IP-6-2008 (September 2008)
Author: Benjamin DeGrow
The Douglas County Learning Center has completed its first year of licensing and endorsing teachers to help fill the instructional needs of the fast-growing, wealthy suburban school district south of Denver. As student population has increased, the district’s innovative leadership moved forward on a plan to alleviate teaching shortages in hard-to-fill areas and to expand the range of coursework available to secondary students.
In order to create its alternative licensure and endorsement program, Douglas County sought and received waivers from the Colorado State Board of Education in 2006. The program was constructed to meet the district’s specific local needs, with the waivers contingent on proof of high academic performance. The waivers enable the Douglas County Learning Center to train three types of teaching candidates:
- Alternative licensure for non-licensed applicants with content expertise in highneeds areas—especially math, science, foreign language, and technical trades
- Teachers-in-Residence (TIR) primarily for licensed applicants with non-special education teaching endorsements to become special education instructors
- Professionals-in-Residence (PIR) for non-licensed professional applicants who “are not interested in seeking licensure” but want to teach a course on a specialized topic
After attracting a great deal of early attention and publicity, the Learning Center began training its first cohort of 30 waiver candi- dates in the summer of 2007. All but two candidates started with the rigorous seven-day “boot camp” of classroom basics. During the
2007-08 school year, candidates received additional training and also performed paid teaching duties in Douglas County classrooms. Specific coursework was individually tailored to the needs of each waiver candidate, based on a “blueprint” created by the district’s senior faculty. Moreover, waiver candidates received intense support from an assigned mentor, their principal, their building resource teacher, and the Learning Center itself.
Douglas County leaders share credit for the waiver program’s development with the local Douglas County Federation. The local organization is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, which has taken a more innovative and open approach to alternative teacher licensure opportunities than has the National Education Association.
The Learning Center waiver program already has achieved success in greatly reducing the number of qualified teaching gaps in hard-to-fill areas. Feedback about the quality of the first year’s candidates, most of whom are returning to teach, was largely positive. Hard data measuring the program’s effects on student performance have yet to be released.
Based on a 2007 National Council on Teacher Quality report, the Douglas County Learning Center meets two (and nearly three) of the four major criteria for a successful alternative licensure program. The case to reduce barriers of entry into the teaching profession continues to grow stronger. Douglas County’s program should serve as a model of innovation for other Colorado school districts to follow and even surpass.