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Published in Print: February 13, 2002, as Teaching & Learning

Teaching & Learning

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Access to Educators' Qualifications Now a Click Away in Kentucky

Kentuckians can now look up the credentials of educators in their state, thanks to a public Web site that provides access to their backgrounds.

The databank, located at www.kentuckyschools.org/otec/epsb/, lists the licenses earned by more than 40,000 teachers and 5,000 administrators who work in public schools, said Susan Leib, the executive director of the Education Professional Standards Board, the independent governmental agency that set up the site. It also highlights every certificate's expiration date and includes current job descriptions for each individual.

Launched last month, the site is expected to help parents and school recruiters looking to hire and place qualified staff, Ms. Leib said.

"The public and parents have a right to ensure that the folks teaching in the classroom and working as a principal or superintendent are all properly certified," she said.

While the state teachers' union took no official position on the sharing of such information, Judith Gambill, the president of the 30,000-member Kentucky Education Association, noted that "we want properly certified teachers in every classroom."

At the same time, she worries that teachers with emergency credentials and those who are required to teach out of field will be perceived as inferior. And that may not be the case, Ms. Gambill said.

A Smaller Math Gap?: The math achievement gap between boys and girls may not be as wide as previously thought, recent research indicates.

While high school boys do score higher in mathematics than girls do, the difference is almost negligible, two researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found.

The pair examined test scores from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth and the National Educational Longitudinal Study—two large-scale federal projects conducted from the late 1980s through the 1990s.

The data show that boys and girls performed equally well in math in elementary and middle school. Boys started to nudge ahead of girls in high school, but the gap wasn't nearly as large as earlier studies suggest, said Erin Leahey, a doctoral student in sociology at the university.

"We didn't refute the earlier studies entirely, but we think we have shown that previously reported gaps are exaggerated," said Ms. Leahey, who conducted the research with Guang Guo, a UNC associate professor of sociology.

The researchers believe their conclusions are a better reflection of the situation than previous research. Data sources for the new research came from large studies that assessed students from a broad population throughout their K-12 careers. Earlier studies looked at high-achieving students during their secondary education.

The study is in the December issue of the journal Social Forces. To obtain a copy of the article, contact Paul Mihas, the journal's managing editor, via e-mail at pmihas@irss.unc.edu, or call (919) 962-5502.

Literacy Revisited: The rates of literacy among poor whites, slaves, and free blacks in the South prior to the Civil War may have been much higher than previously believed, according to an Arkansas researcher who is studying the history of reading in the region from 1790 to 1860.

The popular conception, even among historians, is that literacy rates in the Southern states were generally very low. Actually, some 80 percent of whites and free blacks, as well as 10 percent or more of slaves, could read, said Beth Barton Schweiger, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

"It is counterintuitive," particularly when you consider the lack of formal schooling throughout many parts of the South, Ms. Schweiger said. "The literacy rates were rather high, especially among slaves, especially since society was doing all it could to prevent slaves from becoming literate."

Overall rates, however, were still significantly lower than those in New England.

Historical documents show it was not uncommon for slave owners, or their children, to teach slaves basic literacy skills, though the majority of literate slaves were self-taught.

Much of the current understanding about literacy in the South in the pre-Civil War era is drawn from studies of handwriting samples, such as those in court documents or in military-enlistment papers. That methodology masks large numbers of people who could read but couldn't write, argues Ms. Schweiger, who is studying under a fellowship this year at Yale University.

"In the 19th century, reading and writing were not taught in tandem," she said.

Ms. Schweiger noted that despite their ability to read, the skill did not necessarily help the poor rise out of poverty or slaves gain their freedom.

"This could call into question whether literacy was an empowering and democratizing force in society," she said.

Home Sweet Home: Looking to bolster its teaching corps, Louisiana has become the latest state to help teachers hang up "Home Sweet Home" signs and may be the one with the most generous aid package.

