A chance meeting at a national teaching conference led to Fort Hays State University offering an online program in Idaho through which mid-career professionals can become teachers.
The program is aimed at filling teaching vacancies in high-need school districts by making teachers out of professionals with backgrounds in what are called the STEM subjects -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics. High-need school districts -- Idaho has 21 that meet the definition -- are districts that exceed a 20-percent level of poverty and in which more than 1.4 percent of teachers are on waivers, have emergency certification or for other reasons do not hold full certification.
The meeting at the conference was between Dr. Germaine Taggart, chair of FHSU's Department of Teacher Education, and Cina Lackey, alternative authorization coordinator for the Idaho State Department of Education.
"We were at a function focused on alternate teacher preparation and we struck up a conversation," said Taggart. "She was talking about their programs in Idaho, and we began to converse about what they had and what they needed. We saw there might be an opportunity to collaborate and started talking about what we had to offer each other."
The Department of Teacher Education at FHSU has an online program called T2T, Transition to Teaching, designed to fill teaching vacancies in high-need school districts through an alternative route to teacher licensure. FHSU has active programs in 20 subject areas, ranging from agriculture and art through English and journalism to Spanish and technology education. Lackey indicated that she was impressed with the flexibility of the program.
"If an institution has NCATE or TEAC accreditation, we can use that in Idaho," said Lackey.
NCATE (pronounced IN-kate) is the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. TEAC (pronounced TEE-ack) is the Teacher Education Accreditation Council.
In fall 2012, Taggart's department at FHSU received a second round of grant funding, a $406,000 sub-award from the U.S. Department of Education's Project mNET. FHSU's funding comes through The Ohio State University, Columbus.
Prospective teachers who meet the criteria are eligible for scholarships of up to $3,000 to cover tuition and books. Idaho students, said Taggart, could also be eligible for the scholarships.
FHSU, one of six state universities in the Kansas Board of Regents system, has been nationally recognized for its low-cost approach to higher education. The university is also a leader in Kansas in alternative licensure. "The FHSU alternative licensure program has had over 300 teachers go through it to become fully licensed teachers," said Kerry Schuckman, licensure officer for FHSU's College of Education and Technology. "The feedback we receive from hiring principals and teachers completing the program is overwhelmingly positive. We are excited to offer a high-quality, online program combined with low tuition to the people of Idaho."
To qualify for FHSU's T2T program, an applicant must have an undergraduate or graduate degree in the content area or equivalent coursework in the subject area, a minimum 2.75 GPA for the 60 most recent semester credit hours earned, a passing score on the content assessment required by the state Department of Education, and be hired to teach in the subject area for which they qualify. The requirement to actually be employed in teaching is why the program must be online.
The process to alternative licensure in Idaho, said Lackey, is basically "a consortium between the school district, the candidate, the institution and the Idaho Department of Education." The process is driven by district need. For instance, the district needs a math teacher and can't find one, but a local professional or businessperson has a B.S. in mathematics. That person can take an eight- to 16-week course of training in basic pedagogy -- teaching -- skills and, after passing a math assessment, can get a three-year interim certificate to teach while completing the educational institution's accredited program. In Idaho, the teacher has to complete the program and pass the certification tests in that three-year period, she said.
Taggart said that before FHSU could offer its program in Idaho, "We had to make sure we were in compliance with their requirements, which we have. We can now begin serving students in Idaho through our Virtual College."
One accommodation FHSU had to make was that introductory eight- to 12-week training in teaching skills, "how to teach," said Taggart. Kansas does not have that requirement, so FHSU's Department of Teacher Education worked with Lackey to identify appropriate alternative courses. The three-year time frame is not a problem, said Taggart, because FHSU's program is set up for two years.
Media contact information:
Kerry Schuckman: 785-628-4542; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Germaine Taggart: 785-628-4204; email@example.com.
Cina Lackey: 208-332-6936; firstname.lastname@example.org
FHSU's Web address is www.fhsu.edu. The FHSU T2T website is www.fhsu.edu/cert/t2t/