3,500 start recertification, board preparing courses

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Chicago Public Schools are moving ahead with plans to help 3,500 teachers start grappling with new and controversial state recertification requirements, even as state educators continue to wrangle over the precise wording of the rules.

In 2001, about 5,000 additional teachers are expected to start the process; 13,000 more the following year. Cozette Buckney, CPS chief education officer, says 90 percent of Chicago’s 27,000 teachers will be taking courses towards recertification within four years.

Under a new law passed last year, teachers must complete an approved plan of continuing professional development every five years to get their teaching certificates renewed; in the past, they just had to pay a fee.

Specifically, they must complete 120 clock hours of courses, workshops or educational activities, or complete eight semester hours in an approved educational program. At least half of the units must be in their area of certification or in priority areas set by the state, which for the first cycle are reading, math, special education, using technology in the classroom, and standards and assessment related to the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. Teachers also must include work in areas aligned with their own schools’ improvement plans.

While teachers will write their own development plans, those plans must be approved by Local Professional Development Committees, which will include three classroom teachers, a representative of the superintendent and one other person, such as a parent or community leader.

Teachers who complete the rigorous process for certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards process are exempt from taking any other courses. They then qualify automatically for the 10-year renewal cycle afforded master teachers.

In addition to taking courses and workshops at universities and other educational providers, Chicago teachers will be able to choose from an array of free courses offered by the School Board, which is retooling its traditional continuing professional development offerings.

Details of the board’s courses are still being developed in a new office, Teacher Renewal and Recertification, headed by former curriculum chief Audrey Donaldson. A course catalog will not be ready until fall.

The official rules governing the law were to have been finished months ago. But clashes between the Illinois State Board of Education and the State Teacher Certification Board and objections from teacher unions have caused repeated delays. That has left many school districts officials in a holding pattern, knowing that teachers will soon have to start planning their recertification schedule but having few official guidelines to follow.

Buckney says the idea of offering courses, some of which will carry credit toward stepping up on the pay scale, came from the realization that many Chicago teachers had not been actively pursuing professional development. “How do we make sure teachers are taking what’s necessary to be successful in the classroom?” she asks.

Surprised by the high number of teachers who face recertification this year, Buckney admits that the board will be hard pressed to track each teacher’s progress.

Still unknown are the exact credits awarded for various educational activities, such as peer coaching or mentoring students. Also unknown are the rules that govern the Local Professional Development Committees. Without the rules, these committees cannot function.

Six local committees will initially be formed this summer in Chicago, though more will be needed to handle the load, Buckney says. Teachers will be compensated, perhaps $1,000 to $2,000, for being committee members, she adds.

Universities and other providers of teacher education are another group anxiously waiting final rules from Springfield. “Everyone is confused right now,” says Victoria Chou, dean of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Chou says UIC has been examining ways to take its comprehensive catalog of courses and repackage them for recertification use. For example, teachers who take All Learn Math, a middle school math course, may be offered that class with a component on improving literacy, a state priority.

How to renew teacher certification

Teachers have options for earning continuing professional education credits to renew teaching certificates under the new state law.

n They may earn 120 Continuing Professional Development Units, or clock hours, by attending courses, workshops, seminars or the like, and/or participating in such activities as peer coaching. Half of the hours must go toward advancing their knowledge and skills in their field of teaching and or in the state’s priority areas.

n They may earn eight semester hours in an educational program, with 20 percent of those credits related to improving their knowledge in their field of teaching.

n The may earn 24 Continuing Education Units, with each unit equaling five clock hours. Again half must go toward advancing their knowledge and skills in their field of teaching or in the state’s priority areas.

Source: Illinois State Board of Education