Editor’s note: This is the first in a monthly series of features examining the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act and how savvy school leaders are using technology to address them.

Tough new rules for what makes teachers qualified to do their jobs are putting school leaders to the test, especially in light of severe budget deficits and an already vexing shortage of highly qualified instructors. To ease the burden, some states and school districts are trying innovative solutions that use technology and the internet to enhance teacher recruitment and retention, aid certification, and assist in professional development.

According to the Improving Teacher Quality component of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), school districts that receive Title I funds now must hire only “highly qualified” teachers—meaning those who are certified in the subjects they’re teaching. By the end of the 2005-06 school year, all teachers will have to meet the same requirement.

Although educators applaud the federal government’s effort to improve teacher quality, they say meeting these requirements puts an extra burden on school systems already plagued by a shortage of teachers, particularly in hard-to-fill subjects such as science, math, and special education.

“The requirement doesn’t take into consideration the market pressure that schools are under,” said Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). “There are very few school systems that try to put unqualified teachers in classrooms on purpose.”

School districts must compete with corporate America for highly skilled math, science, and technology professionals, yet because of budget constraints, they can’t offer the same lucrative salaries and opportunities. To make matters worse, school districts also are stealing highly qualified teachers from each other.

“When you are in a poorer school district, you have a hard time even competing with wealthier school districts,” said Bill Krugler, deputy superintendent of the East Side Union School District in San Jose, Calif. Although Krugler’s district was fully staffed at the start of the current school year, 13 percent of its 8,000 teachers have only emergency credentials—a situation reflected in districts across the country.

Underqualified and emergency-credentialed teachers fill classrooms nationwide. One in four high school instructors teaches out of his or her area of expertise, according to U.S. Department of Education (ED) data. This average increases to 34 percent if only high-poverty schools are counted.

Many experts say the nation’s teacher quality problem is a result of low wages, scant professional development and support, and a lack of prestige. They also say high-quality teachers are hard to retain.

Research shows that high-quality teachers lead to higher academic achievement, but 15 percent of teachers leave the profession while only seven percent enter, said Johnny Lott, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Critics say although NCLB requires skilled, high-quality teachers to help improve student achievement, it does little to address the roots of the problem.

“The problem is a result of a lack of resources, and we still have a lack of resources,” said Arnold Fege, director of public engagement and advocacy for the Public Education Network. “The politicians are only meeting us halfway. They provided the bill and the legislation, but they haven’t provided the resources.”

NCLB authorized $3.175 billion for Improving Teacher Quality for fiscal year 2002, but Congress funded the program at $2.85 billion. For 2003, the program received $2.91 billion in funding, but President Bush has requested only $2.85 billion for it in his 2004 budget.

Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said the legislation doesn’t provide enough governance to make a significant impact on issues such as teacher salaries, retention, or professional development, which are the main causes of the problem.

“[ED] would argue with you, but … there are not enough things in the bill to [address those needs],” Weil said.

Weil agrees that more money could help. “It’s not all about salary, but teachers want to have families, too,” he said. “We’re talking about raising a family and having a comfortable living, and it’s very difficult to do on a teacher’s salary.”

In San Jose, the starting salary for teachers is $40,000, but the median price for houses is $420,000, said East Side’s Krugler. Because wages can’t keep up with the city’s high cost of living, teachers are forced to commute 60 or 70 miles or find roommates, he said.

Krugler noted that most state governments aren’t in a position to help, either. “We can’t depend on the federal or state government to solve this dilemma,” he said. “In California [as in many other states], we are facing a huge budget deficit.”

Cash-strapped state budgets, private-sector competition, and challenges in retaining highly qualified teachers leave school leaders little room to maneuver. Technology is one of the few tools still available, however—and here’s how some states and school districts are using it to ensure that every teacher is “highly qualified.”

Recruitment

Some of the largest school systems in the country are taking part this spring in a “virtual” job fair sponsored by the American Association for Employment in Education (AAEE).

For a single fee of $120 for AAEE members ($300 for non-members), education employers can post as many positions as they like online and search for high-quality candidates by certification or licensure from more than 600 colleges and universities across the United States.

Until recently, school districts seeking to recruit candidates on a nationwide basis to fill teaching positions had to place expensive ads in newspapers or travel to job fairs across the country—but not any more.

AAEE’s second annual Educator eFair, which runs through June 15, is just one example of how the internet is changing the nature of teacher recruitment. Suddenly, a whole new pool of candidates from anywhere in the country has opened up, enabling even the smallest of school systems to compete for highly qualified instructors.

