Program Finds New Teachers In Unexpected Places: Schools

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Recruiting highly qualified teachers to work in needy school districts isn't difficult if administrators know where to look for candidates, concludes a report released last week.

Paraprofessionals and uncertified teachers are eager prospects, though they are often overlooked by their employers, as are Peace Corps alumni, a study of the Pathways to Teaching Careers program found. Once certified, however, such individuals outperform their colleagues, the authors say, and stay longer in teaching positions than their peers.

The national program, started in 1994 with the aim of locating new talent pools, was evaluated by the Urban Institute over the past six years and a half and deemed "highly successful," said Beatriz Chu Clewell, a principal research associate at the Washington think tank.

Researchers found both larger and more racially diverse groups of potential recruits than they had expected, she said. Moreover, they found the individuals to be of exceptionally high caliber.

Financed with $50 million from the New York City- based Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, the program brought together district administrators and 26 institutions of higher education in an attempt to recruit and train paraprofessionals, uncertified teachers, and former Peace Corps members. Nearly 2,600 people were given scholarships to attend traditional teacher-preparation programs and workshops that focused on teaching urban children.

In return for their education, the participants pledged to work for at least two years in disadvantaged school districts immediately upon earning their credentials.

Program administrators had hoped to recruit 2,200 individuals by the 1999-2000 academic year, but in the end enrolled 2,593 people in the program, Ms. Clewell said. "That means," she said, "the pool is pretty big."

Higher Retention

Such a discovery surprised many district administrators who were desperate to fill teacher vacancies, but had overlooked many of the paraprofessionals and uncertified teachers working in their own classrooms, Ms. Clewell said. Moreover, many of those recruits were African-American and Latino—groups that are greatly underrepresented in the teaching corps of many districts.

Pathways alumni evaluated by independent assessors prior to certification and after two years on the job received higher ratings from administrators and scored higher on standardized exams than did educators from more traditional backgrounds. For example, Pathways graduates earned an average score of 4.0 on overall assessments when evaluated by principals, while other novice teachers received an average mark of 3.3. The highest possible score was 5.0.

In addition, 81 percent remained in the profession for at least three years after completing the program, says the report, "Absence Unexcused: Ending Teacher Shortages in High-Need Areas." Nationally, 71 percent of novice teachers stayed on the job during the same time frame.

Former paraprofessionals were the most successful of the three groups, Ms. Clewell said."They also stayed longer," she said, attributing the high retention rates to the teachers' prior knowledge of the difficulties involved in working in poor communities.

The Pathways model can—and has—been copied, the researchers said. The federal government, for example, awarded colleges $27 million in 1998 to set up similar efforts.

One stumbling block may be the cost, however.

Without tuition assistance, many working professionals could not afford to return to school to earn their bachelor's degrees, Ms. Clewell said. While some participants needed only to pay for a few college credits to earn their credentials, others needed up to $17,000. Participants had a minimum of two years of college before entering the program.

Still, the model is impressive, other teacher-policy experts say.

"This is an alternative-certification program that gives a lot of good support and incentive to people who are interested in joining teaching through nontraditional routes," said Michael B. Poliakoff, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based group that advocates alternative paths to teaching.

The model is compelling because it has proven results, while most other teacher-recruitment programs lack evidence of their worth, added Barnett Berry, the director of policy and state partnerships for the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future. "People are dying for good, solid data on teacher-recruitment programs," he said. "There are a plethora of them out there with nary a good piece of data."

Vol. 21, Issue 18, Page 9

Published in Print: January 16, 2002, as Program Finds New Teachers In Unexpected Places: Schools
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