Bryant criticizes universities on teacher standard

March 22, 2013 10:47:04 AM



JACKSON -- Gov. Phil Bryant confronted members of the state College Board Thursday over their opposition to increasing requirements for teaching candidates. 


Bryant, in an unusual appearance at the board's meeting, accused the board and the state's public universities of trying to keep standards low. 


"I'm very unhappy with it, sure I am," Bryant said after the speech. 


The governor wanted to require college students entering preparation programs to score 21 or higher on the ACT college test and to have a 3.0 GPA on pre-major coursework. 


Freshman education majors at Mississippi public universities averaged 20.8 on the ACT in 2011. 


The colleges warned almost half of students admitted to teacher preparation in 2011-2012 wouldn't have qualified if Bryant's proposed standards had been in effect. The universities also said that their accreditation could be endangered if the Legislature set admission requirements and not the schools. 


"I was told all these terrible things that would happen," Bryant told the board members, who govern Mississippi's eight public universities. "What I wish I had been told was you would help." 


The proposal aroused little opposition in the Legislature until the state's eight universities began fighting them in mid-February. 


Bryant says he reluctantly agreed to a compromise, instead requiring that teachers must score 21 on the ACT or the national median on the Praxis teacher test to be licensed, in addition to a 3.0 GPA, after completing preparation. The rules would apply to students in traditional education programs, and those taking alternate routes to certification at public universities, as well as private university graduates. The universities would still set their own entrance requirements for teacher preparation. 


"We'll make sure we keep those standards low," Bryant told the board Thursday, saying he would accept the proposal sent to him March 5 by Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds. 


The governor sent a letter Tuesday outlining the compromise to House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon and Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford. 


"I'm not sure it's going to do a whole lot of good, but it's a good start," Bryant said afterward. 


Bryant said that universities said nothing for months after he made the proposal. He pleaded with College Board members to work with him rather than against him. 


"I need your support in helping turn this education system around," Bryant told the board. "If we don't do something soon, we'll have a disaster that Mississippi will be a long time recovering from." 


The board, after a closed meeting, emerged to pass a resolution saying it supported improved teacher quality but that members have a different view of the most appropriate way to make improvements. No such resolution had been on the agenda before the governor spoke. 


Bob Owens, the president of the College Board, said after Bryant's speech that universities don't oppose higher standards. 


"Generally the idea of improving the quality of teachers is something the board is already interested in," Owens said. "The precise method of going about to accomplish that is what the board will wrestle with."