Last year’s inaugural Educator eFair attracted 61 education employers and more than 6,000 candidates from across the United States. Among them was Kentucky’s Jefferson County Schools, the nation’s 25th largest school district.

According to Human Resources Coordinator Rita Greer, approximately 94 percent of the district’s 5,800 educators are fully credentialed and classroom-certified.

“We’re not in as bad a shape as some of the other big-city districts out there,” she said, explaining that Jefferson County sponsors 15 different teacher-training programs and initiatives to put all of its educators on the track to classroom certification.

This is the second year Jefferson County has participated in the Educator eFair. Although “we’ve gotten some nibbles,” as Greer put it, the district has not made any hires through the program.

Still, Greer contends the fair is worth the effort, because it greatly expands the potential crop of applicants that a school or district has to pull from when searching for highly qualified candidates.

According to Greer, AAEE does a good job of encouraging participation from high-quality teacher candidates, which means it’s likely that a district would find a suitable match through the program.

Plus, it’s easy to participate, she said. School systems are asked to place a banner ad on the eFair web site, and potential hires can click on the advertisement for information about employment opportunities.

Besides AAEE’s virtual job fair and others like it, a growing number of school systems are turning to online job banks to find highly qualified candidates. An ED-sponsored web site called the National Teacher Recruitment Clearinghouse serves as a portal to more than 800 of these state, regional, and national job banks. Launched during the Clinton administration in August 2000, the program is funded with the help of a three-year, $4.9 million grant from ED.

Visitors to the site can search through various job banks based on their specific employment needs. Access to the clearinghouse, its resources, and the job bank portal is free, and there are no fees for being listed. Spokeswoman Debbie McLean said the site receives about 62,000 visitors per month.

Some school systems are paying for customized online teacher recruitment services from companies such as South Burlington, Vt.-based SchoolSpring.com and Indianapolis-based SearchSoft Solutions. Advocates of these systems say they have the potential to relieve an enormous burden from school leaders charged with hiring new teachers by saving them time and money in processing applications.

Kathleen Anderson, director of human resources for the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Schools in New York, has been using SearchSoft’s Applicant Tracking System for a little more than a year.

Before using the system, school officials were faced with a disorganized, often overwhelming assemblage of paper-based resumes, she said. The old process made it difficult for human resources personnel to ferret through piles of applications in search of candidates with specific skills.

Now that the process is online, Anderson and her staff have the ability to sort resumes electronically based on customized criteria. For instance, she said, if a school had an opening for a combination French and Spanish teacher, the service would allow them to automatically limit the search to only those applicants who possess the necessary certifications.

“It has given us the ability to hire much quicker,” she said of the system. “It’s really helped to streamline the process.”

Retention

Many researchers are beginning to conclude that the shortage of highly qualified teachers in today’s classrooms isn’t primarily a function of too few candidates; it’s largely a function of the trouble schools have in retaining them.

Motivated by a desire to help children, thousands of people enter the teaching profession each year. But too many are unprepared for the rigors of the classroom, especially in challenging urban school districts, researchers say.

Throughout the nation, half of new teachers leave within three years. Of those who stay, many are not fully qualified to teach, and most lack crucial opportunities for professional development.

“Research shows that new teachers frequently feel isolated, unsupported, and unable to meet the educational needs of their students,” said Peter Cookson, president of Teachers College Innovations (TCI), a nonprofit subsidiary of the Teachers College at Columbia University. “In the most challenging situations, they have little interaction with master teachers and no opportunity to improve their skills.”

To combat this trend, TCI has launched a creative solution that combines onsite professional development for first- and second-year teachers with web-based resources that form an ongoing support network.

The program, called the New Teacher Academy, was implemented by the Nassau County, N.Y., Board of Cooperative Educational Services and District 6 in New York City this year. Approximately 100 teachers partcipated in the pilot program in these locations. The feedback thus far has been extremely positive, participants say.

TCI has developed a series of 15 live, two-hour seminars, each of which has an online component, to be presented over the course of two academic semesters. Seminars have been developed in response to research that identifies the needs and interests of first- and second-year teachers and include topics such as Learning the Ropes, Organizing Your Classroom for Learning, Power Lesson Planning, Technology in the Classroom, Teaching in the Diverse Classroom, and Teaching in a High-Stakes Testing Environment.

