As school districts throughout Kansas, including Lawrence, put more emphasis on career and technical education, many of them are encountering a common obstacle: finding qualified, licensed instructors to teach those programs.
“There are some potentially good career and tech ed teachers out there who come from business and industry,” said Patrick Kelly, who directs CTE programs for the Lawrence school district. “They know a ton about the content. They've been in industry and can really help us give kids real-world understanding.”
But what many of those industry veterans often lack, Kelly said, is specific training in how to be a teacher – what education officials call “pedagogy,” the methods and practices of managing a classroom, designing a course with lesson plans, working with students of all different ability levels, designing tests and monitoring their progress.
There is now a wide-ranging debate in education circles about how important that training is, especially in the areas of career and technical training. While some argue that only trained and licensed teachers should be in charge of teaching students in public schools, others argue that schools should be more flexible in allowing people with direct business and professional experience to teach career-training courses.
Kelly said he can see both sides of the debate, although he tends to align with the traditional view that public school teachers need to be trained and licensed in education.
"I respect those certification rules because it assures the public that the teachers we're putting in front of the kids are qualified to do what we're asking them to do," he said. "That being said, I think it's especially difficult in career and tech areas sometimes to find instructors who are current with current practices in business and industry."
Business experience vs. teacher training
That debate was on full display last week when the Kansas State Board of Education declined to grant a kind of alternative license called a "visiting scholar" license to a woman who works in the Blue Valley school district's celebrated Center for Advanced Professional Studies, or CAPS program.
CAPS places high school seniors into college-level internships with Johnson County-area businesses to work on real-world projects. Although companies set up the projects and work with the students to complete them, the students and the entire program are constantly supervised by state-licensed teachers.
Chelsea Craig, an athletics trainer who expects to receive her master's degree in kinesiology in December, worked with a number of interns last year while on contract with the district and under the supervision of another licensed teacher.
Blue Valley officials were so impressed with her work that this year they supported her application for a visiting scholar license, a limited license that can be granted to someone who has “demonstrated exceptional talent or outstanding distinction in a particular subject area.”
“The role of instructor within the CAPS program is really different from the traditional role of high school teachers,” Donna Deeds, executive director of the CAPS program told the state board. “Our instructors are expected not only to ensure high school credit is decided upon and also college standards are met, but they're also expected to manage these real-world projects.”
But state licensing officials saw it differently and recommended that the state board deny the license. Besides the fact that Craig had not yet earned her master's degree, they noted she had little professional experience of her own beyond the internships she had done at Boise State University in Idaho and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Calls for reform
State board members were more divided in their opinions, and the split did not fall along the traditional liberal-conservative fault lines. But one thing board members did agree about was the need to review, and possibly update, the licensing standards for career and technical education.
Carolyn Campbell, a Topeka Democrat whose district includes Lawrence, supported granting the license, mainly because of Deeds' recommendation and the reputation of the CAPS program.
Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican and one of the board's more conservative members, agreed, but added that he thinks it should be easier for people with industry experience to move into teaching.
“We should have more flexibility,” Willard said. “CAPS is one of the premier examples of high quality education in the state of Kansas, and it's one that many other schools are now emulating.”
But Sally Cauble, a Republican from Liberal, argued that the state needs to maintain high standards for people to teach at the high school level.
“There's a difference between teaching in college and secondary education,” she said. “Pedagogy does still matter. You have to be accountable to the student at that level.”
Campbell's motion to approve the visiting scholar license failed on a vote of 3-6.
After that vote, however, board member Deena Horst, a Salina Republican who voted to deny the license, formally requested that the issue of licensing requirements for career and technical education be placed on a future agenda for further discussion.