K-12 Online Teaching Endorsements: Ohio Department of Education Perspectives
- By Patricia Deubel
In "K-12 Online Teaching Endorsements: Are They Needed?" (Deubel, 2008), I noted that four states, including Georgia, have endorsement programs for teaching online and suspected that it is only a matter of time for more to follow. A reader responded with concerns. Endorsements might deter current licensed teachers from pursuing teaching online, require some colleges and universities to create new courses for their teacher preparation programs, add thousands of dollars to the expenses for teachers-to-be to take additional coursework, and ultimately impact state departments of education, which might need to create new administrative offices. Of course, this is just one opinion, but the reader raised legitimate issues. There is the flip side to an endorsement movement, and I can see arguments on both sides.
As an Ohio educator for most of my career, I opted to further investigate the status of such endorsements in Ohio. John Watson and Jennifer Ryan (2007) noted 18 states have full-time, multi-district online schools. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota have the largest number of students in those programs (p. 17). As of August 2007, Ohio does not have a state-led online program. There are 40 eCommunity (charter) schools in Ohio with a combined enrollment of more than 20,000 students for fiscal year 2007. These include seven statewide schools (p. 113). While not the largest of those, Ohio Virtual Academy, which began in fall 2002, serves all 615 school districts in the state. Its 4,000 to 4,999 students were being taught by 112 full-time and two part-time teachers, 100 percent licensed (p. 76).
The Ohio Department of Education does not list the online teaching endorsement among its program classifications for approved educator programs at 4-year Ohio institutions. I interviewed Marilyn Troyer, senior associate superintendent for Educational Programs at the ODE, for her reactions and those of the state department on endorsements for online teaching. Dr. Troyer has played a key role in Ohio's teacher education and licensure standards. Todd Hanes, executive director of the ODE Office of Community Schools, added his expertise.
Patricia Deubel: Dr. Troyer, before getting into the issue of endorsements, I'd like to present readers with a little more background on online learning in Ohio. Can you share the Ohio Department of Education's position on online learning in K-12?
Marilyn Troyer: The ODE does not have a state-led online school, but we know there is online learning going on and expect that any programs being offered are of the same caliber as that for other students.
Deubel: I observed that each of Ohio's 40 eCommunity schools "must have an 'affiliation' with at least one 'teacher of record' licensed by the State Board of Education. The teacher of record is responsible for the overall academic development and achievement of a student and not merely the student's instruction in a single subject" (Watson & Ryan, 2007, p. 113). I'm a little confused. Can you comment further on teacher licensure in those schools? Does this mean that individual subject matter teachers might not be fully licensed?
Troyer: Online schools are required to have licensed teachers who are highly qualified in the subject areas they teach.
Deubel: Todd, when Dr. Troyer and I spoke, I commented that if a student was having difficulty in math, for example, and contacted the teacher of record who was licensed in another content area, I would hope that the teacher of record could direct the student to a licensed math teacher for answers to his/her questions. My understanding is "teacher of record" is not necessarily the person teaching the course. Can you clarify "teacher of record" and the licensure issue I have?
Todd Hanes: The principles associated with great teaching and learning are relevance to the child, rigor of curriculum and instruction, and the engagement and relationship constructed by the teacher with students. We are in the business of closing the achievement gap in Ohio and using new Value-Added growth measures to close the achievement gap. The department pursues multiple learning pathways through education options such as e-learning and e-schools. Whether teaching is face to face, online, or a combination of both, the art of teaching is the foundation of that relationship and engagement between teacher and student.
All community school teachers must be highly qualified for their teaching assignments, but may teach outside their area of licensure. In grades K-6, the community school teacher only needs to be highly qualified in any single elementary subject, even if not the one in which they are teaching; In grades 7-12, the community school teacher must be highly qualified in all of the core academic subjects they teach. Teachers in site-based classrooms often have teacher aides or others helping them, but the classroom teacher, or teacher of record, is the one responsible for the bottom line, student performance.
Deubel: I also observed in Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning (Watson & Ryan, 2007) that Ohio's "eCommunity schools must administer the state-developed achievement tests and diagnostic assessments in the same manner as school districts" (p. 114). But, there has been concern regarding "[l]ow state assessment participation rates and aggregate test scores by some eCommunity schools (In the year since passage of the 2005 legislation [adopting standards for the schools], most of the eCommunity schools moved up one level on Ohio's school report card system)" (p. 112).
Do you think the quality of teachers might have something to do with that in terms of the professional development they might have received for how to teach online? Might endorsements in online teaching have any relationship to improving outcomes in state standardized testing for online learners?
Troyer: The ODE does not have records regarding the professional development the eCommunity schools might have provided to their online teachers, and it is generally difficult to directly attribute student achievement to professional development completed by teachers. Many factors impact the level of student achievement on standardized tests, including the alignment of the curriculum to the standards, the level of effort expended by the student, and other factors. It would be difficult to directly link teaching endorsements to outcomes for standardized testing. A number of programs at eCommunity schools are focused on dropout prevention. Basic skills might be lower for many of those students when compared to populations in school districts.