The academy’s web site, called TeacherWorks, supports its seminars and activities. However, the web site is more than a source of information for participating teachers. Teachers use the site and its eMail connections to TCI and other teachers to inquire into their own teaching methods, problem-solve with other teachers by sharing academy insights and assignments, and support themselves and other teachers by sharing interests and needs. Teachers also are able to respond to multimedia presentations, participate in organized online forums, post their own work for others to access, and download academic research that is applicable to their practice.

The advantage of offering this type of support in an online environment is that “it allows for continuous learning, reflection, and sharing of experience,” said Cookson.

The program’s extensive technology component allows young teachers to continue their professional development at home, at their own pace, said Roser Salavert, director of professional development and middle school restructuring for New York’s School District 6. The program has experienced so much success that Salavert said the district is looking to continue the initiative next year.

“We have a significant number of new teachers every year,” she said. “We spend a lot of time training them. That’s why we have one of the highest teacher-retention rates in the area.”

Salavert said the program is a perfect marriage between technology training and face-to-face mentoring. The technology component is especially helpful, she said, because it enables young educators to “explore new services and branch out at their own pace.”

“The teachers all say that they like the program,” she said. “The feedback from both the instructors and the teachers has been very positive up to this point. The technology really supports the content.”

The program costs about $1,000 per teacher, Cookson said.

Certification

For many current school system employees, time and geography present two significant barriers to returning to school for certification or other required training. In an effort to break these barriers, Western Governors University (WGU)—an online institution based in Salt Lake City—has created an internet-based, accredited, degree-granting teacher college that offers an alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar institutions.

WGU will streamline teacher preparation by giving credit for demonstrated competency, not just university seat time. Federal education officials are touting the program as a convenient way for current teachers who are not certified to earn the credentials they need under NCLB.

“The Teachers College will be a boon to states seeking training for current teachers and paraprofessionals to help them meet education requirements under NCLB and speed their licensure. The program will also aid recruiting second-career professionals,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who announced the college’s formal launch March 10 with Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt and WGU President Bob Mendenhall.

Mendenhall said the college—which is ideal for training paraprofessionals, teacher’s aides, uncertified teachers, and second-career professionals—is different from other teacher colleges because it is based on competency rather than hours served.

Prospective teachers are tested to determine their competency in critical knowledge and skills instead of the number of hours they’ve spent in college.

“It maintains very rigorous standards for teachers and ensures that they demonstrate their true competency—not just that they’ve sat through a number of required courses,” Paige said of the program.

He added that the college harnesses the power of the internet to provide innovative options to those who might be turned off by the hoops and hurdles of traditional teacher preparation and certification programs.

“Think of the implications,” Paige said. “Right now, a soldier stationed in Kuwait but nearing retirement can go online to Western Governors University and take the courses to become a teacher. Once he or she is stateside again, he could hook up with Troops to Teachers, another [ED] program, to find a high-need school where he can serve again.”

The program also will empower paraprofessionals in rural school districts—where access to local universities often is limited—to become highly qualified, he said.

WGU began creating the college in 2001 with a $10 million, five-year Star Schools grant from ED. The grant money was used to acquire the course materials and to operate the technology needed to maintain the virtual college.

In addition to the Star Schools grant, funding from foundations, corporate partners, and federal teacher education grants help support the program.

The college will provide teacher certification and degrees in reading, math, science, technology, and English as a second language through three program tracks. The first allows paraprofessionals already in schools to earn an associate’s degree, then a bachelor’s degree and teacher licensure. The second enables uncertified teachers and second-career professionals to apply their existing competencies to become certified as teachers and—if they wish—earn a master’s degree. The third program lets existing teachers upgrade their skills.

WGU’s Teachers College is accredited by four of the nation’s six regional accreditation commissions. The college also is in the process of seeking individual state approvals and already has received approval from Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. Through reciprocity agreements with these three states, the program’s teacher licensure is accepted in a total of 46 states.

Some educators polled by eSchool News said they were skeptical of the idea of a fully online, degree-granting teacher college.

“Given that the individuals seeking online degrees in this instance are already subject-matter experts, what they need most is training in how to teach and manage the classroom environment,” said Rick Bauer, chief information officer for The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa. “While online resources would supplement [this instruction] greatly, it would be difficult for me to imagine good pedagogy for teacher training in something completely digital.”

Douglas Johnstone, WGU provost, responded to these concerns by explaining that students who are seeking their teaching license for the first time are paired with a mentor-coach in a local school system for one semester of practice teaching. All other coursework is completed online, he said.

