Program To Let Teachers Log On for Licensing
California is going high-tech in its effort meet a growing demand for credentialed teachers.
This coming fall, California State University will bundle together online lessons, traditional textbooks, and faculty support into a program to help up to 1,000 elementary teachers with emergency credentials get their licenses in 18 months.
"There are too many teachers in front of classes who are not fully prepared," said Charles Lindahl, the system's associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.
"This program allows them to teach full time and get credentials in 18 months instead of five years," Mr. Lindahl added.
Currently, the roughly 30,000 teachers working with emergency credentials in California schools have five years to become fully certified before their temporary teaching permits expire.
National teaching experts say the California project will be the largest of its kind in the country. It will be worth watching, they say, as a possible model for other states that also face teacher shortages.
"It will expand the traditional capacity to get teachers in classrooms," said David G. Imig, the executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, based in Washington. "It has promise."
Throughout last year, members of the CSU faculty took part in planning for the program, which is called CalStateTEACH. The approach that emerged is a hybrid of traditional instruction and distance learning.
For starters, the beginning teachers will work in groups of 18 to 20 and will be assigned a CSU faculty member to advise them and evaluate their work. The advisers will meet students for at least five Saturday seminars.
Veteran teachers from local schools will also be recruited to mentor and evaluate the aspiring licensees.
"There's a major support system to this," Mr. Lindahl said. "We call it independent, supported learning."
The curriculum will be covered on a strict schedule in four phases over 18 months.
The program will use traditional textbooks and other written material as well as the Internet.
Students must provide their own computers, but the university will offer technical support. Students will communicate with one another and their faculty advisers by e-mail. Students also will have access to prepared lectures and other resources by computer.
To participate in the program, a student must have a bachelor's degree and a passing score on the California Basic Educational Skills Test, and must meet the admissions standards for CSU's teacher education programs.
While support for the program began with former Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, his Democratic successor, Gray Davis, is following suit. And for good reason. Pending retirements and class-size-reduction efforts begun during the Wilson administration will create a need for between 250,000 and 300,000 new teachers in California by 2008.
"My goal is very simple: to make it as easy as possible for emergency teachers to become fully credentialed," Gov. Davis said in a prepared statement. "That is in the best interest of the students, the teachers, the parents, and every citizen in the state."
The program is not without its challenges, however.
"There is enough distance learning in it that people who don't believe you learn in isolation will have problems with this," said Steve Lilly, the dean of the college of education at California State University-San Marcos.
"I take a more practical approach," he added. "I think different people learn differently in different environments."
Mr. Lilly, who supports the program, acknowledged, though, that the self-driven nature of the initiative will not be for everyone.
The five regional directors who will oversee CalStateTEACH must also recruit the faculty members and local teachers who will be keys to the success of the effort, which is slated to begin in September.
Some faculty members have already expressed skepticism about replacing the regular classroom program with the new alternative.
Even so, given the pressure to find new teachers in California and elsewhere, observers are eager to watch what happens.
"You can't stick your nose up in the air and say it isn't as good as regular programs," said Kati Haycock, the executive director of the Education Trust, a Washington-based advocacy group for poor and minority students. "Not even regular teacher-preparation programs are always that good."
Meanwhile, Donald L. Hair, the principal of the 970-student California Middle School in Sacramento, hopes that the flexibility of the new program will attract some professionals or stay-at-home parents to teaching.
"They may want to get up early or work on weekends ... they can do this in their free time," he said of the new program. "We need to find some vehicle to get that person on the margin into the classroom."
Vol. 18, Issue 38, Page 3