The just-launched program features a below-market interest rate, tiny down payments, reduced closing costs, and flexible credit requirements.

The catch? With just $10 million to lend, it can serve only a few score of the state's more than 55,000 public school teachers and administrators.

Home-buying assistance has become a popular tool among states and districts worried about smaller pools of teacher applicants and actual shortages. The Louisiana program is a joint effort of the state treasury department; Hibernia National Bank, headquartered in New Orleans; and Fannie Mae. Hibernia will lend the money, then sell the mortgages to Fannie Mae—the Federal National Mortgage Association—which packages the mortgages as bonds and sells them back to the state.

"This is the single best, affordable home-loan program I've seen in my 28 years of mortgage banking," Paul Peters, the president of Hibernia's mortgage division, said in a statement. "There's nothing like it in the country."

The program can be used for first or subsequent homes anywhere in the state, and offers a basic interest rate of 5.8 percent, saving a teacher an estimated $30,000 on a $100,000 home over the life of the mortgage.

'Teacherages': The United States' northern neighbor is also experimenting with ways to help teachers find affordable housing. Inspired by a practice long employed in some of Canada's most remote regions, the Toronto school district is exploring the possibility of converting some current building space into apartments for teachers.

By offering subsidized housing to new hires, the hope would be to alleviate the difficulty the system has faced in recruiting qualified educators. District officials suspect that many potential recruits are scared away by the city's high rents.

A feasibility study is under way to find out what it would take to build housing units in facilities already owned by the 270,000-student system. Researchers also will poll recent college graduates, as well as newly recruited teachers, to assess the extent of the need.

If Toronto does decide to play landlord, it will find plenty of role models out in the country's hinterlands, where many schools have traditionally offered affordable housing to teachers—sometimes called 'teacherages'—out of necessity.

Take Mine Centre, Ontario, a tiny community about 45 minutes east of International Falls, Minn. The town's only elementary school includes a one-bedroom apartment now occupied by Marge Hale, who teaches 1st and 2nd grades. Her rent is $144 a month in Canadian dollars.

Mine Centre doesn't suffer so much from a lack of affordable housing as it does a lack of housing in general, Ms. Hale explained. Many of her colleagues at the school—which serves about 100 students in grades pre-K-8—spend three to four hours a day commuting.

Still, the arrangement she's opted for isn't for everyone. "It's like you're sleeping, eating, and working in the same building—so it can be a challenge sometimes," she said. "But I'm used to it, and the convenience is wonderful."

Strings Attached: The number of students joining school string or orchestra programs in recent years has risen dramatically, particularly among minority students, says a survey of public school music programs released this month. Despite the increasing popularity of the programs, many are in jeopardy because of a nationwide shortage of qualified string teachers.

For More Info
Information about the National String Project Consortium is available from the American String Teachers Association .

Conducted by the American String Teachers Association With National School Orchestra Association, the survey found that two-thirds of schools with string and orchestra programs reported increasing enrollments and financial support remained steady or improved at most schools. But one-fourth of the positions in the discipline went unfilled during the 1999-2000 school year. About 18 percent of public schools have string programs.

Survey results appear in the February issue of American String Teacher, the organization's journal.

The Fairfax, Va.-based group is working with 24 colleges and universities to attract more aspiring musicians into music education programs. The National String Project Consortium works to identify music-performance majors who might be interested in teaching.

"A lot of musicians enroll in college as performance majors, but there aren't enough jobs out there for performance majors," said Robert Jesselson, the president of the association. "There are not enough people majoring in string education at the universities, and the universities have traditionally supported this problem by giving scholarships [only] to string players."

The 4-year-old consortium provides scholarships to students who become music education majors. The program also provides an intensive internship.

—Jeff Archer, Julie Blair, David J. Hoff, Bess Keller, & Kathleen Kennedy Manzo inclass@epe.org

Vol. 21, Issue 22, Page 19

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