As schools across the country opened this month, the usual first-day question of “Who is my child’s teacher?” must now include: “And are they qualified?” By 2025, it is expected there will be over 300,000 teacher vacancies nationwide. To fill these gaps, many states are turning to the stop-gap measure of granting emergency or provisional licenses that allow people who have not met requirements to teach.
According to the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, over 163,000 teachers in 2022 were not qualified for their jobs, in many cases holding only an emergency certification or working in a subject or grade not covered by their credential. Conversely, both university and quality alternative certification routes ensure that teachers have proven subject matter knowledge through their state assessment and classroom readiness training.
The State of Teacher Certification in Texas
In Texas, where the issue is particularly acute, nearly 30% of new teachers employed over the past year were uncertified, which means they had no training, preparation, or experience. According to TEA PEIMS Report 2023 from Fall 2022 district reporting, the number of new uncertified teachers in classrooms now exceeds 15,000, an 81% increase from the prior year with current signs pointing towards continued growth.
Also growing at a high rate compared to the previous year is the use of emergency certificates. While this makes up a much smaller overall portion of certifications, the use of these certificates in school districts grew by 83% from the prior year and has grown by 1556% since 2011 when only 87 emergency certificates were issued to fill Texas classrooms. Emergency permits are used by an employing district that cannot fill a vacant role with an appropriately certified individual. Instead, the vacancy can be filled with candidates who have no training but are expected to gain the training on the job. At the same time, the state has seen a growing dependence on District of Innovation certification exemptions, where uncertified and untrained individuals can be accessed to staff vacant teaching positions.
Meanwhile, the percentage of teachers in the classroom with a standard certificate category or intern certificate has steadily decreased since 2011, making up less than 30% of teachers in Texas in 2022-2023. While Texas districts want to hire quality, certified teachers to fill their classrooms, they are increasingly difficult to find. Uncertified candidates have emerged as a short-term band-aid to perform an increasingly important, difficult, and demanding job.
The underlying Causes Are Varied
While the 2020-22 data was impacted by Covid waivers, virtual classrooms, teacher resignations, and pandemic-era exceptions, the steady decline in certified teachers continues today due to several factors:
- Steady decline in university Education program enrollment. Between 2008 and 2019, the number of students completing traditional teacher education programs in the U.S. dropped by more than a third, according to a 2022 report by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education;
- Hyper-competitive job market providing compelling alternatives for even those inclined to teach;
- Negative narrative around the teaching profession impacting both new hires and retention;
- District of Innovation (DOI) status – designed to give districts more flexibility to address extremely hard-to-fill roles, this has created a loophole for 965 DOI districts across Texas to hire uncertified teachers.
Short-term solution, long-term impacts
The uncertified hires help fill classrooms today, but they are not solving the problem long-term. Instead, these factors create a negative cycle of non-stop turnover that does not allow schools to fully staff or focus on struggling students.
Unprepared teachers are more likely to be sent to high-need schools, reaching more students of color and poverty. As a result, children with the highest needs are often taught by unqualified teachers, likely adding to the achievement gap. If children are taught by a revolving door of substitutes and non-certified teachers, research shows they lose significant learning ground.
In addition, these individuals who have a desire to teach are being thrown into the most challenging learning situations with no training and limited support. This combination makes them more likely to quit, creating more turnover and costing the system individuals who want to make an impact but are being tossed into classrooms without appropriate preparation.
No Single Scalable Solution
Quality training for teachers comes via two pathways: traditional certification programs, which provide a university-based education degree, and Alternative Certification Programs (ACPs), which include online coursework and field-based experiences for college graduates with non-education degrees. When completed with fidelity and in quality programs, both pathways produce quality certified teachers.
Traditional certification programs have historically produced the majority of teachers and continue to have a significant role to play in training teachers. They simply do not produce the numbers necessary to fill the vast vacancies across Texas alone. Alternative certification routes are cost-effective for individual candidates and for districts pursuing and prioritizing investment in “Grow Your Own” initiatives, which allow districts to invest in employees who excel locally to seek the training necessary to grow into a certified teacher role. The ACP model widens the lens for potential new teachers by attracting candidates with diverse backgrounds and professional experience from career starters to career changers and folks already working within a school or district.
Together, traditional certification programs and ACPs have proven they can provide the necessary training and support for teachers to excel in the classroom. With a declining percentage of certified individuals filling classrooms from all certification categories, we must think broadly and collaboratively about ways to invest in teacher certification in Texas.
Ending the reliance on emergency certification means making the teaching profession more attractive and the path to full certification more accessible. The Texas Teacher Vacancy Task Force found that the most successful solutions to recruit and retain teachers include a combination of increased salaries and support, quality training, and improved working conditions.
Implementing the Task Force initiatives will be critical for long-term success. Here are some key recommendations to highlight:
Other steps can be taken today to place prepared, quality teachers in our classrooms:
- Public-private collaboration to ensure uncertified teachers are enrolled and progressing through certification programs;
- District-sponsored certification partnerships, as modeled by Calhoun, Dallas, and Arlington ISDs, among others.
The time for collaborative solutions from those with experience developing, hiring, and retaining quality teachers is now. This is the challenge of our times; we must respond.