Future teachers get certificates in days, not weeks

Pilot entitlement system slashes turnaround time by 90 percent

May 15, 2001

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Springfield - The dialogue may be straight from the 1970s “Six Million Dollar Man” television series. But the vision is thoroughly modern.

Several months ago, the State Board of Education’s Rob Sampson and Western Illinois University’s Linda Tomlinson looked at the state’s teacher certification entitlement system. ‘We have the technology, we can rebuild it,’” Tomlinson said.

And they have.

Sampson, division administrator for the State Board’s Certification division, and Tomlinson, Western’s certification officer and Special Education Dept Chair, are piloting a new electronic entitlement system that puts state teaching certificates in future teachers’ hands in two to three days, instead of four to six weeks.

Sampson envisions the day when prospective teachers will be able to apply for their certificates using hand-held computers while walking down the street, he said. But until then the program being piloted is almost as revolutionary.

“This is another example of the work the State Board is doing to streamline and improve the process of becoming a teacher,” said State Superintendent Glenn W. McGee.

“As we address the growing teacher shortage, we must make the profession as attractive as possible, and easing the move into the classroom for new teachers is one good way to do that,” he said.

Sampson teamed in March with Tomlinson, whose university prepares several hundred prospective teachers annually.

“(Sampson) was doing the best he could, and we were doing the best we could, but we were hearing that it just wasn’t good enough…(that) there’s got to be a better way,” Tomlinson said.

The current system requires universities to notify the State Board that future teachers have completed their preparation and are “entitled” to a certificate pending the completion of an application and payment of fees through a regional office of education.

After receiving entitlement notification from the universities, the State Board awaits paperwork and fees to arrive from a regional office of education where the student has chosen to make application.

These future teachers then forward their paperwork to a Regional Office of Education, which processes the fees and forwards more paperwork to the State Board.

The State Board gets paperwork from a Regional Office, then prints out and mails teaching certificates back to the Regional Office, which then sends them along to the students.

The whole procedure can take four to six weeks depending on how quickly the student works and the speed of the mail service, Sampson said.

In the new system, the university - Western Illinois in this case, as partner of the pilot project - electronically notifies the State Board that a student is eligible for certification; helps the student complete the application; collects the appropriate fee; and ships the paperwork overnight to the State Board, which then prints certificates and mails them immediately to students.

The teacher then registers the new certificate with a Regional Office and is ready to begin teaching.

So far, the pilot has worked very well, Tomlinson said. “I think the fact that we’re saving students so much time is the best part of this,” said Tomlinson, whose university files 400 to 450 entitlements each year.

The State Board prints about 7,000 certificates for new teachers annually. The new system, if eventually implemented statewide, would save a tremendous amount of time and paperwork, Sampson said.

The pilot is slated to continue through July and if all goes well, Sampson said he would like to expand it. He has recently heard that other universities and regional superintendents also want to participate, Sampson said.