by Dick Hall-Sizemore
I have long been skeptical of Virginia’s teacher licensure requirements in general and of education courses at colleges and universities, in particular.
In this vein, I was eagerly anticipating Jim Sherlock’s series of articles on this blog about teacher licensure and those schools of education. I agree with one of his main premises: to the extent that schools of education faculty are involved in the drafting of teacher licensure requirements, particularly what should be in a bachelor’s degree in education, those requirements will be heavily tilted toward courses in schools of education, rather than in the field of concentration.
The articles have been disappointing. For example, the most recent one promises to show “how the rules for licensure of teachers and other school staff have changed and impacted teacher education.”
The article fails to live up to its promise. It is chock full of assertions and recriminations aimed at Democrats that are backed up by little evidence. In fact, one of his major pieces of evidence refutes his assertions.
Here is his basic assertion:
“Education laws themselves have changed a great deal.
Following the 2019 election, the Democratic Party held a majority of seats in both the House and the Senate for the first time since 1996. They were sworn into office on January 8, 2020.
With Ralph Northam as governor, they re-wrote virtually every existing law on public education and added new ones. They completely re-envisioned and re-stated public education.”
For evidence of this massive change in the area of teacher licensure, he invites readers to:
“Look at the changes to Code of Virginia § 22.1-298.1. Regulations governing licensure, made by the General Assemblies in 2020, cc. 513, 640, 870; 2021, Sp. Sess. I, cc. 23, 24, 451, 452; 2022, cc. 545, 546, 549, 550, 656, 657.
They created a whole new teacher qualifications regime.”
Did they, indeed? Let’s look at what the bills that were enacted amending that section in those years actually did:
Chapter 513 (HB 1344, Del. Askew, D-Virginia Beach).
Current law— Required that regulations regarding licensure must include procedures for written reprimand of license holders.
This bill—added “on grounds established by Board, in accordance with law.”
Current law—regarding circumstance in which teacher breaks contractual provision dealing when the teacher may resign, provided for disciplinary action of reprimand or revocation of license.
This bill—added “suspension” as a possible disciplinary action.
640 (HB 1630, Del. Kilgore, R-Scott)
This bill dealt with the circumstances under which the Board of Education could issue a provisional license to someone who had not completed the professional assessments required by law.
Current law—One of the conditions was that the applicant hold a provisional license that would expire in 3 months.
This bill—added “or, at the discretion of the school board and division superintendent, within six months if the individual has received a satisfactory mid-year performance review in the current school year.”
Chapter 870 (HB 894, Del. Levine, D-Alexandria). Requires that education preparatory programs in colleges and universities include, as a condition of the degree, instruction on positive behavior interventions and supports; crisis prevention and de-escalation; the use of physical restraint and seclusion, consistent with the regulations of the Board. Any individual seeking initial licensure who has not received that instruction shall receive it.
Chapters 23 and 24 (Identical) (HB 1904, Del. Jenkins, D-Suffolk and SB 1196, Sen. Locke, D-Hampton)
The bills included three new requirements:
- Each teacher and other professional required to be licensed by the Board must complete cultural competency training, in accordance with guidelines issued by the Board, every two years.
- Anyone seeking initial licensure or license renewal must complete instruction or training in cultural competency.
- Anyone seeking initial licensure or license renewal with an endorsement in history and social studies shall complete instruction in African American history.
Chapters 451 and 452 (Identical) (HB 2299, Del. Carr, D-Richmond and SB 1288, Sen. Dunnavant, R-Henrico).
The bill made some major changes in the way DOE administers programs dealing with instruction of students with disabilities. The changes made to the licensure Code section require anyone seeking licensure renewal to complete training in the instruction of students with disabilities that includes (i) differentiating instruction for students depending on their needs (ii) understanding the role of the general education teacher on the IEP team, (iii) implementing effective models of collaborative instruction, and (iv) understanding the roles and benefits of inclusive education for all students.
Chapters 545 and 546 (Identical) (HB 230, Del. Coyner, R-Chesterfield and SB 154, Sen. Locke, D-Hampton).
Current law—Required BOE to provide for licensure by reciprocity any spouse of an active duty member of the Armed Services who has a valid out-of-state license that is in force at the time of application for a Virginia license.
This bill—Adds spouses of a reserve member of the Armed Services or a member of the Virginia National Guard.
