For-Profits Tapping Into Teacher Training

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What matters to Felicia Messina-D'Haiti is getting a full license to teach middle school art, the job she has come to love since leaving the Smithsonian Institution last year. That a private company is providing her on-the-job training is of secondary importance—at least to her.

But the quiet entry of Sylvan Learning Systems into teacher training underscores how the booming demand for teachers has captured the interest of profit-making companies and for-profit postsecondary schools—and threatens to upset the status quo.

Sylvan, a Baltimore-based company best known for its tutoring services, is providing Ms. Messina-D'Haiti with the practical skills she needs to conduct parent-teacher conferences, prepare report cards, and manage student discipline at Andrew Jackson Middle School in Forestville, Md.

The company has contracts with the Baltimore schools and Ms. D'Haiti's district in Prince George's County to provide programs leading to state licenses for teachers already in the classroom. Sylvan hopes to expand those programs nationwide.

"We are in a very serious situation today with the large number of teachers in classrooms who are not well-prepared and not certified," said Dean Nafziger, the senior vice president of the Sylvan Teachers Institute, a branch of the company that began last fall to offer licensure programs. "We intend to be an important provider in a number of states."

In addition to Sylvan—believed to be the first private company to provide such licensing programs—the for-profit University of Phoenix is expanding the number of states in which it is permitted to prepare teachers for licensure.

California, faced with a severe shortage of qualified teachers, has given the University of Phoenix approval to offer licensure programs, though only in Los Angeles, for teachers with emergency credentials. The university began training teachers there last year.

Up to six regionally accredited institutions from out of state—a first for California—will be allowed to enter the state to provide teacher-licensing classes under a three-year pilot program. They will be subject to annual scrutiny.

"Supply was one of the concerns, and that certainly came first," David Wright, the director of policy and programs for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, said in explaining the rationale for the 1998 legislation. "We are trying to increase the capacity to produce well-trained, fully credentialed teachers."

'Grabbing Jello'

University of Phoenix officials—whose accredited institution offers degree programs in business, nursing, counseling, education, and other fields—are interested in joining hands with the teacher education establishment. They have opened discussions about membership in the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, whose bylaws currently prohibit for-profit members, and have inquired about having their program recognized by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Both organizations have task forces examining the changing landscape of teacher education, chaired by Allan Glenn, the dean of the college of education at the University of Washington. "This is going to be like grabbing Jello, because the environment changes so bloody fast," Mr. Glenn said.

Many of the questions for the AACTE panel, he noted, will involve how institutions of higher education can and should work with the private companies that want to offer online professional development for teachers.

When it comes to licensure, states require institutions to be regionally accredited as a condition of preparing teachers. Because the University of Phoenix meets that standard and is approved to train teachers in some states, AACTE may well have to change its rules and admit the proprietary school, Mr. Glenn said.

NCATE also requires education programs that apply for its review to be part of regionally accredited institutions. The council's task force is examining the proliferation of types of teacher education programs—including those provided by districts, state education departments, and now, profit-making companies such as Sylvan.

"No one really knows quite what the future has in store," said NCATE President Arthur E. Wise. "Certainly NCATE is committed to high- quality teacher preparation, and whether we will change our position on having an intimate tie to an institution of higher education remains to be seen."

Focus on Adults

The entry of for-profit ventures into teacher education is causing a stir among education schools. It takes place against a backdrop of change in higher education, as accrediting agencies start to allow for-profit institutions to offer degrees in fields previously served only by traditional colleges and universities.

Traditional institutions, with their expansive brick-and-mortar campuses, well-stocked libraries, and faculties of teacher-scholars, face competition from the more streamlined University of Phoenix. The proprietary institution is a subsidiary of the Phoenix, Ariz.-based Apollo Group Inc., whose stock is publicly traded.

The university, which operates at leased sites in 15 states, Canada, and Puerto Rico, caters expressly to working adults. It has state approval to prepare teachers for licensure in Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah, and is seeking approval of its teacher education program in Michigan.

Currently, the University of Phoenix has 72,000 students; 1,200 are preparing to become teachers, all in postbaccalaureate classes. Another 3,500 are enrolled in master's programs in education. Across its seven colleges, the university employs just 140 full-time faculty members; the other 6,200 "practitioner faculty" members are professionals who work full time in the fields in which they teach.

Students take one course at a time. In addition to attending classes, they study in work groups. Instead of a library, they have access to online materials.

