This bill does not eliminate the professional assessment as one of the means of evaluating a teacher candidate’s readiness to become a licensed teacher, it simply allows the development of an alternative method of evaluation as prescribed by the Board. And finally, it allows for a local Superintendent to request a waiver from the Virginia Board of Education of the professional assessment requirement of a provisionally licensed teacher who has met all of the other requirements for full licensure and has also received a rating of proficient or above on the performance standards each year of their provisional license. 

We are grateful to Senator Mark Peake for patroning this bill. There is an identical bill in the House that is partroned by Delegate Carroll-Foy and Delegate Lee Ware.