Uncertified teachers in Texas: Growing concern over rising numbers

In this FOX 7 Focus, we take a look at the rise in uncertified teachers working in Texas public schools.

It is a trend that has some concerned about the quality of education that Texas students are receiving.

FOX 7 Austin's John Krinjak talked to Dr. Heath Horrison, CEO of Teachers of Tomorrow as well as a former Texas teacher and superintendent to learn more.

JOHN KRINJAK: I want to talk about just how this situation came about. I understand it has to do with so-called districts of innovation. What are those, and how did that lead to what we're seeing now?

HEATH MORRISON: There is a provision in state law called District of Innovation, and it's something that has allowed a district to apply for that status, and then also to hire hard-to-fill, hard-to-staff positions, mostly around CTE. So, for example, you're trying to hire an automechanic for an autoshop class, or a cosmetology teacher for cosmetology class. These DIY provisions allow for their hiring without the certification. Because of the immense challenges with the teacher shortages that we're having in Texas after the pandemic, there has been more and more of a need for districts to use this DOI status to hire teachers, not just in hard to fill positions like CTE, but in many, many subject areas in elementary, middle and high school.

JOHN KRINJAK: I understand that's kind of being borne out in the numbers that we're seeing. What trends have you seen as far as how many uncertified teachers are teaching in schools statewide and here in our area?

HEATH MORRISON: Yeah, it's staggering. A few years ago, before the pandemic, there was maybe 2 or 3000 uncertified teachers in the state of Texas. And now, on average, we're hiring about 50,000 new teachers a year in the state, and over 17,000 this academic year. Currently, in Texas, schools of those new hires are uncertified teachers, meaning that they have their bachelor's, they pass a clean criminal background check, but they've had none of the traditional preparation coursework. Field-based experience tests all the things that show that someone is truly ready to meet their students and help them thrive. So just to put it in percentage, one out of every three new teachers coming to the state of Texas is now an uncertified teacher.

JOHN KRINJAK: Sounds like kind of an obvious question, but why is this bad in your view? You know, what impact does having such a large percentage of uncertified teachers have on student outcomes?

HEATH MORRISON: Well, I would say a couple of things. First, the data is very clear that uncertified teachers tend to leave the profession. Over 50 percent of them leave after only three years. The other challenge is that they have not really been prepared. How to construct a lesson, how to deal with classroom management. So they're proverbially being thrown into the classroom. And again, a lot of districts are trying to do a lot to support these new teachers. And I have to lift up Austin ISD. I recently, a few weeks ago, had a chance to meet with their superintendent and the HR director. And, they're alarmed by the trend of uncertified teachers. And I really lift them up as a school district that's trying to not only meet their needs so that they can serve the students that they are currently teaching, but they're also working in collaboration with providers like us to try to get those uncertified teachers certified as quickly as possible. But it is a true problem.

JOHN KRINJAK: What would you say to people who would push back on this, arguing that having some uncertified teachers can be an asset, that it brings different perspectives, it helps maybe reach students who might not kind of be in the traditional mind frame, having a different way of approaching things. How would you respond to that?

HEATH MORRISON: Well, what I'd say to those people is, I concur that there should be additional ways to get into the classroom, and that was a whole reason why alternative certification was created. Teaching programs like Teachers of Tomorrow were those pathways for people who had gotten into a different career. I think the challenge is, if you say uncertified teachers, then what you're really saying is that the profession of teaching isn't really a profession anymore. It's just a job because anybody can do it. And our students in Texas deserve so much more than that.


JOHN KRINJAK: What are some solutions here, given how big this situation has become?

HEATH MORRISON: So I think just enhancing the profession of teaching, making sure that we respect it as a profession, making sure that we compensate individuals and recognize how hard it is. What we have to do now is we have to look at these 17,000 plus uncertified teachers, and we have to find a way to get them certified. We need to find a way to, and that's what we're doing at Teachers of Tomorrow. We're having active partnerships with school districts. I think, ultimately, we're going to have some legislative opportunities to look at this, to make sure that there is a pathway for people to get certified, perhaps with some financial support. There has to be some sort of provisions that are put into place in terms of how long somebody can be uncertified. There's a number of things that other states do that I'm sure we're going to have to look at in the state of Texas in the 2025 legislative session.