The university strives to make its courses, which typically cost about what a private institution would charge, as convenient as possible, said Susan Mitchell, the dean of the University of Phoenix's college of education. "Our sole mission is to offer programs to working adults, and we are good at providing a location and services, and time and days of classes, and parking and the other conveniences the students find important."

Given the enormous demand for teachers, Ms. Mitchell said, and the difficulty that state institutions have in gearing up their teacher education programs quickly, "it creates an environment for other players to participate."

Ann I. Morey, a professor at San Diego State University who has begun tracking the emergence of for-profit higher education, believes that education schools can learn from the University of Phoenix's customer orientation.

Because the university offers programs that meet minimum state requirements, though, she wonders whether it skimps on the extensive hands-on experience that new teachers need in classrooms. Some states, Ms. Morey points out, require only a brief student- teaching stint.

But Ms. Mitchell says the University of Phoenix gives students in Arizona, for example, the option of extending their nine-week internships to as long as a semester.

Ms. Morey, however, argued: "If you look at the economics of the for-profits, because they cut out all the research and service functions like activities, athletics, and the library, they are basically training institutions, not universities. I am very concerned about this cutting of costs and getting everything you need off the Web."

Researchers at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville are studying market changes in higher education brought about by the entry of for- profit institutions. When it comes to teacher education, said Sarah Turner, an assistant professor of education and economics, one question is: "Are these people very able and not likely to choose to enroll in a traditional program, or are they folks who wouldn't cut it in a traditional program?''

Learning Via Videos

Unlike University of Phoenix officials, administrators of the Sylvan Teacher Institute have no intention of seeking accreditation for their teacher education program. Sylvan, which spent about $1 million developing the program, plans to market its service directly to districts.

Sylvan's program allows districts to offer a route to licensure without going to the time and expense of creating it themselves, Mr. Nafziger said. The institute will offer instruction before teachers enter the classroom, during their first year on the job, and afterward.

The bulk of the coursework is provided to teachers through distance learning, using videos produced by Canter and Associates, an educational firm that Sylvan bought in 1998. Sylvan also hires people from the districts with which it has contracts to teach portions of the program.

Groups of 25 teachers are assigned to full-time Sylvan "instructional managers"—typically retired local educators—who help them navigate the rigors of the classroom. Smaller groups of novice teachers also get together.

Prince George's County and the Baltimore schools are paying Sylvan $6,500 per teacher, using state money intended to help teachers with "resident teacher" certification earn full licenses. Those teachers have met higher standards than teachers who have emergency licenses.

Sylvan is exploring working with school districts in Texas that produce about a quarter of the state's new teachers through their own licensure programs. The company has its eye on helping to train teachers with emergency licenses and long-term substitutes, Mr. Nafziger said.

Ms. Morey of San Diego State University said she is uncomfortable with the notion of "packaged licensure" and "canned curricula."

"Those of us who are constructivists understand that teaching occurs as an interactive process with learning. I have some concerns about the quality of the professors and their ability to really promote the kind of in- depth learning that should be occurring."

But Towson University in Maryland is pitching a program similar to Sylvan's to local districts. The university already has increased total enrollment in its master's in teaching program from 30 to 120 students in the past three years.

"It makes sense to do those things," said Dennis Hinkle, the dean of the college of education. "Is this the best way to prepare teachers? I don't think so. Why are we doing this? Because there's a shortage, and we have to make sure the best-qualified people are in those classrooms."

'The Practical Side'

Because Sylvan has to compete in the open market, the company is compelled to pay attention to quality, Mr. Nafziger says. "Frankly, all of us who are providing on the private side know that the continuation of our ability to work in this area rests with providing a high-quality program."

C. Emily Feistritzer, the president of the National Center for Education Information, a private research group in Washington, and a longtime advocate of programs to help midcareer job- switchers become teachers, has no doubt that Sylvan will attract customers. She has long argued that many more adults would become teachers if they could just find a convenient, hassle-free way to get the requisite training.

"What the corporate world generally does very well is market and recruit," Ms. Feistritzer said. "If they provide a training component that seems reasonable to the potential teacher, I think they will go that route."

For Ms. Messina- D'Haiti, 30, the Sylvan program has been, "most of the time, very on point." Because she is three credits shy of a doctorate in education, the 7th and 8th grade fine-arts teacher was more interested in hands-on knowledge than in more theory. "The practical side is what they don't teach in education programs," she said. "This is practical tips for students, parents, grading, and lesson planning. I feel it's been extremely helpful."

Vol. 19, Issue 29, Pages 1, 14

Published in Print: March 29, 2000, as For-Profits Tapping Into Teacher Training
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