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Committee Statements

Rokita Statement: “Exploring Efforts to Strengthen the Teaching Profession"

As prepared for delivery.

Research has confirmed teachers have an enormous influence on student learning and performance. Outside of their parents, teachers are often the single greatest influence on students’ ability to build the best possible life for themselves. Whether as a parent or in our own school days, many of us have had the fortune to witness firsthand the impact a truly exceptional educator can have on a child’s life. Effective teachers can motivate students to explore the unknown, think critically, and challenge expectations. Because we fight, not only for our children, but for all people, so they can build better lives for themselves and their families, we must also find ways to see teachers achieve greater success.

Most educators earn a degree from an education program at a traditional four-year college or university. After obtaining the degree, the prospective teachers must then pass the state licensure or certification exams to become eligible to teach in that state. As the Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training will explain in her remarks, far too many teacher preparation programs – also known as ‘teacher colleges’- are underperforming, failing to ensure new educators are ready for success in the classroom.

States play a major role in improving teacher quality and preparation, as they have authority over the licensure and certification requirements. Recognizing teacher preparation programs aren’t making the grade, some states have proactively raised teacher preparation program standards, and taken steps to tie teacher effectiveness to license renewal.

In Rhode Island, for example, the state board of education recently strengthened admission criteria and implemented policies to hold novice teachers accountable for improving student achievement. Additionally the state has forged valuable partnerships with local school districts to better align pre-service training with the needs of today's students. We will learn more about the efforts underway at the state level from our witness, Dr. Deborah Gist, Commissioner of the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

We also have with us today Ms. Christina Hall from the Urban Teacher Center, an alternative certification program based in Baltimore. These programs allow individuals who already have a postsecondary degree and work experience to earn certification to teach without completing a traditional teacher education program.

Alternative certification programs have become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly with the release of studies confirming alternatively certified educators are just as effective as traditionally certified teachers. Additionally, the alternative routes help districts address educator shortages quickly and more efficiently, helping to ensure more students have access to good teachers.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee has also been working to encourage more effective educators. Last year, we successfully advanced the Student Success Act, legislation to revamp federal K-12 education law that includes a number of key provisions affecting teachers.

First, the Student Success Act eliminates the antiquated “Highly Qualified Teacher,” or HQT, provision that values an educator’s degrees or credentials over his or her ability to motivate students in the classroom. States, school districts, and teachers have criticized the policy for years, and it is past time we got rid of it.

Second, the legislation includes language to support state or school district efforts to develop unique teacher evaluation systems, helping ensure educators can be fairly judged on their ability to raise student achievement.

Finally, the Student Success Act also consolidates most of the teacher quality programs in current K-12 education law into a Teacher and School Leader Flexible Grant. The new grant program also absorbed some of the ideas behind the Teacher Quality Partnership grant program under the Higher Education Act.

The Teacher and School Leader Flexible Grant supports creative approaches to recruit and retain effective teachers, and grants districts the authority to partner with higher education institutions and other organizations to improve teacher and school leader preparation programs. Additionally, states – alone or in partnership with state agencies of higher education – can use funds under the grant program to reform teacher certification, recertification and licensing; improve state teacher preparation programs; or improve alternative certification programs.

But we must not rely exclusively on our teachers, for many are asked to do far too much. That is why the Student Success Act empowers local communities and states with the authority to find their own solutions. For example in Indiana’s 4th District, Gary Henriott, of the Henriott Group, and Steve Horne, a volunteer with the United Way in Lafayette, Indiana, who are both in attendance today as part of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce’s annual fly-in, have led an enormously successful school reading program, called Read to Succeed, that brings business and community leaders in to schools where they not only read and teach students but provide valuable mentorship for our young people.

One size fits all programs will inevitably limit these sort of dynamic educational efforts that, at their core, are supporting children, teachers, and our communities at large.

Together the policies in the Student Success Act will encourage states to implement strategies that will help get better teachers, strengthen families, and enrich communities. Unfortunately, this critical legislation to revamp the nation’s K-12 system has been awaiting Senate consideration for several months now. Once again, I urge the Senate to bring education reform legislation up for a vote as soon as possible. Our children deserve a better education law, and they deserve the greatest opportunity possible to build better lives for themselves.  

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