CT Examiner Proposes Bill to Modernize Teacher Certification Process

A new bill in Connecticut is seeking to reform the state’s teacher certification system by reducing the requirements for aspiring educators. However, many advocates and educators argue that the proposed legislation falls short in fully modernizing an outdated system.

The CT Educator Certification Council, established by the state Legislature last year, aims to improve the number and diversity of teachers in Connecticut.

The latest bill incorporates several recommendations put forth by the council. One significant change is the elimination of one of the three tiers in teacher certification, enabling teachers with an initial certificate to directly obtain a professional certificate. Furthermore, the bill expands endorsement areas, granting teachers the opportunity to teach across a broader range of grade levels. Additionally, it simplifies the process for teachers to instruct different subjects by removing the need for extensive coursework.

Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker informed the legislature’s Education Committee that around 900 new educators from out of state were granted emergency certifications by the Department of Education during the pandemic. She emphasized that the formation of the council was a significant milestone in tackling the existing issues with the certification system.

“We have all reached a consensus on the need for necessary changes, and we are actively progressing towards that goal. It is important for us to acknowledge that any change requires reflection, careful consideration, and the development of new approaches,” Russell-Tucker emphasized.

The bill introduces three different pathways for individuals to obtain teacher certification. These pathways include completing a traditional university program, completing a teaching program in another state, or completing an alternative program. Additionally, the bill mandates that the Department of Education create pathways for support staff and paraeducators to obtain their teaching certification. Furthermore, the bill opens up opportunities for professionals in specific fields to teach subjects that align with their expertise.

The measure falls short of completely eliminating the current regulations, which many educators view as outdated. Instead, it establishes the Connecticut Educator Preparation and Certification Board, whose main responsibility is to revamp the preparation programs.

New London Schools Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie addressed the committee, highlighting the pressing issue of teacher shortage in her school district. She revealed that currently, there are 19 long-term substitute teachers in their roster. This shortage has posed significant challenges for the district.

Ritchie expressed his frustration with the outdated Connecticut certification system, emphasizing the disappointment he feels when he recommends a candidate for employment, only to encounter numerous obstacles and red tape in the certification process.

Dolores Garcia Blocker, the executive director of Teach for America’s Connecticut branch, expressed her concern about the challenging requirements that were deterring aspiring fellows who were eager to make a difference in Connecticut classrooms.

“I constantly meet candidates who are eager to come to Connecticut and make a positive impact in their communities. However, our outdated certification requirements prevent them from doing so,” she explained. She further highlighted that these candidates reluctantly switch their preferred areas and ultimately end up in Massachusetts, New York, or New Jersey.

The need for diversity

The bill does not address the assessments that teachers must pass in order to complete their preparation programs and become licensed in specific subjects. Fran Rabinowitz, president of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents and a council member, informed legislators that the council was not yet prepared to give a definitive recommendation on how to handle these assessments.

In her opinion, having an assessment is valuable, but she questions whether the Praxis exams currently taken by teachers are the most effective choice.

According to Rabinowitz, the purpose of this assessment is to demonstrate that teachers are adequately prepared for the profession. He emphasizes the importance of practical experience in classrooms, suggesting that teacher candidates should have more opportunities for hands-on work.

According to State Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, the exams have posed challenges for teachers of color trying to enter the workforce. He referred to a report from Boston University’s Wheelock Educational Policy Center, which highlighted the significance of Connecticut’s licensure tests in determining the makeup of the teaching workforce. The report also indicated that there was a limited connection between a teacher’s performance on these tests and their impact on student outcomes.

According to data from the State Department of Education, about one-fifth of the approximately 5,000 teacher certificate candidates in 2021-22 were people of color and one-fifth were male.

According to a state report, in the 2021-22 academic year, the teacher exam had a pass rate of only 59% for candidates of color on their first attempt, compared to 75% for white candidates. Although many teachers eventually passed the exams, the results were more favorable for white candidates than for candidates of color.

The systemic nature of the situation at hand is undeniable. It has persisted for a significant period of time, and unfortunately, we have not taken sufficient action to address it. Instead, we have chosen to remain idle, neglecting our responsibility to enact meaningful change.

McCrory explained that the demographics of the teaching profession in the state of Connecticut are a result of this factor.

According to the data, teachers of color were found to be more inclined towards working in high-needs districts compared to their white colleagues. It was observed that 46% of certified teachers of color continued their employment in Alliance Districts, which are the 36 lowest-performing school districts in Connecticut. In contrast, 38.5% of white educators opted for the same career path.

McCrory inquired if Russell-Tucker could assure him that the new board would carry on the department’s ongoing efforts. Russell-Tucker reassured McCrory that the council had been established precisely for that purpose.

“We often find ourselves admiring problems without taking any action. It’s time for us to step up and do what needs to be done. The Department of Education has made a commitment to convene this board and ensure that we get the results we need,” she emphasized.

The board consists of eight teachers, six representatives from an educator preparation program, five administrators, and additional representatives for various state agencies.

Rabinowitz expressed her full support for the board.

“I find it empowering to reclaim our profession by allowing practitioners to voice their opinions on what strategies are most effective in education and certification. This includes determining which courses are beneficial and identifying any outdated practices. It’s truly remarkable,” she expressed.

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MBS Staff
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