America’s schools are falling behind on efforts to assign a high-quality teacher to every classroom by the 2005-06 school year, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) told Congress June 11. But California state officials claim they are making progress in this area by employing a creative solution to the problem: recruiting teacher candidates with solid content knowledge from a slumping technology sector.

California’s Technology-to-Teacher program is a recruitment effort that turns currently unemployed technology professionals into fully credentialed, working teachers. The program is designed to place former private-sector employees displaced by the dot-com bust into classrooms, where their knowledge, education, and real-world experiences could make up for a lack of well-prepared, properly educated math and science teachers in schools throughout the state.

That premise became especially important in light of ED’s latest report, “Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge.” The first in a series of annual reports to Congress on this topic stressed an increased need for highly qualified teachers who demonstrate solid content knowledge—especially in such currently understaffed subjects as math and science—in schools across the country.

“We now have concrete evidence that smart teachers with solid content knowledge have the greatest effect on student achievement,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige in a statement. “If we are to meet the challenge of having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by the 2005-06 school year, states and universities must take heed and act now to bring more of these people into our nation’s classrooms.”

California’s Technology-to-Teacher program was conceived by Gov. Gray Davis as a way to help combat the concentration of technology-related layoffs occurring in places such as the once-booming Silicon Valley, said Larry Rios, the program’s project director for the Ventura County Business and Employment Services Department.

According to Rios, the program gives state educators $1.6 million to train and qualify former private-sector professionals for more than 200 currently unfilled teaching positions. The money was allocated throughout the state based on those areas having the highest concentration of laid-off technology workers and is being used to help pay for the cost of securing candidates’ state-approved teaching credentials, Rios said.

“What we are trying to do is take a talent pool that has dried up and redirect it,” said Rios. He claims the program already has attracted a number of potential applicants, many of whom had been accustomed to earning at least six-figure annual incomes.

According to Rios, the obvious reduction in salary has done little to curb enthusiasm for the project.

Participants “want to be able to have a positive impact on future generations,” said Rios. “They are not in it for the money.”

Jesse Gonzalez, a 42-year-old electrical engineer and former product manager for a voice-mail services company, said he had long considered teaching as an option—but after losing his job in the tech sector, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up.

“I had a calling that I’ve done a good job of suppressing most of my life,” said Gonzalez, a Sunday school teacher and avid youth leader.

Gonzalez, who hopes to become a math instructor, believes his real-world technology experience will prove to be an added benefit to students, because it enables him to explain how math and science are applied in everyday situations.

“Why do we need to know, that’s the question [students ask],” Gonzalez said. “What I feel I could bring is practical application. You need to get people excited that what they are studying is something they can use.”

Despite the potential that exists in this new pool of teaching applicants, Rios cautions that the path to achieving certification can be difficult.

“The program doesn’t guarantee anyone will become a teacher,” Rios said. “We simply are facilitating the process for potential teachers to get their credentials.”

Related links:
U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

“Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge”
http://www.ed.gov/offices/OPE/News/teacherprep/index.html

State of California
http://www.ca.gov