Teacher Preparation

Teacher-Quality Rules Challenge Ed. Schools

By Julie Blair — December 04, 2002 7 min read
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Education schools have been caught flat-footed by new federal requirements for teacher quality, while a handful of entrepreneurs are sprinting to provide programs to bring educators up to speed.

For-profit institutions, colleges specializing in training midcareer teachers, and textbook publishers have proved to be the most nimble. They are quickly establishing or broadening partnerships with school districts to provide practical solutions for teachers and paraprofessionals who need to upgrade their credentials to come into compliance with the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001.

“I sense that people are trying to be responsive, but it is hard to turn on a dime,” said Lynne Weisenbach, the dean of the school of education for the University of Indianapolis.

“There are institutional challenges to doing so,” she pointed out, including the cumbersome process of achieving approval from college higher-ups. The earliest most colleges and universities could offer strategies to school districts, she predicted, would be in six or nine months from now, and “that’s a short turnaround time.”

Meanwhile, Argosy University/Orange County, in Orange, Calif., is already training 62 teachers from the state’s Compton and Lynwood districts, said Joy R. Kliewer, the dean of the school of education.

The for-profit university also is pounding out a deal with the nation’s second-largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, and courting administrators in Beaumont and Santa Ana, Calif.

“We have more of a business model of operation that allows us to be really innovative and responsive to shifts in the market,” Ms. Kliewer said. “We’re able to be really dynamic, whereas at traditional campuses, there is more enduring tradition that takes longer to transform.”

Short Circuits Feared

The need for fast action is great: The new federal law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, requires states to ensure that all teachers of the core academic subjects are “highly qualified” in every subject they teach by the end of the 2005-06 school year. Newly hired teachers in schools receiving federal Title I money must meet the law’s requirements this school year.

The law defines “highly qualified” teachers as those who are fully licensed through traditional or alternative routes and who have demonstrated competency in the subjects they teach, either by having an academic major or its equivalent or by passing a subject-matter test.

Paraprofessionals who provide instruction and work in Title I schools must have completed two years of study at an institution of higher education, obtained an associate’s degree, or passed a state or local exam on reading, writing, or mathematics by the end of the 2005-06 school year. Those hired on or before this past Jan. 8 were required to meet those mandates immediately. (“Draft Would Not Order Written Tests for Aides,” Nov. 27, 2002.)

Some experts worry, though, that providers of training will cut corners in their rush to capture business.

“Teacher preparation takes time and money, and if you short-circuit these processes, you will undercut the profession’s drive to strengthen preparation, licensing, and teaching,” said Arthur E. Wise, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, a Washington-based organization that sets standards for training programs.

Traditional teacher- preparation programs produce a majority of K-12 educators nationwide and so would seem to be a likely resource for those who need to meet the new federal standards. But while they are welcoming career-changers into campus-based and alternative-certification programs, few such institutions are taking their efforts on the road and offering customized programs to districts. Few are even ready to offer any kind of advice, observers of the field say.

“I wish I could tell you I see lots of places doing it,” said David G. Imig, the chief executive officer of the Washington-based American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which represents more than 700 colleges with teacher- preparation programs.

“They don’t see the incentives,” Mr. Imig said. “The structures of university finances are such that it is almost impossible to do this kind of work.”

Colleges make their money by charging students per credit hour, rather than by offering districts bulk rates for training packages, he explained. No mechanism exists, he said, for most institutions of higher education to conduct business any other way.

Some colleges and universities are talking about thinking more creatively, but hitches occur at nearly every turn. It takes time to assess needs, draft a plan based on research, win approval from institutional officials, and then offer training programs, higher education officials note. Many education schools, moreover, have to follow specific guidelines set out by state accreditation agencies and by NCATE to keep their good standing.

Community colleges, however, are particularly flexible and are “rushing to meet the ESEA demand for paraeducator preparation,” said Nancy K. French, the director of the Para Center at the University of Colorado at Denver. “They see this as a way of responding to their communities, and also as a windfall for new revenues.”

“Unfortunately,” she continued, “the lack of published research, appropriate training needs, and formats makes it difficult for [community] colleges to develop programs based on data.”

Building on Relationships

The handful of teacher-training providers that are serving school districts are able to do so because they have tried-and-true approaches that can be expanded or tailored. Many also have personal relationships with district leaders, thanks to other endeavors, that have provided inroads.

Cambridge College in Massachusetts is one of the few schools nationally that were able to secure agreements to train teachers this year to meet the federal requirements. The college has formed a partnership with the 63,000-student Boston and 13,000-student Lawrence districts to provide training to 100 paraprofessionals and teachers this winter, said Mahesh Sharma, the college’s executive vice president.

It was a natural fit, he said, because the college has been training paraprofessionals for about a decade and already had a model in place. Faculty members will teach the courses at K-12 schools. To make the programs more attractive, the college is offering a 25 percent tuition discount, Mr. Sharma said.

Pacific Lutheran University, in Tacoma, Wash., has already helped 150 teachers and more than 200 paraprofessionals meet the federal requirements, said Lynn G. Beck, the dean of the school of education.

“We’ve worked very purposely with schools and districts to address the needs and problems,” Ms. Beck said. “Certainly, as a private school, we’ve been fortunate to have a certain institutional limberness that has enabled us to respond quickly.

“This, however, has not been as central to our ability to act as the attitudes and commitments of faculty and staff.”

Long before the federal education act was signed by President Bush in January, Pacific Lutheran had formed close partnerships with area school districts, Ms. Beck explained. Once the new federal rules were clear, members of the local K-16 community got together to gauge their needs, many of which have been met through professional-development courses provided by the university.

In the case of Pearson Education, an educational publisher based in Upper Saddle River, N.J., customers are making new demands. The company is working to serve as a “general store” to meet educators’ professional-development needs, whether that means helping teachers meet the new federal mandates or brush up on their skills in order to help students meet higher standards.

Districts “are asking us for a lot more customization,” said Tina Hurd, the director of marketing for Pearson Professional Development, a division of Pearson Education that has its headquarters in Glenview, Ill. “And they want to leverage any training they get to help them meet all of the goals.”

Based on those requests, the company now provides programs to help teachers earn credentials, in addition to its business selling textbooks and related professional-development programs and software to track students’ progress, said Wendy Spiegel, the senior vice president of communications for Pearson Education.

People in the field say that trying to meet such new demands may, in fact, eventually alter the way teacher preparation is conducted.

“I think this will encourage a larger and deeper concentration about what builds capacity for teaching and learning in school systems,” said Maxine Freund, the director of special projects for graduate studies and a professor at George Washington University, located in Washington. “That’s a welcome conversation.”

Many educators, though, wonder whether quality will be sacrificed as school districts hurry to hire providers to help them comply with the No Child Left Behind Act.

Mr. Wise of NCATE said that he hopes “that these new demands strengthen the quality of teacher preparation and teaching.”

“Certainly,” he said, “there is the danger that they could have the reverse effect.”

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A version of this article appeared in the December 04, 2002 edition of Education Week as Teacher-Quality Rules Challenge Ed. Schools

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