*UPDATE* The 2017 deadline for teachers to receive accreditation has recently been moved to 2024. This is in compliance with a deadline extension offered by the HLC, according to the HLC’s response to a letter drafted by Governor Sam Brownback.
Due to a new SMSD contract update, teachers who teach dual-credit courses, like College Now or Baker credit, will now be required to have a master’s degree in the subject they teach, or 18 college credit hours in that respective subject. At East, this means that 14 of the 19 current dual-enrollment teachers are not currently eligible to teach dual-credit under the new guidelines, according to current College Now teachers and the 2016-17 master schedule.
This requirement, publicized last spring, was made to comply with the Higher Learning Commission’s – the group that determines academic accreditation at the college level for 19 midwestern states – 2016 faculty guidelines. Without those credits, these teachers will be considered unfit to teach at the college level by the HLC.
“The Higher Learning Commission felt that it was our duty to . . . advance the quality of higher education at all levels, no matter where those courses are being taught,” Steve Kauffman, the Public Information Officer for the HLC, said when asked why HLC created these new requirements.
At this time, it is unclear how many and which courses will be discontinued at each SMSD school, according to Dr. Darren Dennis, the SMSD’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, and the Administrator overseeing the HLC requirements.
Dual-credit is separate from AP even though the classes are taught as one; the HLC guidelines do not affect AP certification. Since universities such as Baker and JCCC require dual-credit teachers to be certified at the college level, this new HLC mandate means many high school teachers will not meet requirements, leaving a shortage of College Now teachers across the district.
“People that have master’s degrees in French or master’s degrees in Physics, for example, are probably teaching at the college level,” SM-KNEA president and Spanish teacher Linda Sieck said.
At the high school level, Sieck says a master’s in something such as Education is much more likely. The new policy requires that by September of 2017, each unaccredited teacher has the 18 credit hours or a written plan on how they will complete them within the next five years.
According to Dr. Leigh Anne Neal, SMSD’s Assistant Superintendent of Communications, 36 percent of the nearly 70 dual-credit teachers across the district do not currently meet the new guidelines.
“In order to meet these new HLC standards, we have to have [qualified] staff to teach [the College Now courses],” Dr. Dennis said.
Dr. Dennis also said that the SMSD will not be compensating teachers, nor raising their salaries, for taking these credit hours. That means that teachers will need to earn these hours on their own time and with their own resources, which can cost upwards of $8,000. If they don’t do so, and the district cannot find replacements from another school, some schools may be left without any teachers to teach certain dual-credit courses.
College Now is seen by many parents and students as a way to save money and time on college education. Jennifer Libeer has had two students take advantage of the dual-credit programs at East. She saw its advantages when her eldest children were creating their schedules for college.
“It allows room for students to add a major or minor if they want, or to take more electives, take fewer hours, or in the rare instance where someone wants to graduate early [from college],” Libeer said.
AP and College Now government teacher Ron Stallard currently only has his Master of Education, meaning he will need 18 credit hours in Political Science to teach College Now Government. Political Science is offered at UMKC, but at the cost of $465 per credit hour, which totals $8,370 for 18 hours.
“Given that teachers have not had a pay raise in eight years, there’s no way that we – or at least that I – can afford that price,” Stallard said.
According to Dr. Dennis, the SMSD has been working closely with local colleges such as Baker and KU Edwards Campus to negotiate reduced-cost classes for teachers, but this opportunity can’t be applied to every subject; classes like Political Science will remain at full price.
“In the end, the teacher has to make up his or her mind,” Dr. Dennis said. “If you are nearing retirement and are several credit hours away, I completely understand why you wouldn’t want to invest a lot of time and money in that . . . There are a variety of valid reasons why someone would choose not to [recertify].”
In Stallard’s case, if he decides not to pursue these credit hours, he will not meet the HLC’s requirements, and will not beable to teach dual-credit classes. His AP accreditation will still be valid, but his College Now credentials would not be. As a result, Stallard wonders whether or not he will be able to keep his position at East, rather than being replaced by another teacher who has the appropriate dual-credit qualifications.
According to Sieck, the district has the power to move anyone across any building in the district, but teachers’ contracts with the district cannot be terminated if they don’t meet the new requirement.
And for some teachers, the option to recertify is not a possibility. AP French teacher Laure Losey teaches East’s only upper-level French classes where dual-credit is offered. Because she is a native speaker, KU waived several of her credit requirements in French when she got her degree in 1998. With the new guidelines however, Losey is finding herself unqualified and unable to change her situation. She explained her situation in the report that was required from all dual-credit teachers regarding their current credentials.
“I had every intention of earning 18 hours required,” Losey stated in the report. “After contacting the Deans at KU, Baker U and Ottawa U, there are no courses planned in the foreseeable future in French and most likely will not be offered . . .”
This means that unless other faculty members are brought in, East will not be able to offer dual-credit enrollment in French. According to Dr. Dennis, World Languages is one of the departments most affected by the change, along with Math.
Besides working with local universities to provide reduced-cost opportunities for these teachers, Dr. Dennis said there islittle the district can do to combat these new guidelines. He said it is something that is being felt countywide, and likely across the Midwest.
“We have very qualified staff; I’m really sorry that it has reached this point because I think, in a lot of ways, the HLC is not focused on the right problems,” Dr. Dennis said. “Our teachers have been extremely successful and [the HLC is] putting our staff in a bind that I wish they weren’t doing.”