Back to School Made Easy
The nation's only online competency-based teachers college was launched in March, in an effort to help teachers meet requirements under No Child Left Behind.
The Western Governors University Teachers College will provide online, competency-based bachelor's and master's degrees and licenses for current and prospective teachers. The college was created in part due to a $10 million Star Schools Grant from the U.S. education department.
"The WGU Teachers College is the only national program providing accredited online, competency-based degrees and elementary and secondary licensure to K-12 teachers and prospective teachers in math, science, reading, ESL and learning technology," says Robert W. Mendenhall, WGU president. "It is also one of the only national initiatives focused on those already working in schools, including paraprofessionals, uncertified and substitute teachers, and existing teachers."
WGU is already partnering with Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Region IV, in the greater Houston area and Los Angeles Unified School District.
U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige says the college maintains "rigorous standards" and ensures that teachers do not merely sit through courses. "It provides an innovative option for individuals who would be turned off by the hoops and hurdles of traditional teacher preparation and certification programs," Paige says.
At the WGU Web site, education students can find degree programs, a catalog of distance-learning courses, a library, bookstore and access to a personal WGU mentor for guidance through a customized degree program.
Teacher Quality On Display
Teachers need to display their degrees on classroom walls and parents need to know the teachers who are highly qualified in their child's school, says Ray McNulty, president of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
"This law talks about teacher quality," says McNulty, former Vermont commissioner of education and former schools superintendent. "I'm of the opinion that we need to show off our teachers' qualifications. When you look at the pedigree of the vast majority of educators, it's pretty impressive. But currently, that's all hidden.
McNulty made the comments at a recent ASCD conference.
McNulty also says that while NCLB requires that schools notify parents if their children have teachers who are not licensed to teach in a particular subject, schools should notify parents of all teachers' credentials. "We know 98 percent of them are highly qualified," he says.
IRVING (Texas) SCHOOL DISTRICT
Texas Ahead of the Game
About 65 percent of the 31,000 students, including 4,700 immigrants and Hispanics, in the Irving School District are living in poverty. That is 55 percent of the total student population.
So, Irving officials are working hard to close the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged learners. Although No Child Left Behind puts more teeth and money into such programs, Irving and other Texas districts have followed a strict accountability system for several years.
"We've really approached No Child Left Behind as it was fashioned after the Texas system as a whole," says Judy Rudebusch, district division director for special services. "We had many of these things in place in Irving prior to the law's passage."
Four main pillars support No Child Left Behind in Irving: closing the achievement gap; accountability; parent involvement; and flexibility for innovation.
Regarding accountability, the district requires an individualized educational plan, or IEP, for every student in grade six and up. Although IEP's are usually created for special education students, IEP's show that every student is reviewed to ensure they are taking appropriate courses or consider if they need extra help.
HIPPY is an early childhood intervention program that aims to help preschoolers and parents prepare for the first day of first-grade and beyond. Parents learn how to use educational computer software, encourage learning at home and read to their children.
The district's library program is an example of flexibility for innovation, Rudebusch says. Media specialists become an integral part of the curriculum by planning study units with teachers, using library skills that meet Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards, and helping students become better researchers.