Chapters 549 and 550 (Identical) (HB 319, Coyner R-Chesterfield and SB 616, Sen. Lucas, D-Portsmouth) This is the Virginia Literacy Act, involving changes to many Code sections. The changes to the teacher licensure Code section require that those seeking a teaching license with an endorsement in elementary education complete study in science-based reading research and evidence-based literacy instruction.
Chapters 656 and 657 (Identical) (HB 979, Del. Tran, D-Fairfax and Sen. Favola, D-Fairfax).
Authorizes the BOE to issue a three-year provisional license to anyone who has held, within the last five years, a valid and officially issued and recognized license or certification to teach issued by an entity outside the United States.
Although some of the legislation passed over the last three years added requirements that some contributors and readers of this blog may not agree with, by no means did they create a “whole new teacher qualifications regime.” Furthermore, Governor Youngkin and his Secretary of Public Instruction have eagerly embraced the changes included in the Virginia Literacy Act.
Next, Jim announces, “The Board of Education provided the details in the 99-page Chapter 543. Regulations Governing the Review and Approval of Education Programs in Virginia and other fast-tracked regulations.”
The implication is that the legislation that was enacted in 2020 and 2021, “when the revolution began”, were then converted into 99 pages of regulations. In fact, that 99-page document provided in the link includes all the regulations adopted by successive Boards of Education over the years, boards with majorities appointed by Republican governors as well as majorities appointed by Democratic governors.
As for his “fast-tracked” regulations, the law authorizes boards to enact regulations that are implementing specific General Assembly-enacted requirements on a schedule that is more expedited than that for “regular” regulations. The rationale is that the public has had an opportunity to view and comment on these new requirements during the regulatory process.
No real problem has been identified in this area.
Standard No. 6 of the Virginia Standards of Quality requires the Board of Education to adopt “a statewide comprehensive, unified, long-range plan based on data collection, analysis, and evaluation.”
Jim devotes a lot of his article to this comprehensive plan, comparing the current plan to that of years before, with the current plan coming out second or third best, in his estimation.
Having been involved over many years in the development of strategic, or comprehensive, plans at both the state and agency levels, I have learned to take them with a large grain of salt or, as we used to say where I come from, “not put much store” in them. They do not have the force of law and, thus, are not enforceable. They are mostly policy proclamations that those who are involved in the day-to-day operation of agencies and implementation of programs do not pay much attention to.
CIRCLE OF LIFE
There is no question that laws and regulations regarding what should be taught in Virginia’s public schools, how teachers should be trained, and how teachers should be licensed constitute the primary reasons for the existence of schools of education.
Any new or expanded requirement for a teaching license, such as the requirement for instruction in African American history or cultural competency training, could readily result in the need to expand the faculty of a school of education or the general faculty of the college or university. Jim contends that “ed schools drafted the new licensure laws and regulations, to which they now must train new teachers.” He offers no documentation for this claim. In fact, there are numerous groups lobbying for changes in the licensure laws. For example, the recommendations of the Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth in 2020 probably provided the major impetus for those two requirements.
One of Jim’s major assumptions is that faculty of the education schools exercise disproportionate influence in drafting regulations and recommendations governing the teaching profession, from what must be taught in schools to what courses and training teachers must have to be licensed initially and to get their licenses renewed.
He identifies the Advisory Board on Teacher Education and Licensure (ABTEL) as the vehicle for this “regulatory capture” by the schools of education. The fact that representatives of higher education presently hold the positions of chair and vice-chair of ABTEL, as well as chairs of its two subcommittees, is sufficient evidence for him that higher education is able to dictate regulations on licensing and teacher education. A closer look at ABTEL leads to a different conclusion.
ABTEL is established by statute, first enacted by the General Assembly in 1990. The statute defines the role of ABTEL as follows:
“The Advisory Board on Teacher Education and Licensure shall advise the Board of Education and submit recommendations on policies applicable to the qualifications, examination, licensure, and regulation of school personnel including revocation, suspension, denial, cancellation, reinstatement, and renewals of licensure, fees for processing applications, standards for the approval of preparation programs, reciprocal approval of preparation programs, and other related matters as the Board of Education may request or the Advisory Board may deem necessary. The final authority for licensure of school personnel shall remain with the Board of Education.”
