ERIC Identifier: ED460127
Publication Date: 2001-12-00
Author: Eubanks, Segun
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teaching and Teacher Education Washington DC.
Licensure Programs for Paraeducators. ERIC Digest.
America's teacher recruitment and retention challenge has been well
documented and widely reported in the national media (Brown, Hughes, and Vance,
1999; Darling-Hammond, Dilworth, and Bullmaster, 1996; Education Week, 2000).
Urban and rural schools, particularly in high poverty communities, are finding
it increasingly difficult to find and keep qualified teachers. Moreover, while
the public school student population is currently 34.5% minority - and projected
to be over 50% by 2035 (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1996) - the public school
teacher population remains overwhelming white, with only 13.5% teachers of color
(National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2001).
The nation's K-12 public schools employ more than 700,000 paraeducators and
an additional 1.4 million education support personnel (National Education
Association [NEA], 1997). Over the past decade, thousands of these paraeducators
have made the transition to teaching, and there is growing evidence that many
more are capable of doing so if provided support and assistance (Clewell and
Villegas, 1998). Paraeducators and other education support personnel appear to
be a promising source from which to recruit and prepare candidates to help
address the growing need for qualified and diverse teachers in urban and rural
public schools. This digest examines the qualities that make paraeducators good
candidates for teaching, and looks at the critical aspects of successful
programs that prepare paraeducators as classroom teachers.
WHY PARAEDUCATORS MAKE GOOD TEACHERS
many roles in public schools, though they typically work under the supervision
of a classroom teacher or other professional personnel. Paraeducator roles
include instructional assistants, teachers' aides, library aides, preschool
caregivers, building monitors, media aides, and other similar titles. Education
support personnel (ESP) serve even broader roles in schools including food
service, custodial and maintenance, transportation services, health and student
services, security, technical services, clerical, and skilled trades.
Paraeducators and ESP often make ideal teacher candidates, particularly for
hard-to-staff urban and rural schools. This population of candidates very often
has attributes including:
They are mature candidates who already have classroom experience,
They are more likely to live in the communities where they work and to share the
language and/or culture of the students they serve (Haselkorn and Fideler,
They often have significant experiences working in public schools and with
A majority of participants in paraeducator-to-teacher programs are individuals
of color (Haseklorn and Fideler, 1996),
Their retention rate in teacher education programs is higher than that of
traditional teacher education candidates (Dewitt Wallace--Readers Digest Fund,
Once paraeducators become teachers, they tend to stay in the classroom longer
and achieve at equal or higher levels than teachers from traditional teacher
preparation programs (Dewitt Wallace--Reader's Digest Fund, 1997), and
According to a 1997 NEA survey of paraeducators and ESP, half of paraeducators,
and significant portions of other ESP job groups, are interested in becoming
teachers. Additionally, paraeducators often have considerable academic
preparation; 68% of paraeducators have attended college and 19% already have a
It should be noted that paraeducators who wish to pursue teaching also face
significant challenges. Among these are:
Financial constraints. Low salaries and the high cost of college tuition make
the prospect of returning to school very daunting for many paraeducators and
Education barriers. Many paraeducators have been out of school for years and/or
have marginal academic records.
Family considerations. Eighty percent of paraeducators are married and 48% have
school-age children (NEA, 1997). This often makes going back to school even more
Time commitment. Few paraeducators are able to leave work and pursue a degree or
credential full-time, nor are they able to take several years to complete a
Institutional barriers. Many teacher preparation programs do not provide the
support and flexibility to accommodate non-traditional students such as
PARAEDUCATOR-TO-TEACHER PROGRAMS CURRENT DESIGN
barriers outlined above, few paraeducators would be able to pursue teacher
preparation and/or licensure without support and assistance. However, across the
country, colleges and universities, school districts, and state departments of
education are offering a wide array of programs, scholarships, and other support
services for paraeducators interested in pursuing teacher licensure. A 1996
survey conducted by Recruiting New Teachers, Inc. identified 149 such "paraeducator-to-teacher" programs (Haselkorn and Fideler, 1996). A separate
survey by the NEA identified some 182 programs (2000). A growing number of these
programs report very promising results (Dandy, 1998; Dewitt Wallace - Reader's
Digest, 1997; Recruiting New Teachers [RNT], 2000).
The types of programs available for paraeducators vary significantly. Some
programs offer only small scholarships or stipends for paraeducators to enter
existing teacher preparation, while others offer comprehensive services
specifically geared toward the paraeducator. Several states provide funding for
paraeducator-to-teacher programs, though most programs are supported through
local funding and/or funds provided by private foundations or federal grants
(Haselkorn and Fideler, 1996). While levels of funding also vary, programs that
have reported favorable results have also reported significant costs associated
with the program (Haselkorn and Fideler, 1996).
Several reports and research projects have documented key components of
effective paraeducator-to-teacher programs (Clewell and Villegas, 1998, 2000;
Dandy, 1998; RNT, 2000). Clewell and Villegas (1998, 2000) point to six common
features in the programs they evaluated:
Strong collaboration between a local school district that employs paraeducators
and a nearby university that provides the coursework and academic support for
participants. Universities often must commit to adapting or changing curriculum,
revising admissions standards, and/or providing financial support. School
districts often must commit to giving paraeducators release time, guaranteeing
teaching jobs to graduates, and/or providing financial support to program
A recruitment and selection process that gives an active role to partnering
school districts. School district personnel play an active role in the
identification and recruitment of participants which helps to ensure a large and
diverse applicant pool.
Teacher preparation admissions criteria that blend traditional and
non-traditional measures. Many paraeducator-to-teacher programs consider a wide
variety of criteria for admissions to teacher preparation beyond test scores and
grades. These include principal and teacher recommendations, job performance
results, extensive personal interviews, years of work experience, motivation to
succeed, maturity, and other criteria.
Teacher preparation curriculum that fits the needs of program participants. This
includes changing when and where courses are offered, such as at the school site
or on weekends. It also includes a teacher preparation curriculum with emphasis
on cultural diversity and on valuing the strength and capacity that urban
students bring to the learning process.
Comprehensive academic and social support for participants. Academic progress is
closely monitored and participants are offered a variety of supports including
tutorial programs, access to special learning centers, workshops to develop
study and test-taking skills, and developing individualized education plans.
Many programs also offer childcare services and workshops for spouse and other
Tuition and other financial assistance. Many programs offer scholarships and
grants from funds made available by private foundations or government grants.
Others offer "forgivable loans" that are erased when graduates teach in partner
school districts. Still other programs offer emergency loans or grants for
books, supplies or even personal needs such as rent.
Other reported program components include leadership by advocates on the
campus and in the district, building strong ties to community-based
organizations and local churches, and using program graduates to mentor
participants in the pipeline (Dandy, 1998).
The need for qualified teachers in America's
urban schools has already reached crisis proportion. Often, efforts to address
this quality teacher challenge ignore the importance of ensuring a diverse
teaching force that is culturally connected to urban students and parents
(Eubanks, 1999). Recruiting, preparing, and supporting paraeducators to become
fully licensed teachers has proven to be one viable strategy for addressing both
teacher quality and teacher diversity demands. Yet, while the evidence is
compelling, little is being done in the education policy and legislative arena
to provide funding and support for these program models (Haselkorn and Fideler,
1996). Local, state, or federal funding has not replaced much of the financial
support initially provided by private philanthropic foundations. Unless this
happens, paraeducator-to-teacher programs will remain very promising models with
little significant impact on the teacher shortage.
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