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Chapter 4 Education The nation faces a shortage of experienced teachers in urban and rural schools, and, at the same time, a new wave of concern about the competence of America's teachers.1 Career-ladder programs have struck many as an answer to both problems. Career ladders that help teacher assistants to further their education can not only upgrade the skills of these paraprofessionals , they can also turn some of them into credentialed teachers. Thus, while there used to be virtually no possibility of advancement for education paraprofessionals,2 that is now changing. Since the late 1g8os, when teacher shortages emerged as a national problem, careerladder programs have helped thousands of education paraprofessionals to earn college degrees and teaching certificates. These programs are preparing new teachers who know what they are getting into and, as a result, seem to stay in the field longer than traditionally trained teachers. They also stay longer in hard-to-staff, inner-city schools. Moreover, because so many teacher assistants are members of racial and ethnic minority groups, the career-ladder programs are increasing the diversity of the teacher labor force. In an effort to improve the quality ofteaching, there has also been a recent surge of experimentation with career-ladder and pay-for-performance programs for teachers already certified. These programs offer rewards to teachers who continue their education or demonstrate exemplary skills, rewards such as higher pay or new roles as mentor teachers or both. In this way the programs are meant to ensure that the best teachers do not have to move out of teaching into administration in order to advance. There is still not a consensus about how to design these career ladders for teachers. The experiments are beset with controversies over how to evaluate teaching skills fairly and how to make a system ofskill-based advancement compatible with 92 CHAPTER 4 the seniority-based pay that is the mainstay of teacher unions. But given the widespread and long-standing belief in the usefulness of continuingeducation and career-advancement programs for education professionals, these experiments are certain to persist and to attract considerable attention. For that reason they are not the focus here. This chapter, like this book, is concerned instead with career ladders for low-skilled workers, which is a much newer and less examined phenomenon . Neither school officialdom nor the public is entirely convinced that significant skill upgrades are even possible among school paraprofessionals -or worth the money that would have to be spent on education and training. Thus, as the following cases illustrate, one of the major issues facing those who have tried to put paraprofessional career ladders in place is whom they should try to move upward, given limited funds and increasingly higher standards for teachers. The Need for Training Paraprofessional-to-Teacher programs provide an environment in which the experience of paraprofessionals is valued and their commitment to students celebrated. In our Transition to Teaching program, paraprofessionals become licensed special education teachers in a context that encourages collaboration. Participants say that this is one of the most rewarding learning opportunities they have ever had. CAROL DoHERTY, director, Professional Development Program, Northeastern University School of Education The first teacher-assistant jobs were introduced after World War II, but the number of paraprofessionals began increasing dramatically in the late 1g6os as the federal government began requiring and paying for extra attention to certain groups of students. The creation of Head Start in 1965 generated the first big call for teacher aides. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 with its Title I funding for schools in poor neighborhoods,3 the Bilingual Education Act of 1968, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 each ushered in a new increase in teacher assistants. Today there are 1.3 million of them nationwide.4 About half of them work in special education programs for the disabled, and it has been estimated that around 18 percent work in Title I programs and 15 percent in bilingual programs. Most of the others work in regular classrooms , the vast majority in elementary schools.s These paraprofessionals perform a variety of support services under the supervision of a teacher. Tasks range from supervising playgrounds and lunchrooms and performing clerical work to providing instructional support EDUCATION 93 such as tutoring, working with students in computer labs, administering tests, and grading tests and homework. On average, paraprofessionals who provide instructional support spend about 6o percent oftheir time working with small groups and...


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