Kentucky parents and citizens now can search a single web site to find out the credentials of every public school teacher in the state, thanks to a project that one expert called “the next logical step” in using the internet to hold schools accountable to stakeholders.

The Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board (EPSB) developed the Teacher Certification Inquiry web site to let everyone know what certificates and diplomas each teacher has, as well as the subjects and grade levels they are authorized to teach.

“All of the information on the web site was previously available by either a phone call or written letter. This just makes it available 24-7,” said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, a spokeswoman for the EPSB, which oversees the state’s certification of teachers.

The site, which was launched in January, also assists local school districts in assigning personnel correctly, because interpreting the various certificates and diplomas can be tricky.

“What is on the face of a teacher’s certificate doesn’t always tell the whole story,” Wiederwohl said. For example, a high school English teacher can also teach humanities, but his certificate might only say English.

Placing teachers according to their qualifications is especially important, because Kentucky law forbids schools from allowing teachers to teach outside of their field or grade level.

Schools caught violating this law lose state funding for that position. In the last three or four years, EPSB has conducted audits to make sure that every teacher is assigned according to his or her certification level, Wiederwohl said.

Last year, only 18 people were found to be teaching outside of their qualifications. “In previous years it was over 100, and last year it was over 50,” she said.

The technology behind the database is a monumental feat, Wiederwohl said. The web site pulls information together from four state databases: teacher certification, financial reporting, student course scheduling, and the master database of job positions.

“This is the first component of a rather large data re-engineering project we are undertaking in Kentucky,” Wiederwohl said. “We are aligning all databases so they can essentially talk to each other and share data.”

Being able to access all of these data will help school administrators at all levels make good policy decisions, Wiederwohl said.

“The more imperical data we have about teaching and what’s going on in schools, the more we can make better policy decisions both in our offices and in the general assembly legislature,” she said.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) supports the idea of making teachers’ credentials available on the web.

“It would be very helpful for parents to know what the certification standards are for their children’s teachers and to see if they are under emergency credentials or teaching out of field,” AFT President Sandra Feldman said.

Kentucky’s Teacher Certification Inquiry project might be the first of its kind in the country.

“I don’t know of any other states that are doing this,” said Tom Dawson, a fellow in education affairs at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that focuses on school choice initiatives. Last year, Dawson’s organization created a clearinghouse of web-based school report cards from around the country, called “The Report Card Report: America’s Best Web Sites for School Profiles.”

“I think it’s a great idea, and it’s the type of thing that parents would be interested in, just like the school report cards. It’s the next logical step,” Dawson said.

If a parent checks information on the web site and finds a discrepancy, he or she can notify EPSB anonymously. Then, EPBS would begin an investigation to determine if the school district had falsified information, Wiederwohl said.

“It’s always better to conduct your business in daylight,” she said. “We don’t have anything to hide here, and we pride ourselves on having filled our public school positions with qualified individuals.”

Some of the state’s teachers were wary of the project because they thought it would divulge personal information, Wiederwohl said, but “there is no private information on [the web site] like addresses and phone numbers. What was private before is still private.”

Related links:

Kentucky Department of Education’s Education Professional Standards Board
http://www.kyepsb.net

American Federation of Teachers
http://www.aft.org

Heritage Foundation’s Report Card Report
http://www.heritage.org/reportcards