With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:
John Fitzpatrick is the executive director of Educate Texas. He previously served as executive director of the Capital Area Training Foundation, now Skillpoint Alliance, building relationships between the business sector, educational interest groups and community partners for the benefit of Central Texans. Concurrently, he held the position of vice president for education and workforce development at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and sat on the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees. He received a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and a master’s degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Edu: Where does public education stand in the Legislature now?
John Fitzpatrick: We’re very pleased that the whole issue of effective teaching and teacher quality is getting attention. It is much more of a policy discussion than it has been in the past, involving the pipeline of teachers from the state of Texas and how we can improve the retention, recruitment and evaluation as well as the support and the compensation. Both with the legislation that was passed out of a Senate committee last week by Sen. Kel Seliger as well as the new subcommittee that was set up in the House, chaired by representative Dan Huberty, that was specifically focusing on this issue of effective teaching.
We think all these issues are really important. If we don’t figure out a way to support our 330,000 teachers that we have in classrooms today, if we don’t begin to look at the best ways to bring more teachers into the profession, and honor and support the profession, then we are not ultimately going to be successful. So far I have been very encouraged, optimistic and excited that there is focus on effective teaching and the teacher pipeline.
Trib+Edu: What are your perspectives on the current pre-K debate?
Fitzpatrick: We are excited that there is an authentic debate and discussion. There seems to be a lot of different ideas about the amount of funding, half-day versus full-day, and ensuring the quality. But that is not an area that we specifically focus on.
Trib+Edu: Do you see promising legislation for higher education issues?
Fitzpatrick: We are very excited about Seliger’s proposals. That is going to look at outcomes and performance metrics. It is different than what was passed two years ago for community colleges, which was more straight 10 percent of state funding based on a thoughtful mix of performance indicators.
Seliger’s bill looks at it in a really innovative and creative way. I think it is the right thing for research universities to be part of how they are evaluated and judged. We’ve got to have student graduation rates and student performance be part of the system in Texas, for both research universities and community colleges. We feel very encouraged by that.
There is some other legislation that is trying to make it easier for students to transfer from a two-year to a four-year school. There is legislation focused on common course numbering, other ways we can save students and their families’ money.
Trib+Edu: Do you see legislation going in the wrong direction?
Fitzpatrick: There will obviously be a big debate on whether undocumented students should continue to receive in-state tuition, as opposed to out-of-state. I hope that we stick to the current policy. I think it has served Texas well.
Trib+Edu: What has fallen through the cracks and is not being given the attention it deserves?
Fitzpatrick: Until a week ago, I would have said school finance. It is very interesting and courageous that Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock and some of his colleagues are trying to tackle the issue of school finance and the appropriate funding of schools prior to there being a resolution to the school finance lawsuit. That was certainly a surprise, and I think that if there is a way the Texas Legislature can propose solutions and address that in advance of the lawsuit, that would be fantastic.
Trib+Edu: Educate Texas focuses on teacher readiness — are you hopeful for improvement in that area?
Fitzpatrick: One thing that is coming out is a different way of looking at the current system we have for colleges of education and alternative certification providers. If you look at some of the national research and reports that have come out on Texas, we get an “A” for access. We do a great job in providing many different ways for people who want to become a teacher: traditional, nontraditional, in person, online.
But where we have really struggled is transparency and quality. I don’t think we have a great system if you’re someone who is looking at becoming a teacher to be able to differentiate and understand all these different programs. How do you judge quality and tell between the good, the bad and the ugly? There is some legislation that is being proposed that I think is going to look at this issue. There seems to be a lot of recognition that we need to look at this whole issue of teacher preparation, teacher quality in a different way in Texas.
One report that is very helpful is by the National Center for Teacher Quality, that has a whole chapter on Texas, and how we are looking at teacher prep, and what is the right governmental oversight.
Trib+Edu: Could the issue of teacher quality be remedied quickly even with legislation?
Fitzpatrick: No, I don’t think there is a quick fix. And, particularly in this issue, there is a variety of things that need to happen. There is a role for state policy, and things we can do in terms of governance in transparency and quality. There needs to be something that deans of colleges of education and alternative certificate providers need to do on their own. So I don’t think it is a quick fix and I don’t think it is one issue.
There is a big debate about increasing the GPA for people applying to colleges of education from 2.5 to 2.75. That would be a great change, but that one thing is not going to be the game changer. It is part of a dozen things that we need to do over the next few years to increase the quality of what we are doing and try to get the caliber of candidates to be more competitive, to give people a better view of these programs before joining.
I don’t think it will be simple.