Like many states, Texas is currently facing a massive teacher shortage, with more than 10,000 classroom vacancies. But this state is unique in that its deep deregulation of teacher preparation has made the crisis even worse. Texas’s school staffing woes provide an important cautionary tale for North Carolina as our decision makers craft a complete makeover of teacher licensure and compensation.
In Texas, most new teachers don’t enter the classroom through traditional university educator preparation programs. Instead, more than half the state’s newest educators go through alternative certification routes. Such programs offer more flexibility and lower costs than universities, and to some extent they’ve helped diversify the teaching corps.
However, limited state oversight of such programs means quality control is nearly nonexistent. As a result, they often produce teachers who aren’t well prepared for the realities of life in the classroom. Those educators rarely stay in the profession for long.
The largest alternative certification program in Texas is the for-profit “Texas Teachers of Tomorrow,” a company which has expanded into a number of other states including North Carolina. (More on the North Carolina franchise later.)
The company advertises its product as a speedy path to becoming a classroom teacher:
Of course faster doesn’t always mean better.
A recent audit by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) found numerous problems with the Texas Teachers of Tomorrow program, including misleading advertising, failure to provide new teachers with mentors, and lack of research to support training materials.
The agency is now considering whether to place TTOT on probation while it works to get its act together or revoke its right to operate in Texas entirely. The state is so far down the alternative certification road that revocation could make teacher shortages even worse than they already are.
In order to better understand the impact of Texas’s deregulation of teacher preparation, the University of Houston’s College of Education took a deep dive into trends in the state’s public school staffing, conducting a decade-long study which culminated with the 2021 release of the Texas Teacher Workforce Report.
Researchers found that after 10 years 57% of teachers prepared through traditional university programs remained, while only 46% of those who came through for-profit programs like Texas Teachers of Tomorrow were still in the classroom.
Back to North Carolina
In the 2017-18 session, North Carolina state legislators passed a law called “Excellent Educators in Every Classroom” which opened up teacher preparation to entities that are not universities. (The same bill created the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission, the group that is currently working on a proposal to reform licensure and compensation by moving to a system of merit pay.)
The legislation was sponsored by then-state senator Chad Barefoot, and eyebrows shot up when news emerged that Teachers of Tomorrow president and frequent Republican donor Vernon Reaser had contributed to Barefoot’s campaign.
After the bill passed, Teachers of Tomorrow was authorized to operate as an educator preparation program in North Carolina. The company’s billboards began popping up along the state’s highways, again selling the quick path to the classroom:
North Carolina Teachers of Tomorrow now refers to itself as “the largest North Carolina teacher license program” and, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Educator Preparation Program Dashboard, has a current enrollment of 1,326.
The company’s website boasts a number of glowing endorsements by “teachers” who have completed the program in North Carolina.
Oddly enough, not one of them is listed in NCDPI’s License Verification database, indicating none of those being used to sell the North Carolina Teachers of Tomorrow program actually holds a teaching license in this state.
Perhaps the misleading advertising flagged by the Texas Education Agency wasn’t an anomaly.
The North Carolina officials who are promoting the state’s new merit pay proposal keep talking about the need for additional “on ramps” for educators. State superintendent Catherine Truitt recently said, “Opening these doors into the profession for our teachers can turn into opening the doors of opportunity for our students.”
To be clear, we do need to ensure there are viable alternate pathways to the classroom and that our licensure system is resulting in a healthy, diverse teacher pipeline. But we must be sure that when we open those doors we do so with the understanding that teaching is a highly skilled profession. Our North Star must be our constitutional obligation to provide excellent teachers for every student.
If we open North Carolina’s doors to shoddy operators and poorly prepared teachers, there’s no reason to think the results will be any different from the mess that’s playing out in Texas.