Last week’s CT Mirror reporting concerning the State Department of Education’s plans to once again change the teacher certification regulations to allow more “non-traditional” pathways is both deeply frustrating and sadly misguided.

The public indictment of higher education institutions in this article speaks volumes about the “blame game” that the State Department of Education, and particularly the Chairman of the Board of Education, continues to promote towards the very institutions working to provide the high quality, well-trained teachers Connecticut needs. Chairman Allan Taylor’s characterization of higher education as a choke point is especially uninformed and inflammatory.

Higher education institutions have been hampered for years by the multiple state regulations and changes to licensure requirements made by the Connecticut legislature. The regulations, enacted by the Connecticut Board of Education and the State Department of Education, are now over 20 years old, seriously out of date, and unduly cumbersome.

While Commissioner Dianna Wentzell rightly indicates “we are up against structural barriers,” it is blatantly untrue that our state’s teacher preparation programs “are unwilling to develop programs that help produce more teachers in shortage areas” as one state official is quoted saying. It is likewise untrue that students in our programs are, “largely unaware of which teaching specialties have shortages.”

As members of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education-Connecticut, and stewards of educator preparation at public and private institutions, we know otherwise. Our organization’s members are committed to working collaboratively with one another and the state to improve educator preparation in Connecticut. Indeed, we and our colleagues are working, under the weight of undue regulatory pressure, to respond to the state’s needs.

Higher education institutions throughout Connecticut have revamped teacher preparation programs in STEM and special education in efforts to draw new students into shortage areas and to press teacher candidates to choose shortage area certifications. At Quinnipiac University, for example, a new and innovative program in special education certification was developed in direct response to the named shortages, and already enrolled over 40 students in its first year. Other higher education programs in the state have also instituted multiple new programs in response to teacher shortages and to minority teacher recruitment; still others are under development.

Our colleges and universities are willing and able to do this important work. What we are not willing to do, and what the Connecticut Board of Education and State Department of Education clearly support, is to promote quick-fix, short-term, unproven solutions such as “non-traditional pathways,” when there is no evidence base for the potential successes being claimed.

This kind of approach would never be acceptable in other professions. Imagine if the response to a shortage of surgeons was for the medical licensing board to promote a fast-track, alternative route that circumvented basic understandings and knowledge, training and experience, just to produce more surgeons? No reasonable person would stand for this. And yet, this is essentially the approach being championed by the Connecticut Board of Education and the State Department of Education.

To be fair, the State Department of Education itself has suffered serious shortages and cuts to staffing; that fact, coupled with pre-existing heavy regulations and even deeper recent cuts to the department, have led to frustrations all around. We nevertheless believe our core goal is the same – high quality teachers for every child. And we agree that one promising solution is to reduce and streamline the state’s unruly, out-of-date regulations. We definitely do NOT agree, however, that the promotion of non-traditional, demonstrably substandard teacher training programs is an appropriate answer. Rather, it is an approach that threatens teacher quality statewide.

We again call for meaningful collaboration from the state with the professionals in higher education — those who currently provide the majority of high quality teachers to Connecticut and who know and support research-based teacher education and proven successes that lead to high achievement for all students.

Addressing shortages and increasing the diversity of the teacher workforce are long term challenges that will require all of us to work together to collaborate and innovate.

Anne Dichele is Dean of the Quinnipiac University School of Education and a representative of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education-Connecticut. a state chapter of the national alliance of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. It represents 14 member institutions of higher education in Connecticut.

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