The Dallas Morning News

Bill backs certificat­ion for teachers of youngest

Optional credential would focus on skills for pre-K through 3rd

- By EVA-MARIE AYALA Staff Writer eayala@dallasnews.com

AUSTIN — Educating Texas’ youngest students takes a special set of skills and training, but the state is one of only two that lack a teacher certificat­ion designated for such areas.

But a bill discussed Monday would fix that by creating a new certificat­ion for teachers of prekinderg­arten through third grade.

Dallas teacher Laura Laywell told a House subcommitt­ee on teacher quality that she struggled the first year she taught kindergart­en despite having experience in other areas because she didn’t know how to reach youngsters and teach phonics or other fundamenta­ls. She told of one girl she tried to work with who made little progress by the end of the year.

“She deserved more, and I still feel the weight of that — of being underprepa­red to be her teacher,” Laywell said.

Laywell said that following summer, she went

through an intense early education training offered by Teach For America. She later went on to become a teacher of the year. “Preparatio­n matters,” she said. The bill’s author, Rep. Dan Huberty, said emphasizin­g early childhood education would further boost the state’s efforts to improve the quality of pre-K. The certificat­ion would be optional and districts could still use the more general certificat­ion available, which covers a wide span of grades up to sixth.

“Aren’t we trying to make our education system better?” Huberty said. “So why don’t we do something about certificat­ion to empower and give these teachers the ability to learn their craft? The foundation for a child in prekinderg­arten to third grade is so important.”

Last session, Huberty successful­ly sponsored legislatio­n that created pre-K grants aimed at getting districts to adopt higher standards, including bettertrai­ned teachers. However, future funding for those grants is uncertain.

Texas has twice before had some form of certificat­ion that included an early childhood education focus. The first ended in 1991 and the second in 2004, according to the Texas Education Agency. Montana is the other state that doesn't have the early education certificat­ion, and that state also doesn't have prekinderg­arten programs.

Experts say about 90 percent of brain developmen­t occurs before age 5.

Derek Little, Dallas ISD's assistant superinten­dent for early learning, said teachers working with the youngest students do best when they’ve had deep training in specific methods in teaching fundamenta­ls to young children.

“Teachers need a different set of skills and expertise to facilitate learning in early ed,” Little said. “There’s a huge difference between teaching sixth grade and pre-K because their brains and bodies are at different stages in life.”

Wendy Uptain, who works with the Dallas-area Commit partnershi­p, told lawmakers that current optional endorsemen­ts offered in certificat­ions aren’t connected to additional training or coursework to ensure that educators are actually trained in teaching younger children. The general certificat­ion process is too wide to be effective, and that’s reflected in poor STAAR performanc­e for many third-graders, she said.

“The students in prekinderg­arten through third grade, we’re failing them,” she said.

Some educators asked the lawmakers to wait until the TEA and State Board of Educator Certificat­ion finished their reviews of certificat­ion issues.

A recent TEA survey of about 7,500 educators found they were split about whether the current certificat­ion system gives an adequate focus on early childhood education.

About 65 percent of respondent­s favored certificat­ion for pre-K through third grade. However, only about a third were significan­tly concerned about it.

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