Recently announced changes to Reading Academies spur vociferous response in Texas’ education community
Date Posted: 4/01/2022 | Author: Jennifer Mitchell and Andrea Chevalier
As ATPE reported here on Teach the Vote last Friday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) posted updates last week to its website regarding the state’s Reading Academies training requirement applicable to many teachers and principals. The changes were announced relatively quietly by state officials, but educators in the field have reacted loudly.
The Reading Academies training that was included in 2019’s House Bill (HB) 3 and updated by Legislature in 2021 has been a sore subject for many educators struggling to meet the additional training requirements amid mounting workloads during the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous teachers shared with ATPE that they have been forced to devote substantial time outside of their normal work hours to complete the training, often without any additional compensation. ATPE has been lobbying legislators and TEA for the past three years to offer relief.
The Texas Tribune’s Brian Lopez wrote about the Reading Academies in an April 1 article republished here on Teach the Vote. Lopez interviewed ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and several teachers who have found the training mandates difficult and costly to fulfill. The article, which also features the results of ATPE’s December 2021 Reading Academies survey, showcases educators’ frustration with the training requirement and the immense strain it has caused. For example, ATPE member Meredith Connely, who was interviewed for the article, stated it simply, “My time has worth.”
Lopez also wrote about the state’s plans to change the program, as we reported on Teach the Vote last week.
According to the updated guidance posted by TEA last week, state officials revealed changes they would make in year three of the implementation of the Reading Academies, including exemptions and test-out options for certain teachers. Many of the changes address specific requests ATPE has made based on the feedback of our members and our ongoing advocacy to alleviate the burden on educators. But as many commented on our blog post last week, the changes from the state may be “too little, too late.”
Over 40 Teach the Vote readers commented on ATPE’s article last week about the changes, illustrating the extent of the pushback against the training mandate. The comments provide further insight from the field and include important questions. In particular, educators questioned when the changes will go into effect, an inquiry TEA has yet to clarify. We assume most of the changes, such as any test-out options, will apply starting with the 2022-23 school year, but there is not yet a clear timeline or eligibility guidance provided in TEA’s summary of changes document or on its Reading Academies website.
TEA’s sudden announcement of the upcoming changes appears to have caught many of the Reading Academies training providers off guard. Educators eager to find out if they will qualify for an exemption from the training requirement have reached out to TEA, their own school districts, and the state’s regional Education Service Centers that are providers of the training for answers. For now at least, everyone awaits additional guidance from the agency. New exemptions to the training requirements, if offered widely, would be welcome by teachers and principals but could have an unforeseen impact on the providers’ budgets and staffing that were determined prior to TEA’s announcement of planned changes.
In conjunction with the program updates announced on the TEA website last week, the agency replaced a statement under the “General” section of its Reading Academies FAQs document regarding exemptions. The FAQ previously said, “Authorized Providers and LEAs can proceed to exempt teachers who hold ‘all-level certification in art, health education, music, physical education, speech communication and theatre arts, or theatre,’ as described in §231.3(a).” Title 19 Texas Administrative Code §231.3(a) simply references the all-level certificates listed above.
As of last week, TEA’s FAQ now states, “Districts (LEAs) continue to have authority to exempt art, health education, music, physical education, speech communication and theatre arts, or theatre teachers,” with no mention of the all-level cetificate.
TEA’s change to the FAQ about “specials teachers” is significant, especially for educators and school district leaders who already made decisions based on the prior guidance. As ATPE member Connely shared with the Texas Tribune, her district followed what was on TEA’s website at the time, telling Connely she either had to take the Reading Academy training or obtain an all-level certification to be exempt from it. She ended up paying out of her own pocket to get the all-level certificate using the certification-by-exam option. A year later, TEA now suggests the all-level certificate is not required to qualify for an exemption.
ATPE advocated during the 87th legislative session in 2021 for an amendment to the Reading Academies law that would have clarified that all art, health education, music, physical education, speech communication and theatre arts, or theatre teachers are exempted from the training. ATPE also advocated for an amendment to exempt from the Reading Academies those who had already passed the Science of Teaching Reading exam.
ATPE's Chevalier, who worked on the changes with lawmakers in 2021, said, “Both changes were met with opposition, and it seemed those pushing the Reading Academies didn’t want anyone to be exempt.” Limiting the exemption to only those with an all-level certification was arbitrary, and Chevalier noted, the all-level certifications have not been around forever. The oldest was approved by the State Board for Educator Certification in 2004 and the newest was approved in 2012.
In the Texas Tribune’s reporting on the issue, Chevalier said the Teacher Vacancy Task Force recently convened by TEA should discuss the impact of the Reading Academies training on teacher stress and turnover. There was never any rulemaking authority delegated to Education Commissioner Mike Morath in HB 3, the original authorizing legislation for the Reading Academies requirement. As a result, the public had little to no opportunity to weigh in on how the training requirements would be rolled out. Now, in light of the recent updates, it is clear that TEA has the power to create flexibilities that are very meaningful for educators. "The Task Force must explore this power," says Chevalier.
ATPE looks forward to getting answers to educators’ questions. We hope some additional guidance will be shared in TEA’s first webinar on the changes to the Reading Academies program scheduled for April 6 at 10:30 am (CDT). The same information will be presented in two additional webinars, April 12 at 1:30 pm and April 14 at 10 am (CDT). Find more information about the TEA webinars here.
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU
Retirement | TRS | Social Security
At its December 2022 meeting, the board got an in-depth look at a snapshot of the fund’s health as of Aug. 31, 2022.
Media Advisory: Public Servants to Visit Capitol Dec. 14 to Exhort Congress to Act on Social Security WEP Reform Before Congress Ends
Leadership change, retirement of ranking member Brady mean the clock is ticking on potential for bipartisan change.
It’s December! As ATPE gears up to fight for public education in the Texas legislative session starting next month, we’re also pushing Congress to pass an important bill before its session ends.