Thursday, October 13, 2016

Superintendent White Reverses Course on Teacher Credentials and Training

Superintendent White's new teacher certification proposals are totally at odds with his previous policies on teacher credentials and experience

State Superintendent John White who himself has minimal credentials as a professional educator has proposed a beefed up program of Louisiana teacher certification that includes a one year internship supervised by experienced master teachers. Many agree that such internships are highly desirable as a way of providing teachers with coaching and guidance in developing their classroom teaching skills. But this proposal is totally at odds with policies that White has promoted from the beginning of his tenure as Louisiana State Superintendent!

When John White came to Louisiana and started his term as Governor Jindal's hand-picked State Superintendent, he was called upon to testify on Jindal's education reform legislation as proposed by Acts 1 and 2 of 2012. These bills proposed major changes in the qualifications and credentials of teachers.

Act 1 of 2012, included provisions removing all teacher seniority rights and limiting teacher pay based on years of experience. Act 2 of 2012 allowed charter schools to be exempted from the previous requirements in Louisiana Law that all teachers must complete a teacher training program as part of their certification process.  Act 2 allowed charter schools to hire as fully certified teachers, anyone with a bachelor's degree of any kind if they passed a background check. Such persons would be given the responsibility to teach a classroom full of students without a single hour of teacher preparation. This exemption for charter schools is still the law in Louisiana. In addition, based on BESE policy, certification was provided to Teach for America corps members who had received only 5 weeks of summer training before fully assuming the duties of classroom teaching. These alternatively certified teachers were eligible, and are still eligible to teach in any public school classroom in the state. John White, himself had received just such preparation before he taught for TFA.

In his testimony before the legislature, (I am paraphrasing) John White suggested that there was no measurable difference in the effectiveness of new teachers compared to experienced teachers. White also suggested to the legislature that there was no significant value in the system of step increases that provided teachers a salary schedule with financial rewards based on years of teaching experience. Act I also required that each public school system implement a merit pay system for teachers based on student test scores. In addition, the new evaluation plan for teachers targeted 10% of teachers for dismissal based on student test scores.

The new laws have basically decimated Louisiana teacher salary schedules based on years of experience.  Since the state provided not one penny of funding for the mandated merit pay scheme, most school systems shifted money from teacher step increases to pay for the merit pay plan. White also supported the changes in Act 1 that stripped all teachers of their seniority rights in determining priority for layoffs in reduction in force actions.

In the ensuing years since the passage of Acts 1 and 2, the combination of loss of step increases and loss of seniority coupled with teacher evaluations and merit pay based on student test scores has been identified by many experienced teachers as the causes of their decision to take early retirement. Hundreds, maybe thousands of teachers in Louisiana have retired earlier than they had originally planned because of disillusionment with the new laws implemented by John White. Now Louisiana is experiencing a teacher shortage.

So now, White apparently has had an epiphany in which he has discovered the value of teaching experience in providing students with the best instruction possible. Just 4 years ago White saw no value in teacher preparation and teaching experience and helped to strip teachers of salary raises based on experience and to deny teachers seniority rights in layoff procedures. He supported hiring teachers for charter schools who had received no training whatsoever to be teachers. Yet now he seems to believe that teacher training and experience are valuable after all. I have a few questions about this whole turnaround:

  1. Is White proposing that from now on TFA Corps members entering Louisiana classrooms must receive one year of supervised internship before becoming certified? Or will such persons continue to be allowed to receive preferential treatment in the certification process?
  2. Will White propose a repeal of the law that limits the use of experience as a major component of the teacher salary schedule?
  3. Will White support the repeal of the prohibition on the use of teacher seniority in reduction in force policies?
  4. Will White propose that now teachers hired to teach in charter schools must complete a teacher preparation program, or will charter schools continue to be exempt from teacher certification requirements?
  5. Why does Louisiana continue to allow a non-educator to set policies on teacher certification and to use our teachers and students as guinea pigs for his contradictory education reforms.