The law establishes the membership of ABTEL as follows:
- 3 legislators
- 10 teachers
- 3 local school administrators
- 4 faculty members in teacher preparatory programs
- 1 school board member
- 1 member from a parent-teacher organization
- 1 representative from the business community
- 1 citizen at large
Except for the legislators, the members are appointed by the Board of Education for three-year terms. No member may serve more than two consecutive terms. ABTEL members elect the organization’s chairman, and it must meet at least five times per year.
A review of the videos of the ABTEL meetings in 2020 and 2021 makes it clear that the initiative and driving force does not come from the higher education members of the organization, but, rather, from the Department of Education (DOE) officials who serve as liaison and staff support for ABTEL. These DOE personnel presented drafts of proposals prepared by the department for discussion by, and feedback from, ABTEL members. These personnel, primarily the Assistant Superintendent for Teacher Education and Licensure, frequently made it clear during the meetings that the proposals were in line with the policies of the administration, department, and Board of Education. The non-academic members participated in the discussions as vigorously as the academic members, if not more so.
Assuming, however, for purposes of discussion that Jim is correct that the schools of education have a predominant role in developing legislation or regulations, the question comes down to: so what? He seems to assume that, because the schools of education had this role, then, ipso facto, the legislation and regulations are faulty. Some other commentators on this blog are frequently, and rightly, admonished for assuming that findings or recommendations by certain organizations are wrong or biased, on their face, due to their source. Jim takes this same approach. Rather than identifying regulations or proposals he feels are faulty or wrong-headed and telling us why he thinks so, he wants us to believe that all of the regulations in that 99-page document are the result of self-interested schools of education, whose politics and supposed ideological leanings he disagrees with.
He goes on to fault the schools of education for offering courses for teachers to take for their license renewal or career enhancement. As an example, he cites the Master of Teaching (M.T.) degree and teacher licensure with an endorsement in History and Social Sciences (grades 6-12) offered at UVa. Rather cynically, he asks, “Which came first, the course or the regulation requiring it?” To my knowledge, there is no regulation requiring a school of education to offer a Master of Teaching degree. However, most school divisions have policies that teachers with a master’s degree get paid more. A Master of Teaching degree with a concentration in a specific subject seems to be a preferred choice because it combines the subject matter with teaching methods. Schools of education are where teachers can obtain such degrees.
There are some statements or assertions in the article that are mistaken:
- Assertion: “Experienced teachers must come to the ed schools for training for their license renewal.” Fact: 22.1-298.1 para. D.2. provides that “no person seeking renewal of a license shall be required to satisfy any such requirement by completing coursework and earning credit at an institution of higher education.”
- Assertion: Virtually all teachers pass the professional assessments required to get a license. Fact: There is no documentation of this claim. In fact, the 2019 General Assembly enacted legislation directing the Board of Education to issue a license to someone who “has attempted, unsuccessfully, to obtain a qualifying score on the professional assessments as prescribed by the Board” if that person has a provisional license, is employed by a school division, and has received satisfactory evaluations. It seems that there were enough people who failed those assessments to warrant some intervention.
- Assertion: “With Ralph Northam as governor, they [Democratic legislators in 2020 and 2021] re-wrote virtually every existing law on public education.” Fact: Title 22.1 is that portion of the Code of Virginia that contains statutes related to K-12 education. That title consisted of approximately 700 separate Code sections or laws. Based on data contained in the Legislative Information System, the 2020 and 2021 Sessions of the General Assembly amended 84, or about 12 percent, of those sections. To be fair, Title 22.1 includes numerous Chapters that do not relate specifically to actual teaching and instruction, which is likely what Jim had in mind when he made this claim. However, even after limiting the analysis to more specific areas, it is clear that this claim is a wild exaggeration. That analysis would include the following Chapters of Title 22.1:
- 1–System of Public Schools, general provisions
- 2–Board of Education
- 3–Superintendent of Public Instruction
- 13–Programs, Courses of Instruction, Textbooks
- 1–The Standards of Quality
- 15–Teachers, Officers and Employees
Those chapters contain approximately 200 sections. The 2020 and 2021 Sessions of the General Assembly amended 68 of them. Therefore, about a third of the sections dealing directly with K-12 education were amended. That is impressive but does not approach the claim that “virtually every existing law on public education” was re-written.