University Courses on
Mathematics and Science Content Knowledge

Aims, Actions, Adaptations:
Coherent Policies and University Courses Related
to Teacher “Highly Qualified” Status

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In 2003, the Chicago Public Schools Office of Mathematics and Science (OMS) began offering teachers tuition funding to encourage them to enroll in approved math and science study programs. The goal of this strategic initiative was to increase both teacher content knowledge and teacher credentials. The district was motivated by the No Child Left Behind legislation requiring all teachers to be “Highly Qualified” in the content area they taught by 2005-2006. The central premise of the university-based program was that if teachers successfully completed an approved university program, they then would apply for Illinois endorsement credentials that would satisfy national standards for Highly Qualified status. This section discusses the degree to which the district plans and systems aligned with state and federal requirements.

In 2007-2008, district leaders learned that some teachers who had completed the university programs did not then receive the expected “Highly Qualified” status from the state. The district’s discussion with the Illinois State Board of Education confirmed that teachers with the state endorsement in middle grades math or science and who had passed their basic skills test were considered “Highly Qualified.” The state requirements for endorsements and the university-based endorsement programs were in alignment, but some teachers had enrolled in the courses prior to passing their basic skills test. The entry criteria for the university-based program were further refined as a result. In addition, district leaders learned that some teachers who completed the approved math or science programs with CPS tuition support were not then applying to the state for their middle grades endorsement.

The extent to which teachers who met the criteria were not applying to the state for their credentials, or why this may have been the case, was not able to be determined, given how records were, or were not, kept in the district. Universities tracked how teachers performed in their courses. CPS tracked teacher enrollments in approved university programs and courses, and made tuition payments on that basis. The state kept records of who applied and received endorsement credentials. However, there were no mechanisms in place to communicate data across these organizations as of 2008. During 2007-2008, the CPS Office of Math and Science began making efforts to better track these data.

These issues underscore the challenge Chicago faced, having policies aligned with state and federal requirements, but lacking the systems to monitor their schools’ and teachers’ accountability. Despite federal mandates that teachers be “Highly Qualified” by 2005-2006, school-by-school compliance within CPS has been difficult to track. Several contextual issues contributed to this challenge. One issue was a matter of teacher assignment. Through 2008, unless CPS imposed sanctions on a school due to poor school performance on standardized tests, each CPS school had the authority and responsibility to manage itself. Local school councils appointed principals, and principals assigned teachers to classes. Principals may or may not have considered teacher credentials in assigning teachers to classes. Another aspect of site-based management was departmentalization.

At the elementary school level (K-8 in most CPS schools), principals chose whether to departmentalize grades by content subjects or not. If principals did not departmentalize grades by content subjects, classes were self-contained, with one teacher teaching all subjects. Teachers in self-contained classrooms were not required to have special math or science qualifications according to NCLB, state, or district rules. With no district-wide systems to track teacher assignments, teacher credentials, or departmentalization, it was virtually impossible to know to what degree CPS complied with NCLB requirements.

Beginning in 2008-2009, through its Specialization policy, CPS began mandating that elementary school principals report if new teacher hires were middle grades teachers. If so, these teachers needed be endorsed in language arts, math, natural science, or social science. Both OMS and university leaders expressed interest as to how this new Specialization policy (Chicago Public Schools, 2008) would play out over time.

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