April 2016

Texas backgrounding system satisfactory but not without flaws

by Zach DiSchiano

With no federal involvement in teacher background checks, states must conduct screenings independently. Consequently, there is substantial variation in the quality of backgrounding systems across the country, and Texas—for now—ranks somewhere between prosaic and promising. 

The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) is a non-profit organization that hosts the nation’s only centralized system for tracking teacher discipline—a database known as Clearinghouse. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) uses this system to report sanctions against teachers in the state and also to check educators against the database.

Teachers who have had their professional educator certificates annulled, denied, suspended, revoked, or otherwise invalidated are generally reported by states and other member jurisdictions into the database. Clearinghouse transfers that data into monthly reports and issues them to NASDTEC members who can then compare the information to their current lists of licensed educators and applicants for teaching positions. If a match occurs, the agency can contact the reporting jurisdiction to gain more information about the incident and to determine whether or not action is appropriate.

The database has flaws, however, that allow for educators with troubled pasts to teach again just by crossing state lines. The main issue arises with reporting inconsistencies across states. The system is only as good as the data submitted by state agencies, and that leaves substantial room for error.

Grading the system

A USA Today analysis of teacher background checks across the country found that Clearinghouse not only had missing entries, but misspellings and other inaccuracies that reduce the potential of how helpful the system can truly be. The report, assimilated by USA Today journalists, gave Texas a “B” grade after gathering information about how officials make sure information about misconduct is shared with schools, districts, and other states.

Below is a quick synopsis of USA Today’s analysis on the Texas teacher background system:
  • Background checks
    • Strong state-level screenings before licensing
  • Mandatory reporting laws
    • Strong mandatory reporting of teacher misconduct
  • Transparency
    • Some incomplete information online about teacher disciplinary actions
  • Sharing misconduct information
    • Many teachers’ misconduct not shared with other states
Overall, the Texas backgrounding system was ranked as slightly above average, but there is clear room for improvement in how transparent the state is about what misconduct was committed by teachers and how exactly they were disciplined for their behavior.

Texas solution

The state will soon become even more thorough in its screening, though, with the incipient introduction of the FBI’s Rap Back Service. The system will provide school districts with criminal history records of their employees that occurred outside the state of Texas after they are hired and their initial criminal records are processed.

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is waiting on final approval from the FBI, and once approval is received, the DPS will begin to incrementally roll out the program to ensure its success. After FBI Rap Back is introduced, districts can expect to receive updates to records within 24 to 48 hours of occurrence.

The addition of the Rap Back Service into the state’s arsenal of background checks is certain to strengthen Texas’ screening system and prevent more teachers from escaping their criminal history that was otherwise non-existent to concerning districts. While Clearinghouse’s issues with reporting are unlikely to change, the combination of that database with the FBI’s Rap Back Service make for a promising system.