Oct. 21, 2003

Assisting Area Educators

GW Students Helping Local Students While Teaching at Area Schools

By Jonathan Turner

A series of partnerships between Washington area schools and GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development is lending critical support to some of the community’s neediest schools. Students in the Department of Teacher Preparation and Special Education are interning as substitute and even full-time teachers at several understaffed area schools in exchange for tuition remission benefits and the opportunity to gain real-life experience.

Nineteen programs comprise the Department of Teacher Preparation and Special Education, producing about 150 teachers each year for local schools that have suffered from a shortage of trained educators. Seventy-five percent of these newly accredited educators specialize in the five subjects most consistently understaffed in America’s schools: mathematics, science, English as a second language, special education and Spanish.

“We don’t have an undergraduate program so we can concentrate all our resources on training graduate students,” said Jay Shotel, professor of special education, chair of the department and initiator of the Teachers 2000 Millennium Fellows and Fairfax Transition to Teaching programs. “The large majority of our grad students have liberal arts and sciences degrees. The ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ states a highly qualified teacher has to have a bachelor’s degree and our students clearly belong in that category. The average age of our graduate students is 29.”

The longest partnership in GSEHD, the Fairfax Transition to Teaching (FTT) program, is one of the most popular fellowships at the school. Shotel developed the FTT in 1985 following discussions with Fairfax officials about the county’s shortage of qualified substitute teachers. The program allows up to 23 GW students to serve as substitutes in the Fairfax County Public School System while they pursue their graduate studies. “It’s a really outstanding program,” said Terri Czarniak, coordinator for recruitment in human resources and university partnerships at Fairfax County Public Schools.

“It’s very well respected and highly sought after. We hire a very high number of the graduates from the program because we already know what they are capable of; it gives us the opportunity to see how they perform in the classroom. It is also a wonderful program for us because budget constraints are also a major concern.”

Since its inception, roughly 350 students have graduated from the FTT program, becoming something of an institution in Fairfax, where it is active in 23 of the system’s 24 high schools. Recognition of the FTT’s achievements also has developed beyond the local level. The US Department of Education even included a commendation of the FTT program in the “Second Annual Report on Teacher Quality to Congress” submitted by Secretary of Education Rod Paige this summer. The commendation described it as a “program that produced highly qualified teachers, the only university-based program to be so recognized” said Anita Scovanner Ramsey, the FTT project coordinator.

“Our students don’t just work as substitutes; they tutor, update curriculum, write lesson plans, teach math and computer labs,” she said. “One of the things we try to foster is that they become leaders in their schools. More than half of our alumni still work in Fairfax County. Some of them have gone on to become department heads, assistant principals and principals. Our students also have a 100 percent offer rate of hiring for Fairfax County schools.”

The FTT allows participating fellows to complete their licensure requirements through a one-year internship and course sequence, though earning a master’s of education degree requires further coursework. Twenty-three fellows a year are assigned a monthly stipend for 10 months and tuition benefits for 18 credits. They also are eligible for full-time student health benefits and deferred loans.

The largest fellows program in GSEHD is the Teachers 2000 Millennium Fellowship. A partnership with the Montgomery County Public School System (MCPS) founded in 1996 by Shotel in collaboration with Karoline Rohr of Montgomery County. Teachers 2000 is active in 18 of the 25 high schools and 21 out of 36 middle schools in MCPS and has 142 alumni.

“It’s a wonderful program,” said Elizabeth Arons, associate superintendent for human resources in Montgomery County. “There are only between two to 30 students a year; it’s not very big, but it’s very effective. The students are very intelligent, usually bilingual and trained to teach in the critical needs areas, which we always need.”

The Teachers 2000 program is composed of two similar fellowships — the Millennium Fellows and the GW Teaching Corps. Both allow students to complete the requirements for the licensure in 18 months.

The Millennium Fellowship spans two years; in the first year fellows have their “pre-service” period beginning in July with two University courses and a school system workshop. Beginning that September students are hired by MCPS as substitute teachers until June when, for their second summer, participants take two more courses and a variety of special training opportunities.

Assuming all requirements of the program have been met and budgetary and performance concerns notwithstanding, Teachers 2000 fellows may receive a promotion in the second semester of their fellow year to a full salary and benefits package.

One of the newest and best-received programs at GSEHD is the Urban Initiative (UI) partnership. Originally part of the DC Spirit program that placed interns in schools across the city, the UI is a 42-credit hour, two-year partnership developed with the Washington, DC Public Schools (DCPS). Initiated in 1997 by Lynda Tredway, a former GW employee, UI allows interns to teach literacy and special education at Cardozo Senior High School while they continue their graduate work.

Participating first-time students may choose between two routes for licensure. The first option offers single certification for a master’s degree in transition special education. The second option provides master’s of education certification in a secondary education content area, with a dual endorsement in transition special education.

“One of the things that is special about Urban Initiative is interns are able to get a teacher’s license in two different areas,” said Kathleen Tindle, project director for UI. “It’s unique to have that at a secondary level and it can be a great benefit to teachers in special education. In order for special education students to take a course it must be taught by a special education teacher, but most special education teachers aren’t licensed to teach regular subjects. So if a special education student takes a science class taught by a special education teacher they probably will not get credit for it. Having a teacher with two licenses means … these kids have a chance to get a real high school diploma.”

“Urban Initiative has been going well since its inception,” said Reggie Ballard, principal of Cardozo Senior High School. “The interns involved with this program have no illusions as to what teaching is all about. When they begin teaching they already know how to act, how students react. It is a true, authentic program. They are able to pass any assessment that is placed in front of them. After completing this program they are certified, bona fide teachers. I’ve been more than happy with this program.”

“It takes a special kind of person to do Urban Initiative and it’s not for everyone. Our interview process really helps us identify who will be strong urban educators,” said Anna Dixon, research associate at the UI program and one of the original members in the first cohort. “We focus on the urban population, particularly the low-level, ninth-grade and literacy programs; students who have trouble reading up to their grade level. Literacy is a huge part of our program.”

In addition, there are options for experienced and new teachers. Students new to teaching can work full-time at Cardozo, with a small stipend for each month of their 10-month service period. In the internship stage students work in a literacy program for struggling students in ninth grade, supervised by a literacy coordinator and teach with a Cardozo mentor instructor. Students who already teach in DCPS can intern at their individual school sites while supported by a University supervisor. Currently about 90 percent of the 34 graduates of the UI program are still teaching in Washington.

“The only problem I have with this program is it’s too small,” said Ballard. “Instead of only five or six each semester, I would like to triple the number of interns. I wish we could expand to other schools and high schools in the city. It could really help with the shortage of teachers we have here in Washington.”

The success of these programs has helped GSEHD place in the top 20 percent in the US News and World Report annual survey of the top graduate schools in education for the last eight consecutive years, ranking at No. 19 overall in the April 2003 survey and No. 1 for the Washington, DC, metropolitan area.

“The local schools know we attract the best and brightest students and produce the most committed and well prepared of educators,” said Shotel. “These are the two essential elements in why these partnerships work — because of our professional status within the field and because we are one of the highest-rated graduate school’s teaching schools in the country.

He concludes “There is a reason these schools are willing to work with us. The bottom line is we produce a quality product.”

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