Proposed Bill Looks to Reform ‘Archaic’ Teacher Certification Process

State Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker testifies about the teacher certification process at a public hearing in Hartford on March 13, 2024 (CT Examiner).


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HARTFORD — A bill targeting Connecticut’s decades-old teacher certification system aims to lessen the requirements for people interested in becoming educators. But several advocates and educators say the legislation doesn’t go far enough in breaking away from an “archaic” system. 

Last year, the state Legislature passed a law creating the CT Educator Certification Council, which would offer recommendations for enhancing the quantity and diversity of teachers within the state.

Many elements of the latest bill originated from the council’s suggestions. The proposal eliminates one of the three tiers in teacher certification, allowing teachers with an initial certificate to move directly to a professional certificate. It also expands endorsement areas, allowing teachers to work with a wider range of grade levels, and makes it easier for teachers to teach different subjects by eliminating requirements for extensive coursework. 

Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker told the legislature’s Education Committee that the department issued emergency certifications to approximately 900 new educators from out of state during the pandemic. The council’s formation, she added, was a major step in finally addressing the problem with the current certification system. 

“I think we all have come to the agreement that there are changes that are necessary, and we’re moving forward. We also know that we need to recognize that with any change, we have to take the time to be reflective, to be thoughtful, and to take the time necessary to develop new approaches to doing things,” Russell-Tucker said. 

The bill also establishes three distinct pathways for people to obtain teacher certification — completing a traditional university program, completing a teaching program in a different state, or an alternative program. It requires the Department of Education to create pathways for support staff and paraeducators to get their teaching certification, and opens opportunities for professionals in specific fields to teach the subject of their expertise. 

However, the measure does not fully remove the existing regulations, which some educators believe are outdated. Instead, it creates a Connecticut Educator Preparation and Certification Board tasked with modernizing preparation programs. 

New London Schools Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie told the committee that her school district has 19 long-term substitute teachers because of the teacher shortage. 

“It’s extremely devastating to be hopeful and recommend a candidate for employment only to learn there’s so much red tape and roadblocks to certification due to the outdated Connecticut certification system,” Ritchie said. 

And Dolores Garcia Blocker, the executive director of Teach for America’s Connecticut branch, said the cumbersome requirements were discouraging potential fellows who wanted to serve in Connecticut classrooms.  

“I am meeting candidates all the time who want to come to Connecticut, many of whom want to return to make a difference in their own communities, and they are unable to do so because of our outdated certification requirements,” she said, adding that these candidates “begrudgingly change” their preference areas and end up in Massachusetts, New York or New Jersey. 

The need for diversity

The bill also doesn’t address the required assessments that teachers must pass to complete their preparation programs and become licensed in specific subjects. Fran Rabinowitz, president of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents and a council member, told legislators that the council wasn’t ready to make a clear recommendation on how to handle assessments. 

She said there was value in having an assessment, but that the Praxis exams that teachers currently take may not be the best option. 

“For me, it’s more of a performance assessment to show that teachers are in fact ready to enter the field,” said Rabinowitz, adding that teacher candidates would ideally spend more time doing hands-on work in classrooms. 

But State Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, said the exams have made it more difficult for teachers of color to enter the workforce. He cited a report from Boston University’s Wheelock Educational Policy Center that said Connecticut’s licensure tests were “influential in shaping the composition of the teaching workforce” and that there was a “weak link” between a teacher’s performance on tests and their influence on student outcomes. 

Out of the approximately 5,000 teacher certificate candidates in 2021-22, about one-fifth were people of color and one-fifth were male, according to data from the State Department of Education.

A state report also found only 59% of candidates of color passed the teacher exam on the first try in 2021-22, compared to 75% of white candidates. While a large number of teachers eventually passed the exams, the results were more favorable for white candidates than candidates of color. 

“The situation we have here is systemic. It has been in place for a long time. And we could have done a lot more about this, but we have sat on our hands and knees and did nothing.

And the reason why the demographics of the teaching profession look the way they look in the state of Connecticut is because of this,” McCrory said. 

The data further showed that educators of color were more likely to work in high-needs districts than their white counterparts. Forty-six percent of teachers of color who were employed a year after getting their certification worked in Alliance Districts — the 36 lowest-performing school districts in Connecticut — compared to 38.5% of white educators. 

McCrory asked Russell-Tucker for an assurance that the new board would continue with the work that the department was doing. Russell-Tucker responded that the council had been started for that purpose. 

“So many times we admire the problems and we don’t do anything about it. This is about action, and it is about doing all the things we need to do at this point in time, because it is a time that has come for us to do this work. And so you’ve got that commitment from the Department of Education that, if given that authority to convene this board, they will — to give us the results that we need,” she said. 

The board includes eight teachers, six representatives from an educator preparation program, five administrators and additional representatives for a variety of state agencies. 

Rabinowitz said she fully supported the board. 

“I see it as taking back our profession, of letting the practitioners talk to what works best in education and what works best in certification, what courses help them the most, and what might be obsolete. So I think that is amazing,” she said. 

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.