Deubel: Todd, can you comment further, particularly in terms of what professional development eCommunity school teachers currently receive for teaching online? Do you think it's adequate?
Hanes: The most important instructional resource in any classroom is the teacher. The tools in a virtual classroom may be different, but the goal is the same. We need to make sure that teachers are using all of the available tools and resources so that they can get the job done. E-school teachers have in-service and pre-service preparation, and there is no existing uniform endorsement or coursework for online teaching. There is always room for improvement in e-learning pedagogy because technologies and teacher tools are constantly changing as in the case of podcasting and other innovations.
Deubel: Does the ODE have any plans for adding a category for an endorsement in teaching online, which might be added to an Ohio teaching license? In particular, if there are plans, what criteria must be fulfilled by the candidate in terms of professional development that would qualify him/her for such an endorsement?
Troyer: We don't have any plans right now, probably because online schools are relatively new in Ohio. We do have an Educator Standards Board that would study issues and make recommendations for adding endorsements.
Deubel: Hypothetically speaking, if the ODE did add an endorsement program in online teaching, how might this affect changes in the ODE for administering the program (e.g., new administrative office created, new staff, funding, new professional development offerings, new liaisons with colleges/universities for course developments and online student teaching experiences, and so on)?
Troyer: We probably would not need to add staff, but adding such an endorsement would create more work. We have an Office of Educator Preparation that would take responsibility for developing an endorsement program. Staff would work with faculty and teachers who have expertise in that area to set up standards for the program. They'd begin by reviewing what other states are doing. Creating this new endorsement could require colleges and universities to create new courses. We would make contact with higher education providers for course development meeting new standards. Most likely any higher education provider would be interested in knowing if there is sufficient student interest for making it worthwhile economically to pursue program development. And, yes, that eventually would add to expenses for those who take the courses.
Deubel: From your perspective, do you think that endorsements are really needed?
Troyer: I know online learning is increasing, so this is a policy question that deserves study. One question would be whether such an endorsement would be mandatory for all online teachers. If you create an endorsement that is mandatory, teachers would need it to teach online and that would limit the number of teachers who could fill online teaching positions. Another option would be to make it optional, so teachers could earn the endorsement if they wanted to but would not be required to hold the endorsement to teach online courses. Teachers of online courses should certainly have the necessary skills for teaching such courses. Is this better accomplished through a mandatory endorsement, through professional development, or some other strategy?
As to the NEA position statement on distance education, states do have reciprocity for teaching licenses; however, we don't do reciprocity with all states because requirements also vary for getting those licenses. Some states have minimal requirements.
Deubel: Todd, what do you think about endorsements for teaching online?
Hanes: The art of teaching, whether in a classroom or online, and engagement with students is the best predictor of student success. I think professional development including endorsements for teaching online are an excellent option for veteran teachers and for pre-service educators. An online teaching endorsement would provide teachers with additional tools to engage students and build that critical relationship.
Deubel: How do you anticipate the growth of online learning in Ohio?
Hanes: There is a moratorium on establishing new e-schools at this time, but e-school enrollment is increasing every year in Ohio to about 22,000 students this year. The moratorium has provided time and energy to address quality issues in e-learning. Value-added scores for all community school students including e-school students look promising.
The Bottom Line
The Ohio Department of Education views the issue of an endorsement for online teaching as a policy question worthy of study, but is taking a wait-and-see position as to whether or not to pursue such an endorsement in its licensure. The ODE through its Educator Standards Board and Office of Educator Preparation has the resources it needs should the time come to investigate the question and develop an endorsement program, and probably would not need to add additional staff. The state recognizes the need to ensure the academic achievement of all its learners and by addressing quality issues in e-learning, monitoring the achievement of its K-12 online learners, and ensuring that those students are being taught by highly qualified teachers according to current guidelines, it is doing just that. Nationally, if you consider what Ohio is doing and add research at state levels demonstrating that K-12 online learners are achieving at the same or even higher level when compared to their traditionally schooled counterparts, then the need for the endorsement could become a mute point. Time will tell.
Deubel, P. (2008, Jan. 10). K-12 online teaching endorsements: Are they needed? T.H.E. Journal SmartClassroom. Available: http://www.thejournal.com/articles/21804
Hanes, T. (2007, July 9). Community schools: A component of school choice. Columbus (OH): State Board of Education School Choice Policy Discussion. Retrieved January 22, 2008, from http://www.ode.state.oh.us
Watson, J., & Ryan, J. (2007, November). Keeping pace with K-12 online learning: A review of state level policy and practice. Retrieved January 19, 2008, from the North American Council of Online Learning, http://www.nacol.org/
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About the author: Patricia Deubel has a Ph.D. in computing technology in education from Nova Southeastern University and is currently an education consultant and the developer of Computing Technology for Math Excellence at http://www.ct4me.net.
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Patricia Deubel has a Ph.D. in computing technology in education from Nova Southeastern University and is currently an education consultant and the developer of Computing Technology for Math Excellence at http://www.ct4me.net. She has been involved with online learning and teaching since 1997.