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The Q&A: Bonny Cain

In this week's Q&A, we interview Bonny Cain, Waco ISD superintendent and chairwoman of the State Board for Educator Certification.

Bonny L. Cain, Ed D., is chairwoman of the State Board for Educator Certification and superintendent of the Waco Independent School District.

With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:

Bonny Cain has been working in public education for 37 years. She was named superintendent of Waco ISD in 2011. Prior to her move to Waco, Cain worked 23 years at Pearland ISD, 11 of those as superintendent. In 2009-10, under Cain’s leadership, Pearland ISD earned a coveted TEA Exemplary rating. She is also chairwoman of the State Board for Educator Certification, which oversees all aspects of the preparation, certification and standards of conduct of public school educators.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trib+Edu: What is the State Board for Educator Certification and how does your board fit into efforts to improve teacher quality?

Bonny Cain: We were put in to enhance teacher quality. There was not a board that was made up of teachers to help regulate the teaching profession. We’re the ones who take away teaching certificates when there’s a cheating scandal, and what will be the consequences.

That’s what we do. And they wanted teachers on that board. I don’t know if it was (Lt. Gov. Bill) Hobby or somebody but he fought really hard for the teachers to have this.

Trib+Edu: Teacher accountability is a recurring storyline this summer, such as contemplated changes to the teacher evaluation system. Why do you think teacher accountability has become such a rallying cry?

Cain: I definitely think there should be teacher accountability. When I began teaching bleep bleep years ago, there really wasn’t any accountability and teachers were kind of on their own. If you were one of the ones that held yourself accountable, that was great.

But there were other people that didn’t hold themselves accountable. Because of that void, the state had to come in and say, “Look, we need to know what kind of job you guys are doing. Not just the teachers, but the schools that was made up of the teachers.”

So that was a good thing. The state needed to do that because it was so easy. If you were in a district that had a high white population, minorities and students from poverty could be consumed in that. I was in a district that at one time was 95 percent white and resourced students. So it didn’t matter hardly how bad the minorities and the students from poverty did because when you averaged it out, they did great.

But, in essence, 100 percent of the white kids and 100 percent of the kids who had resources did well. It was easy to hide. I don’t think it was an intentional thing, I think it just did. It just happened.

We needed the state to break out those groups to make certain that we were serving all of them well.

Trib+Edu: Some people may look at improving teacher accountability as a way to guarantee students do a better job…

Cain: Accountability only goes to the testing. There’s other parts that need to be tended to for the child, for example, the creativity side. … And there’s also that nurturing, loving relationship of having time to explore ideas and cut up spiders for Halloween and hang them from the ceiling and fingerpaint.

Even recess time was a really socializing time for kids. So, yes, I think you can say, “This teacher is great. Look at her test scores,” when, really, you might not want your child in that teacher’s classroom.

Trib+Edu: If you had a magic wand, what single thing would you do to improve the way the state certifies its educators?

Cain: It would be like a divining rod and it could go only to teachers who were just absolutely wonderful teachers. When you look back at your education and you have to rank your teachers, there’s one that stands out in your mind. Every one would be like her.

Trib+Edu: Looking at the next session, what is on the horizon that’s got your attention that other people should be paying attention to?

Cain: Vouchers.

Trib+Edu: Could you expand on that?

Cain: I have no problem competing against anybody if you give me a level playing field. Any kid who comes in, we take them where they are and we do everything we can with them.

But if you go to a charter school … they get to pick and choose. This kid’s special ed. I’m not going to spend any resources on him. He can’t come in. This girl doesn’t speak English. Not her. This kid’s a discipline problem, no way you’re coming in here.

And so they get to design their kids. And if they don’t do well, they get to kick them out before the test. So then they compare my scores to their scores?

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