E-Learning Essential for Improving Public Teacher Corps
by Hui-Yin Hsu
Aug 30, 2016 | 10513 views | 0 0 comments | 411 411 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As classes start, public schools across the country are staring down crisis-level teacher shortages.

Rapid City, South Dakota, schools have 50 unfilled teaching positions. Georgia's Houston County has 90. San Francisco has over 100. Florida's Orange County a whopping 300.

As older educators steadily retire, there's a desperate need for new blood in America's teacher corps. Worse still, too many young teachers lack the knowledge required to educate effectively. And the teacher corps remains remarkably homogenous, failing to reflect this nation's diversity.

Online teacher certification is the silver-bullet solution to all these challenges. E-learning portals empower people from less traditional career tracks to join the teaching profession, bringing unique perspectives, skills, and backgrounds into the classroom.

More universities should offer online teacher training. And public school systems should value these degrees and recruit from these new pools.

E-learning represents the best way to improve our teaching corps.

Consider Arlene Steenkolk, a former computer engineer in Beaverton, Oregon. After a successful career, she became passionate about fostering the next generation of computer scientists. So she began teaching, working as a technology assistant at a local elementary school.

"I want to encourage (the students) to look ahead for their future," she explained.

There are countless Arlenes across the country. This vast talent pool, though, has gone mostly untapped due to prohibitively high transition costs. Many professionals can't afford to quit their jobs and spend years in full-time teaching programs.

With kids to support, mortgages to pay, and retirements to plan for, many can't forgo years of wages.

Enter e-learning. Online teacher training programs allow working professionals to get highly specialized degrees at their own pace before switching careers.

The University of Massachusetts, for instance, offers online courses for over 20 teaching degrees.

Ideal models include online instruction, regular trainings and visits to K-12 classrooms with real students. My university, New York Institute of Technology, offers online graduate programs and a blended program that incorporates classes and instruction on campus.

This hybrid model has continually proven effective. A study by the former president of Princeton University examined over 600 college students and found that those who completed both online and in-class courses outperformed traditional students.

Empowering mid-career professionals to join the teaching corps would also address the serious knowledge deficit plaguing public schools. Research shows that many middle and high school instructors lack the necessary knowledge about math to effectively teach it.

When mid-career professionals migrate into education, they bring their knowledge and professional skills, too. Students can learn, say, about computer science from a Google engineer or about writing from a Fortune 500 advertising executive. Young minds deserve access to such elite knowledge.

There's also a serious lack of diversity among educators. While over 40 percent of public school students are students of color, more than 80 percent of teachers are white.

Teachers from non-traditional paths are more likely to come from diverse demographic backgrounds, helping the teaching corps become more reflective of the students.

We can't afford to let these problems continue. Lack of qualified, diverse instructors causes lower quality instruction and poor outcomes. Today, the United States isn't even among the top 20 performing countries in international student achievement assessments.

Empowering adult professionals to become teachers through online learning technologies will inject fresh talent into a school system that desperately needs it.

Hui-Yin Hsu is the chair of the Teacher Education Program at New York Institute of Technology.
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