Grants bring high-tech strategy to teacher recruitment

Grants bring high-tech strategy to teacher recruitment

(Calif.) To help relieve the state’s stubborn teacher shortage, the Tulare County Office of Education is building a digital outreach campaign that, among other things, will utilize mobile avatars to carry recruitment messages.

Mills College in Oakland is planning a new bilingual credential pathway that will emphasize child development and urban education.

Meanwhile, at Sacramento County’s Office of Education, planners are developing a bachelor-credential program aimed at classified employees already working in schools that includes financial aid and other support.

These are just three of 67 grant programs being funded out of a $35 million allocation included in last year’s state budget aimed at getting teacher preparation programs to either shorten the time needed for a candidate to get credentials, encourage existing school personnel to become teachers, and to build a new, modern recruitment network.

While the fruits of some of the investment is probably four or five years away, Donna Glassman-Sommer, who is leading the Tulare County team, said she is hopeful their project will be up and running sometime this summer.

“We recognize the urgency,” she said. “And we do have on the ground recruitment experience, which when combined with the creation of a virtual world of information, we believe can connect candidates both credentialed and aspiring to enter into the field of teaching.”

Although the upswing in the California economy has resulted in more state revenue for schools, interest among young people with the teaching profession has been slow to bounce back.

Prior to the economic downturn in 2008, as many as 50,000 students were working toward getting a teaching degree and certification. Since then, the numbers have fallen to less than half that number.

Meanwhile, because state funding for schools has rebounded and districts are once again trying to reduce teacher-to-student radios, the demand for educators has jumped–especially for those trained to serve students with disabilities and to teach subjects such as math and science.

Mary Vixie Sandy, executive director of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing—which is administrating the grants—said there was a robust response from school districts and preparation programs to apply for the funding.

“I think we did a good job distributing the money across the state,” she said. “These grants really will provide support at the local level to recruit people into teaching, especially in areas of chronic shortages.”

The Tulare project has provided $5 million to establish the Center on Teaching Careers. As envisioned by lawmakers, the center would serve as a focal point for promotional and recruitment materials that would be used to attract high school and college students to the teaching profession. In general, that would mean public service announcements that could be given to TV and radio stations; or publications that district personnel could distribute at job fairs and career seminars.

The plan is to also employ at least 7 high-tech kiosks featuring hologram technology that can provide an interactive avatar experience to potential recruits. The idea is to tailor the messaging of the kiosks depending on the targeted audience.

A touch screen monitor allows viewers to choose videos for viewing on how to become an elementary school teacher, for instance, or how to earn an additional teaching credential. Because the kiosks are portable, they can be left behind at a community college or an employment office. They are also equipped with enough memory to facilitate activity reports that can be accessed remotely by the administrators.

“We believe the avatars have the potential to really take off,” said Glassman-Sommer. “It can be used to disseminate information about teaching and local programs in places such as university campuses, county offices and it could be in your mall. It’s an approach that can reach people not only through events and traditional media, but rather, where people frequent.”

Another $10 million was set aside to provide grants of up to $250,000 to colleges and universities to improve existing programs. Sandy said that over the next 18 months, these grants will develop four-year pathways that will lead to both a baccalaureate degree and a teaching credential.

The Legislature required the CTC to give priority in awarding this money to programs that would produce math and science teachers or bilingual educators. Lawmakers also wanted to promote university programs that would partner with the community college system.

Finally, the budget provided $20 million to support current school employees—generally known as classified employees—in the pursuit of a teaching credential.

Public policy experts have long identified classified employees as a potential source of new teachers because many already have some post-secondary training and many also have shown a commitment to serving children.

According to a survey from the Ventura COE, conducted as part of their grant application, nearly two hundred classified employees were identified as having interest in the promotion programs. Many were working in clerical and office management positions, but the majority were in the classroom serving as paraeducators and instructional aides.

The CTC awarded grant money under this category to 25 programs, which will be used to help individuals pay for tuition and related training costs.