WGU will arrange the practice teaching in a school where the student lives. Students and mentors must submit progress reports to WGU.

Teachers who are licensed already and are taking the course to upgrade their skills or to become qualified in their subject matter are not required to do practice teaching in a classroom, Johnstone said.

Professional development

As school leaders are finding out, professional development does little good if it is not targeted to educators’ specific needs. School leaders looking for a way to quickly identify which skills and competencies their teachers need to master to achieve “highly qualified” status now can turn to Utah-based iAssessment Inc. and its Diagnostic Learning System (DLS).

DLS is a customizable, internet-based assessment tool that enables school administrators to gauge the proficiency of educators in any subject area compared with state and national standards, so they can pinpoint specific areas for improvement and target their professional development accordingly.

For each client, iAssessment develops a unique, standards-based assessment module to test teaching proficiency in a given subject area. Clients already have employed the tool to measure educator and student technology proficiency and special education, but iAssessment says it plans to add additional assessments that address mastery of core subjects such as reading, math, and science as well.

“What makes our assessments unique is they are formative, not summative in nature,” said Matthew Bowman, vice president of sales and marketing for iAssessment. “In other words, by taking the assessment and going through appropriate professional development training, then repeating the process, iAssessment can help states and districts ensure teachers are making progress toward the ‘highly qualified’ status.”

DLS also can be used to assess new hires to make sure they, too, meet NCLB standards. After completing the company’s assessments, each teacher receives confidential test results identifying which skill sets require the greatest attention under state and local standards.

Improving Teacher Quality requirements

Beginning with the 2002-03 school year, the Improving Teacher Quality component of NCLB required that school districts hire only “highly qualified” teachers. Districts also must devise a plan to ensure that all teachers are teaching in their core subjects and meet the “highly qualified” requirements by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

According to NCLB, a highly qualified teacher must hold a bachelor’s degree and have either a state certification or license to teach in that state. Charter school teachers must meet the certification requirements of their state’s charter school law.

NCLB has additional requirements depending on what grade teachers teach and if the teacher is new to the profession.

For example, new elementary school teachers must demonstrate their knowledge and teaching skills in reading, writing, math, and other areas by passing a rigorous state test. Middle or high school teachers must pass a rigorous state test in the subjects they will teach, and they should essentially have earned their undergraduate degree in those subjects.

Like school districts, states also have to devise a plan to ensure that all teachers are teaching in their field and that they meet these requirements by the end of the 2005-06 school year. State plans must have an annual measurable objective for each district and school to increase the percentage of teachers meeting these goals each year.

NCLB requires paraprofessionals to have obtained an associate’s degree and demonstrate the ability to help teach reading, writing, and math.

School districts can use part of their Title I funds for ongoing training and professional development to help teachers and paraprofessionals meet these new requirements.

“We want to help bring some awareness as to what is available and connect schools with those providers that can help fill the gaps that exist,” said Dan Cookson, company president.

Clients are not limited only to those options suggested by the company, Bowman added. Administrators have the flexibility to add any provider to their school district’s Resource Catalog, upon which the development plan is based.

The system plays perhaps its most significant role during the final phase of professional development—reporting. According to Bowman, data collected from educator assessments are used in building district and state report cards, which administrators can use to position their schools for NCLB compliance. iAssessment works with its clients to provide customizable reports that can be used to highlight areas for improvement at school, district, and state levels.

According to Cookson, school districts can expect to pay between $5 and $10 per educator. Statewide prices are similar but are subject to discounts based on the number of employees who participate in the assessment program.

iAssessment says a number of states—including Arizona, California, Indiana, and Wyoming—have begun using its DLS technology for improving educator training.

“We try to allow them to make better decisions about where they might go with their professional development,” Cookson said. “Professional development really has not been integrated enough. We need to make sure that it doesn’t scare people.”

See these related links:

No Child Left Behind
http://www.nclb.gov

American Association of School Administrators
http://www.aasa.org

Public Education Network
http://www.publiceducation.org

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
http://www.nctm.org

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

American Association for Employment in Education
http://www.ub-careers.buffalo.edu/aaee

Educator eFair
http://www.collegecentral.com/aaee

National Teacher Recruitment Clearinghouse http://www.recruitingteachers.org

SchoolSpring.com
http://www.schoolspring.com

SearchSoft Solutions
http://www.searchsoft.net

Teachers College Innovations
http://www.tcinnovations.net

Western Governors University Teachers College
http://www.wgu.edu/tc

iAssessment Inc.
http://www.iassessment.com

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