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CT Must Reimagine Teacher Certification Requirements

April 30, 2024

This article originally appeared in the Connecticut Post.

Connecticut has an opportunity to change the lives of students across the state this legislative session.  As Executive Director of Teach For America Connecticut, I regularly encounter barriers within our systems of teacher preparation and certification that make it harder for Connecticut to recruit and retain high-quality teachers of color. Connecticut’s certification requirements are so outdated and cumbersome that I often meet capable candidates who decide, disappointedly, that they cannot return to Connecticut classrooms. They are forced to shift their focus to nearby states that are out-competing us because their systems are up to date. In order to open more doors and finally address many of these impediments, the legislature should amend and pass House Bill 5436 this year.

I’ve been proud to serve Connecticut as an educator of color for more than twenty years, holding roles including teacher, building leader, district supervisor, chief academic officer, and chief of staff. Throughout, I’ve witnessed the implications that a lack of representation has on all students and staff. Conversations in faculty, department, and grade-level meetings are different when there are teachers of color there. Parent conferences are different when there are teachers of color there. A diverse teacher workforce brings perspectives into classrooms and schools - from curriculum and community engagement to resources and field trips - that have been absent from our education system for too long. 

Research shows that all students benefit when they have the chance to be taught by Black and brown educators. Students of color who are taught by teachers of the same race are held to higher academic expectations and are less likely to face disciplinary interventions. The Annenberg Institute adds that white students also measurably benefit from having teachers of color, and teachers of color are more likely to bring certain positive attributes to the job that may explain why the benefit of having a teacher of color goes beyond a role model effect

Unfortunately, the state's Educator Diversity Dashboard reveals that most Connecticut students lack the opportunity to meaningfully connect with an educator of color: Out of 54,006 educators in Connecticut, only 6,314 (12%) are educators of color, serving a student population of 512,652 that is majority non-white. 

If Connecticut wants to establish a strong teacher-talent pipeline benefiting all school communities, it must build systems that encourage more educator diversity. 

One priority should be to eliminate burdensome testing requirements that keep out prospective teachers of color. The Praxis II is the state’s most commonly used content area assessment for teacher certification—on which candidates of color have only a 59-66% first-time pass rate, as compared to 75-77.3% among white candidates. Research from the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development has found that failing that first attempt "significantly and substantially reduces a candidate's likelihood of becoming certified to teach" in Connecticut. Meanwhile, there is only a "very small" relationship between a teacher's Praxis II performance and their later impact on student achievement. By closing classroom doors to qualified candidates of color who are sorely needed in Connecticut, the Praxis II may actually do more harm than good for the state’s students.

While eliminating this arbitrary gating mechanism, the legislature should also task a standards board with developing a more appropriate metric to monitor and ensure educator preparation quality, which currently varies vastly across programs. If we don’t monitor preparation quality, we cannot protect the interests of students attending the state’s most diverse, lowest-performing, and highest-need districts—which tend to be at a competitive disadvantage in educator recruitment. All students in Connecticut deserve access to well-prepared teachers, whether new or veteran. 

If Connecticut cares about removing structural barriers that disproportionately disadvantage diverse teacher candidates, the legislature should incorporate these changes into and pass House Bill 5436. Together, we can break down barriers for teachers and build a modern, high-quality teacher pipeline that better supports all students in this state.

Dr. Dolores Garcia-Blocker is the Executive Director of Teach For America Connecticut, a member of the New Teacher Track Coalition, a member of the CT Innovation Cohort, and a former Connecticut educator.