Educators struggle to keep up with No Child Left BehindM.B.A. Programs/Continuing Education
Three years ago Hopatcong elementary schools were in trouble: Many fourth and fifth graders weren?t doing well enough on the math sections of two important statewide tests. The Sussex County school district took a two-pronged approach to the problem. It increased the amount of time the youngsters spent on math; it also hired Technology Training Solutions to make sure Hopatcong teachers knew how to use computers to beef up their lessons.
Technology Training Solutions, a Lyndhurst company, is one of a burgeoning cohort of organizations that teach teachers about the latest educational tricks, techniques and tools. The state Department of Education lists nearly 1,900 nonprofits and for-profits that offer professional-development courses in technology for educators. It?s a big business because in New Jersey alone there are 100,000 teachers at the K-12 level and each must complete 100 hours of continuing education credits over five years to maintain a valid teaching certificate.
There?s plenty to learn about. The education department offers a range of courses that includes classes on how to discipline unruly pupils, teach different ethnic groups and customize lesson plans to gifted students. And there?s always the use of computers and computer technology.
Hopatcong?s dilemma in a nutshell: Two years ago, of the 420 fourth and fifth grade students at Durban Avenue School, only 57.6% of fourth graders passed the NJ ASK math section. About a quarter of all fifth graders failed a section on statistics and probability in the TerraNova. The NJ ASK, developed by Educational Testing Service in Lawrenceville, tests fourth graders? proficiency in language arts, math and science in March. The TerraNova is an achievement test that measures how well students are doing compared with their peers throughout the country.
Hopatcong?s particular problem led it to team up with Technology Training Solutions, a 10-employee company with $500,000 in revenue. ?We decided to reach out to TTS because their program consisted of sustained teacher training,? says Tim Frederiks, Hopatcong?s director of curriculum. ?It was not a one-shot deal.?
In October 2003, 21 teachers began their training on a staff-development day, learning the basics of Microsoft Excel, the ubiquitous spreadsheet program. The teachers were familiar with Microsoft?s word processor and with PowerPoint, its presentation program, but they weren?t comfortable with Excel. ?Excel can get a little scary,? says Frederiks. ?TTS removed the fear.?
That is TTS? specialty. Over the past 10 years, says President Peter Cooper, his firm has trained 7,500 teachers across 200 school districts in desktop publishing, graphics, databases and the use of the Internet.
TTS worked with Hopatcong?s teachers through the winter of 2003, helping them integrate Excel into lesson plans. The company?s consultants also observed the teachers in action and provided feedback on which lessons worked and which needed strengthening. They kept in touch via e-mail, acting as mentors and coaches.
?They established a relationship with the teachers,? says Frederiks. ?They almost became part of the school family.?
The almost-family ties seem to have helped: Nearly 16% more students passed the NJ ASK the following year. There was a significant improvement in student results on the NovaTerra as well.
Hopatcong funded the program with a $13,000 federal grant through the No Child Left Behind law. That sum is small change in the scheme of things: This year the U.S. Department of Education is allotting nearly $38 billion to states and school districts to improve elementary and secondary schools; New Jersey receives $65 million annually from the feds.
While federal funding for improving schools is nothing new, the emphasis has shifted somewhat to improving teachers as well. ?Professional development is a critical issue today,? says Jay Doolan, director of the office of academic and professional standards at the state Department of Education. ?We?re expecting all students in every school, in every district to achieve at very high levels. We?ve never as a country been faced with doing that before. We need to make sure every teacher is prepared to teach every student.?
Faced with the requirement that students be assessed annually to assure that they are reaching federally mandated targets, the state has used some of its No Child Left Behind funding to make sure that its teachers are ?highly qualified? as defined by the law. This means that high school teachers face testing in their subjects, and that elementary school teachers must show proficiency in social studies, math, language arts and science. The influx of new hires?nearly 6,800 from 2001 to 2004?has reduced class sizes, says Doolan.
While Hopatcong has labored to bring up its math scores, the state has also targeted language arts, focusing on improving the teaching of reading and writing from preschool through eigth grade, says Doolan. Students are tested in fourth and eighth grades and later in 11th grade to measure their progress in the three R?s.
No Child Left Behind has been a boon to companies like TTS, but the possibility of funding cuts is stirring up anxiety. The state and Cooper of TTS share a concern that Washington may eliminate funding for technology training. That would slash $500 million from the country?s efforts to train children on computers.
Fears of funding cuts may already be having their effect. Cooper says his revenue climbed 10% to 15% annually from 2001 to 2003 based on federal funding, but plateaued last year.
Of course, even if funding were to be slashed, the mandates for testing would continue, and schools are worried about how they would make up the lost dollars. ?I?m concerned about it?and not only for my company but also for the schools,? says Cooper. ?You?re setting high standards for a program, you give it funding and then two or three years later you take away huge chunks of money. Schools are complaining about this.?
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