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Texas’ teacher shortage likely to be a major theme during the upcoming legislative session

Clear Fork Elementary School in Lockhart.
Patricia Lim
Clear Fork Elementary School in Lockhart.

A growing number of teachers in Texas public schools aren’t going through the state’s regular certification process.

Student enrollment has dipped in some school districts, many others in the state also face severe teacher shortages.

Districts have been scrambling to fill vacancies, oftentimes hiring educators who lack state certification. And with the next legislative session coming up in a little over three months, the teacher shortage is expected to be a key priority for lawmakers.

Talia Richman, reporter for The Dallas Morning News’ Education Lab, spoke with the Standard about the increase in uncertified teachers and what we can expect in the 88th legislative session when it comes to teacher shortages. Listen to the story in the player above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

Texas Standard: First, let’s look at this surprising statistic you reported on. One in five new teachers in Texas hired without state licensure. What exactly does licensure require? 

Talia Richman: Yeah, it was definitely a big spike in the number of Texas teachers being hired without a state certification. You know, typically, to get certified as a teacher in Texas, you have to have a bachelor’s degree. You have to go through an educator preparation program where you learn things like how to lesson plan, how to manage student behaviors, how to specifically serve students with disabilities. You have to go through a background check. You have to apply to the state. So a lot of steps to go through. But there are alternative ways into the classroom that don’t require such steps. And because districts have seen so many vacancies and they don’t want to be scrambling to find a sub every day, they don’t want to be growing class sizes, they’ve, in some cases, really leaned on those types of educators, especially this year.

Well, what are education experts saying about the significance of the lack of certified teachers and how that affects education? What does this end up looking like as a practical matter for those students in the classroom? 

I wish there was more research on that exact question, and I expect we’ll be seeing a lot of that as this becomes a more common practice. You know, not all of the teachers are in third grade reading or anything like that. A lot of them are industry specialists who are able to come in without a certification to teach career and technical education classes. But there are certainly some teaching core classes, some in elementary schools. So for people who are really watching, they’re saying ‘sure, the certification process might not be perfect.’ And, you know, a lot of first time teachers struggle, but going through a teacher certification program does indicate some level of preparedness, some level of commitment to the field.

What about the laws here? The teacher shortage is likely to be a big focal point in the upcoming legislative session. Current laws allow school districts to bring in teachers who are not certified for an indeterminate amount of time, or how does this work, actually?

So Texas has actually opened up a lot of policy pathways for school districts to hire uncertified teachers. One of those is the Districts of Innovation program, which lawmakers approved in 2015. That let traditional school districts have some of the flexibilities that charter schools have, including around teacher certification. So once that law in 2015 passed, tons of school districts took advantage of it and that is what is kind of fueling this growth in a lot of ways. More than 800 school districts in Texas are considered Districts of Innovation, so they have this flexibility enabled by lawmakers. I do think that legislators are eager to take a key look at both what outside factors have contributed to teacher shortages and also what’s been done in the state to contribute. There’s perhaps an appetite to look at alternative certification programs, to look at really strengthening teacher residency programs, where you could learn alongside an experienced teacher, as well as more practical, hands on, things like changing the school schedules to allow teachers have more planning time, giving more mental health support. So I think those are a lot of the the policy areas lawmakers will be looking at.

Are you hearing about specific proposals or is it just too early for that?

I think it’s a bit too early for that. Although, the governor assembled a teacher vacancy task force and they are expected to have finalized recommendations in February 2023. So those will be definitely interesting to see because I imagine those will have some institutional support behind them.

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Alexandra Hart | Texas Standard