Commentary

CSI program expands Idaho’s pool of educators, and it’s poised for further growth

By eliminating previous barriers, the CSI program is a new model for the workforce needed in our growing state, writes guest columnist Stephen Hartgen.

July 26, 2021 4:00 am
College of Southern Idaho

When it started in 2018, the teacher training and recruitment program at the College of Southern Idaho had fewer than 20 students. Now, just four years later, it’s at 150 students and poised to grow further as districts across Idaho look for ways to “grow their own” teachers from their own communities, writes guest columnist Stephen Hartgen. (Courtesy of the College of Southern Idaho)

It’s a fact of modern political life that naysayers get the media attention, but the real work – and often successes – goes unnoticed in the hustings of criticism. Here’s an example from Idaho’s continuing attention to school funding, teacher recruitment and retention. 

When it started in 2018, the teacher training and recruitment program at the College of Southern Idaho had fewer than 20 students. Now, just four years later, it’s at 150 students and poised to grow further as districts across Idaho look for ways to “grow their own” teachers from their own communities.

The goals are to boost classroom instruction, meet expanding minority populations and help fill teaching vacancies – all at lower cost than traditional education training.

The program uses a streamlined module approach which focuses on the teaching craft, and which allows the prospective teacher to effectively leverage their prior life experience or other college credits into teaching positions. 

It’s a non-traditional route, for sure. Most teachers today have graduated from a four-year college teacher education program, eight semesters of study and a heavy dose of classroom learning and student teaching experience. The system endures, partly out of familiarity and partly due to the watchful eye of the teachers’ union, which generally opposes broadened certification and many other innovative ideas which undermine union negotiation clout.

The new CSI program gives prospective teachers a condensed immersion in teaching methodology in just two years, just four semesters, part-time, at less than $1,000 a semester, a fraction of what a four-year degree in education would cost. It also has an online option. 

A key success element is that the prospective teacher is paired with a paid mentor, usually a retired and experienced former teacher, to get further into the “nuts and bolts” of the teaching craft. 

Another key feature is that the program is open to students with college degrees in other fields, as well as to people who have some, but not all, college degree credits. It’s also open to people who want to become teachers but who are now employed as para-professionals, teacher aides and classified staff. 

Former Twin Falls Superintendent Wiley Dobbs has worked to expand the grow-your-own as a solution. Dobbs says retention and recruitment are among the most pressing challenges facing rural school administrators.

“It’s very difficult to get teachers, but for smaller districts, it’s even more difficult because they have to talk people into moving into a small community,” Dobbs told Idaho Education News. “And while they’re lovely communities, not everybody wants to (move there), especially people that already have families.” 

CSI’s program was designed, in part, to remedy that problem, certifying community members to be teachers, as they have already laid down roots in their home school districts. The hope is that grow-your-own teachers will stay in their communities.

Why are prospective second-career teachers piling in? It appears to be a combination of low costs, flexible hours, eliminating the need to leave home and probably other factors like rising teacher pay and health benefits with average salaries now mostly over $50,000 annually. Teachers in Idaho are also part of the PERSI (Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho), which provides pensions based on years of service and pay level, an important consideration. 

Increases in the Legislature’s continued fiscal commitment to education have added to the appeal of teaching as a career, particularly in small communities. By eliminating previous barriers, the CSI program is a new model for the workforce needed in the teaching profession in our growing state.

The CSI program is also a great example of the iron laws of economics and self-interest. People want to better themselves in every profession, and the new entrants have strong motivations to do so. They just need the opportunity.

Sure, there are questions. But if it succeeds in producing quality teachers, why shouldn’t Idaho expand the model? Why are we spending millions of dollars annually on traditional four-year programs which may need revision? Many teachers will tell you privately that the “pedagogy” they slogged through in four-year education programs could well be condensed.

College education deans and faculty might see such innovations, particularly coming from a community college, as an intrusion on their traditional turfs. It may be seen as a “short cut” by some. And it will surely affect four-year campus enrolments, since it can be taken online.

Despite these hurdles, the program is well worth a closer look. It’s already attracting students in droves.

That is good news for Idaho education in general.

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Stephen Hartgen
Stephen Hartgen

Stephen Hartgen, of Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce and Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at [email protected]

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