Alternative Teacher Licensing: Filling the Teaching Gaps Across the State

Bill Rice- Cleveland Municipal School District has a dilemma on its hands -- not enough qualified teachers to fill all its classrooms. The district's much talked-about foray to India in search of available teaching talent has produced some promising applicants, but not nearly enough to fill the void. The shortage is especially acute in math, science and special education, says Carol Hauser, human resources director for the district.

Carol Hauser- The fifty from India certainly will make a difference, because they are in areas that are critical. We cannot find enough people in the United States to fill math, science and special ed positions.

BR- But, Hauser says, the India trip is just one approach to filling those slots. Another is to try to pull in people who are changing careers. The idea, she says, is that many mid-career and retiring professionals have talents and skills that could easily translate to the classroom.

CH- These could be people who are engineers. People who work in labs and hospitals, people who work for some of the big science companies who would be teaching our students science. So when these people come to us, we're trying to provide them with a seamless transition between work in the private sector and work in the public sector.

BR- But before anyone can teach they must first be licensed by the state, and traditionally the prerequisite to becoming licensed is a college degree in education. Most states have adopted some kind of alternative route to certification. Marilyn Braatz of the state Department of Education, says Ohio's has undergone several changes since it was first introduced more than a decade ago.

Marilyn Braatz- It was based on the premise that a school district would collaborate with a neighboring university and together they would develop a program that someone could follow leading to certification, assuming they already had a bachelor's degree in an area that needed to be taught in the school. That program was not very successful.

BR- Braatz says collaborating with teaching colleges proved difficult, and the system fell out of favor. A revised system put in place last year, she says, is a little easier to maneuver.

MB- The alternative educator license does not require collaboration, but the school does have to recommend the person for the license to teach in a 7-12 classroom. They already have the expertise in the content area, and this gives them an opportunity to start teaching while they are getting the professional education course work they need to get a full license.

BR- But in the end there is no skirting the education degree. That makes Ohio's license requirement pretty high, according to Virginia Roche, deputy director of the National Association of State Boards of Education. Not surprising, she says, since, on a national level, Ohio's teacher shortage isn't that that severe.

Virginia Roche- If you look at states like South Carolina, Texas, California -- those states are facing massive chronic teacher shortages. In states such as Ohio, although they have spot shortages, esp in math and scjence at the secondary level, special education, english as a second laguage -- they don't have chronic teacher shortages across the board.

BR- And so, Roche says, you would expect to see higher teacher standards here, and consequently fewer alternatively certified teachers. In fact, there are six in the state, according to State DOE officials. Some in the legislature would like to see more, and would loosen the rules to accomplish that. One is State Senator Lynn Watchmann.

Lynn Watchmann- Clearly the doors are closed to a lot of qualified people to get into the teaching profession, and agian maybe in a limited way in a certain area. But the doors are clearly closed. Obviously there are interest groups that would like to keep those doors closed -- the teachers union is the obvious one.

BR- Not necessarily, says Richard Decolibus, head of the Cleveland Teachers Union. For instance, he supports a so-far failed move by the Cleveland district to certify a group of 41 substitute special education teachers who haven't met the state criteria to the letter. The teachers are already in the schools as substitutes, he says, and they're enrolled in college teacher education programs. Licensing them would allow the district to pay them as Full Time teachers with benefits.

But Decolibus has reservations about bringing in people without a teaching background.

Richard Decolibus- One of the standard arguments given is God, you could have a Nobel prizewinner in economics and he couldn't come and teach in public schools. That's perfectly right, because that person may have absolutely no ability to communicate his knowledge to other people.

BR- And so, Decolibus says, in his view, maintaining Ohio's more stringent license requirements, even for career-changers, is warranted. And he shares some others' suspicion that for most professionals with knowledge in a high-demand subject area, and working in private industry, meeting those requirements probably isn't worth the hassle.

In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN.

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