Summer 2017

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Page 13 of 43

14 ATPE NEWS At a glance Districts of Innovation (DOIs) can exempt themselves from requirements that teachers be certified, be employed under contracts, have due process rights to protect themselves when allegations are made, and be provided a duty-free lunch and planning time. If your district is considering becoming a DOI, ask questions and make sure you know what changes are being proposed. M erriam-Webster defines "innovation" as "the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods." That definition makes innovation sound neutral—the new idea could be good or bad; the new method might be better or worse than the old. But in this 21st-century world, innovation means more than just new—it means better. Can you even imagine criticizing someone because they are too innova- tive? Probably not. But new isn't always better. Whoever coined the term "District of Innovation" surely earned a mar- keting bonus that day. By now, you have no doubt heard that any school district that was rated acceptable or better could designate itself as a District of Innovation (DOI). In practice, this means the district can exempt it- self from nearly all the requirements imposed by the Texas Education Code, including that teachers be certified, be employed under contracts, have due process rights to protect themselves when allegations are made, and be provided a duty-free lunch and planning time. In the summer of 2016, the Texas commission- er of education blogged that a dozen districts had designated themselves as DOIs. By March 2017 (at the time this article was written), that number had grown to 167. This number might seem small when you consider that there are 1,000+ school districts across the state (and certainly some dis- tricts have considered becoming DOIs and reject- ed the idea). But the rapid rate at which districts are becoming DOIs is alarming. It is reasonable to assume that by this time next year, a large per- centage of districts will be DOIs. There is nothing inherently bad about being a DOI. The danger lies in what the district—po- tentially your district—chooses to opt out of. For example, many districts have opted out of Texas Education Code 21.003, the requirement that the district employ only certified teachers. The rationale usually given is that the district may have difficulty find- ing qualified certified teachers for some subjects. That certain- ly sounds like a good motive. But it remains to be seen whether a district that has opted out of this legal requirement can also then reassign a current teacher to a po- sition he or she isn't certified to teach despite the teacher's objec- tions. This may be possible since the legal certification requirement no longer applies to the district. Teachers are trained to teach their students to think critically. That doesn't mean they are supposed to be neg- ative—just serious and analytical. Likewise, it is important for you, when you hear your district is initiating this process, to review the plan and take the time to think beyond the stated rationale and consider what the proposed changes can re- ally do. Districts are required to solicit input from the staff and community regarding their proposed innovation plans, so there is a place for your ques- tions and input. DOI: What Innovation Really Means YOUR ALLY PAUL TAPP ATPE MANAGING ATTORNEY For more information on DOIs, visit ATPE's Innovation District Resource Page at Ú

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