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Going Online with MARCO

Going Online with MARCO
Maryland initiative expedites certification process for new teachers
By Ronald Roach

When Troy and Sharon Anderson of Bowie, Md., decided to leave behind corporate jobs to become public school teachers, they found little comfort in the prospect of having to spend a year or two taking education courses to gain teacher certification. For the Andersons, knowing they could get into the classroom as quickly as possible would ease the logistical and financial challenges of changing careers.

Last fall, the couple had the fortune of meeting Dr. Brenda Conley, the department chair of education programs at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) graduate school. Conley, who was in the midst of launching an online education program aimed at speeding up the teaching certification process for people making a career change, persuaded the Andersons to sign up for her program. The initiative, formally launched in January, is the inaugural program of Maryland’s Alternative Routes to Certification Options, or MARCO, and will get the couple and 34 other teaching candidates into classrooms in Maryland’s Prince George’s County school system by fall 2003.

“This has been a blessing,” Sharon Anderson says of MARCO’s fast- track approach to teacher certification.

Since late January, Anderson, her husband and the others have been in a 14-week long online course offered by UMUC that will grant them nine credit hours towards their teaching certification, and the credits can be applied towards a master’s degree in education or the master’s of teaching degree. This summer, the teaching candidates will undergo a teaching internship program that will last five weeks and prepare them for a fall teaching assignment.

“It’s been grueling. We’ve been working quite hard,” says Troy Anderson of the workload he balances while continuing to hold down a managerial position with the Xerox Corp.

Sharon Anderson, who was hit by corporate layoffs last summer while in a financial analyst’s position, has gotten a jump start in the classroom this school year by working as a long-term substitute teacher in the Prince George’s County schools. The accomplishment of getting children to learn has already outweighed the lucrative rewards of corporate employment, according to Anderson, who along with her husband are raising a four-year-old daughter.

“You can reach a point in life where you really want to make a difference in the lives of other people. Teaching lets me do that,” she says.

UMUC has established MARCO in partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education’s Division of Certification and Accreditation. The first rollout of the program, MARCO-Prince George’s, offers a streamlined variation of the Resident Teacher Certification (RTC) program that operates in three Maryland jurisdictions — Prince George’s County, Howard County and Baltimore city.

Maryland state education, UMUC and University of Maryland Baltimore County officials have launched MARCO-Prince George’s through a five-year, $1.8 million Transition to Teaching grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The goal in Prince George’s is to provide a total of 300 certified teachers by 2007, according to officials. Tuition in the 14-week program is roughly $3,000 with federal funding picking up half that amount for each student. State officials expect to launch MARCO programs in other localities.

“The MARCO model allows us to establish a comprehensive program for teacher recruitment and development that is successfully used in a large, high-need local system, such as Prince George’s County Public Schools, and translate that model statewide on an as-needed basis,” says Maryland superintendent of schools Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick.

UMUC officials believe that their school’s reputation for online programs and long track record of providing education to active duty military personnel will help attract teaching candidates from around the nation and the world.

“UMUC’s student body, the second largest in Maryland, is comprised overwhelmingly of full-time working adults. Our expertise in online education is increasingly popular as a convenient way for students worldwide to balance work and family responsibilities,” says UMUC president Dr. Gerald A. Heeger. “That should prove key to attracting new teachers from outside Maryland.”

Like many school districts in the United States, Prince George’s County faces great pressure under the No Child Left Behind Act to get its public elementary and secondary school teachers fully certified in core academic subjects. Prince George’s is the 19th largest school district in the nation with more than 137,000 students in 188 schools. About 20 percent of Prince George’s 7,750 teachers in 2001-2002 were provisional, a rate double the state average of 9.7 percent, according to a state Board of Education report. Provisional teachers in Maryland have up to four years to complete the courses required for their certification after they begin teaching.

The MARCO program imposes a deadline to have its starting teachers fully certified by the beginning of their second school year. In addition to the initial nine credit hours attained in the first part of MARCO, remaining credit hours also can be earned with online courses through UMUC.

Conley says the MARCO-Prince George’s applicants, who have proficiency in high-need areas such as mathematics, the sciences and foreign languages, are required to have academic degrees in the specific subjects of their expertise. “Many of those making career changes to become teachers have expertise in needed areas, but they still need to learn teaching strategies, child and adolescent development, and other education subjects,” Conley says.

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