The current movement in education, No Child Left Behind, will cause more and more paraprofessionals to become genuinely concerned about their jobs, their careers. A central tenet of No Child Left Behind, signed into law by President Bush in January, was to ensure that every school employee who interacts with students has college-level training. (Brown & Runoff.) This statement refers to anyone who is employed by the school district whose primary responsibility is directly involves working with students. All Paraprofessionals would need to be re-trained and educated. Districts do not have the authority to grandfather the paraprofessionals who have been in the district for a certain number of years. Nor do the districts have the money or time to replace their staff.
Many paraprofessionals need time; training and money attain the certification in the field where they have worked as an assistant in for five to fifteen years. This is a very real problem when you consider that in the Douglas County Public School District, there a 32 certified special educators and 31 classified paraeducators in the field of special education. The average years of experience among the paraeducators are anyway from 5 to 8 years. The paraprofessionals implement the programs that the special educators design for their students. Yet, only a handful of these individuals, hold what is called a paraeducators certification. A paraeducators certification means they have completed the hours in an educational training program.
In the regular education arena, there are, at least, seven paraprofessionals for every school who work with and assist the classroom teachers. They do not have the certification that Douglas County Public Schools would require to staff all 51 schools in their district. The number of paraprofessionals that would need to attain their certification exceeds 200. According the Don Bell, Severe Special Needs Coordinator, Douglas County Public School District, would need to replace all of the special education paraprofessionals. None of the paraprofessionals are certified in as Paraprofessionals, even though a handful may be certified as a regular education teacher or certified substitute teacher. Only five percent of the Paraprofessionals have completed
a paraprofessionals licensure program or meet the minimum requirements of training in the educational field. Another 10% are currently working towards their licensure.
A number of articles in various education journals have indicated that this is a far reaching problem. All fifty states would have to write a new job description for their paraprofessional position in their district. It is a serious problem and the least of it is money.
Districts do have funds that are allotted for educational and training purposes. (Brown & Runoff) However, most schools will have to make hard choices as to how they will have to disperse these funds. A certified Para educator does not replace a paraeducators with 7 years of experience in the educational world. Certification does not guarantee quality, anymore than a Master’s degree guarantees expertise in a field. However, a degree does show that a person has undergone a certain amount of initiative in order to achieve that degree. As a former professor at Bemidji State University told us, a degree doesn’t make us a teacher, but it does open our minds to different possibilities of how to become a better teacher. This is probably the reason why lawmakers want certified paraeducators. The ideal behind the law, No Child Left Behind is good; we should all want quality education for our children from a trained staff. The law does not provide money for training nor does it allow the district to install a grandfather’s clause for Paraprofessionals who have been with the district for a certain amount of time and/or pass a test.
Although some individuals believe that this requirement is a long time coming, others argue that they are only assistants. Paraeducators are not the same as certified teachers; teachers have acquired a degree in their specialty or have a Bachelor’s Degree in education. What paraeducators lack in education they make up for in experience.
After all, paraeducators are not responsible for the curriculum and instruction in their child’s classroom. They are under the supervision of the classroom teacher and are only following instruction.
What happened in the medical field several years ago to the practical nurses and registered nurses could serve a guidelines. Licensed practical nurses did all of the scut work while the registered nurses gave the actual care. As time progressed and resources decreased, more and more licensed practical nurses gave more of the actual care, and the registered nurses were put in a supervisory position.
This is the situation that is currently happening between the Paraprofessionals and the teacher. Some people are saying that is the reason behind the cry for certified Paraprofessionals. (Don Bell, DCSD 2004) Employment of teacher aides is expected to grow much faster than the average occupations through the year 2006. Student enrollments at the elementary and secondary level are expected to rise, spurring strong demand for teacher aides to assist and monitor students and provide teachers with clerical assistance. Teacher aides will also be required to help teachers meet the educational needs of a growing special education population, particularly as these students are increasingly assimilated into general education classrooms. As is stated in the Douglas County Handbook (and probably other school districts:
All paraprofessionals hired after Jan. 8, 2002, must have (1) completed two years of study at an institution of higher education; (2) obtained an associate’s (or higher) degree; or (3) met a rigorous standard of quality and be able to demonstrate, through a formal state or local academic assessment, knowledge of and the ability to assist in instructing reading, writing, and mathematics. Paraprofessionals hired before Jan. 8, 2002, must meet these requirements by 2006. Districts must notify parents that they may request to know whether their child is provided services by paraprofessionals, and, if so, their qualifications.
What happens to all of the openings for paraprofessionals when there aren’t any certified personnel to fill them? During times of economic hardship Douglas County Public Schools has its choice of well-qualified personal to choose from for the position. During good economic times they don’t have the problem that some of it’s neighboring districts have in hiring staff, because of its pay. However as some staff have said, it they have to go back to school they want to compensated in some manner. Right now Douglas County Public Schools and the schools represented in Mr. Brown’s articles don’t usually provide full time benefits for their paraeducators. A great many work just under 32 hours a week or 6.5 hours a day. They do not receive a paid lunch hour and must pay for their own health insurance. Not only is a hardship to help the paraeducators to meet their new job descriptions, they must also be prepared to pay higher wages and benefits.
In the end will it be for the best! It’s really a question that only time will answer, but in the meanwhile, paraeducators in addition to other school staff must become certified in their field or lose their jobs.
Brown, M., & Runoff Aaron. (2002). Classroom Dilemma; New rules give most
teaching aides a tough choice: Go back to school, pass an assessment test or quit.
(Electronic version). River Parishes bureau/The Time Picayune. American Federation
of Teachers Newlsetter.
National Clearinghouse for paraeducator Resources @ Paraeducator Pathways into
Teaching. University of Southern California. Retrieved
From site on May 8, 2004 from www.special-ed-careers.org/
Douglas County Public School District Manual, Special Educators. Don Bell Internate Severe Special Needs coordinator 2003-04