Little or No Credentialing Needed to Teach Educational Technology in Connecticut

It is possible to be a “computer teacher” in Connecticut with no certification in the specialty and little or no coursework in the subject.

My incidental anecdotal evidences of this fact stem from

  1. Years of interviews with dozens of would-be “computer teachers” seeking admission to a graduate-level degree program in educational technology that I chair,
  2. Personal experience as both a director of educational technology and “computer teacher” in a Connecticut high school, and
  3. Years of field observations in schools at all grade levels, confirming my worst fears.

I could employ rhetorical devices to support these claims, including:

  1. The argument from authority; I hold doctoral degree in instructional technology (Columbia ’92),
  2. Hearsay.

PopeSpecious as that may sound, perceptions of computer savvy and hearsay are largely the criteria by which administrators anoint “computer teachers” in Connecticut schools. The process is akin to the “laying on of hands,” a ritual conferring a blessing of authority in many religions.

Here are four actual accounts related to me by the individuals profiled, who stumbled into the role of “computer teacher” in Connecticut schools:

Case 1

A middle school teacher is noted for his proficiency in the use of PowerPoint. The principal asks him to do an in-service for faculty and staff. Having sufficiently impressed the powers that be, our teacher is assigned to cover the “computer literacy” course, even though his primary endorsement is in social studies and he is in his own words “self-taught on computers.”

Case 2

A fall intern in an elementary school is walking down the hall one day and perchance runs into the principal who frantically asks, “Do you know anything about computers?” The intern gives an account of some technology projects he has completed. With his regular computer teacher out sick and the lab unmanned, the principal responds, “I don’t know half of what you just said. Get in there!” By the start of the spring term, the intern is DSAPed, ostensibly as a classroom teacher, but with primary responsibilities in the computer laboratory. He is by both self-rated ability and class rank the weakest technology student in his graduate program, and proudly reminds me of this regularly.

Case 3

A retired film producer takes a part-time job in the AV department of a high school. He has proficiency in video-editing, which these days is done with computers and not film. Faced with retirement of the school’s AV head, the principal asks the part-timer to apply for the position. The principal fills out a one page form, submits a transcript and letter of support, and obtains 098 certification for the part-timer. He is subsequently hired full-time and is now tenured.

Case 4

A former student with an out-of-state “Computer Science Teaching Certification” applies for a “Computer Consultant” position advertised by his town in an elementary setting. During his interview, the hiring committee informs him that he is the only “certified” teacher in the candidate pool. The other applicants have little more than “Geek Squad” experience and no more than an associate’s degree. They hire him on the spot, with some skepticism that he will stay given his “exceptional credentials.” He is in effect a full-time teacher, as students are shuffled in and out of his “computer literacy classroom” all day.

In Case 1 & 2, the teachers cited had little or no coursework in either (a) “computers in education” or (b) “educational technology.” Neither (a) nor (b) are endorsed by State Department of Education, though graduate degrees in these disciplines are granted by universities in Connecticut and other states.

Case 3 highlights the “Old 098 Trick” whereby 098 Trade & Industrial Occupations—Comprehensive High School vocational certification is used as a back-door teaching credential. This certification is vague on college preparation in computers per se but specific on licensure requirements as a plumber, electrician, etc, or other professional experience.  Curiously, most principals and superintendents I’ve spoken with have never heard of 098, and in practice it is a formality that can be (and out of ignorance usually is) side-stepped.

Case 4 evidences yet another back-door approach to finagling educational technology positions; don’t call them “teachers”—call them “consultants.” In one instance the prospective hire was encouraged to seek a DSAP in a recognized subject to, in the words of the interviewer, “PYOA.”

As a contingency, a district can request authorization for a minor assignment. By this means tech-savvy teachers can pinch-hit in the computer lab, provided they, in the words of an administrator I spoke to, “…don’t exceed the regulatory restrictions for teaching outside their primary subject area.” While that administrator was not informed as to the maximum teaching allocation permitted, I can report from the trenches that in practice many are exceeding it based on reported class-hours taught outside their specialty. No one, however, seems to notice or care.

There is an endorsement designated 047 “Technology Education” that requires some heavy lifting in the arena of computers, but not in their specific applications to pedagogy, particularly the pedagogy of academic subjects other than technology education topics such as communications, construction management, electronics, transportation systems, etc.

Both 098 and 047 certifications are more rigorous in the requirement of a criminal background check than on demonstrated academic competencies in the efficacious uses of computers in teaching and learning. Owing to the general confusion between the newfangled “technology education” (formerly industrial arts) and “educational technology” (efficacious uses of technology in teaching and learning), it is, again, possible for a principal to hurdle the “teacher” requirements barrier by simply re-branding them as “consultants.”

Mark Sanders, former Chair of the graduate Technology Education program at Virginia Tech has for many years attempted to clarify the distinction between “technology education” and “educational technology.” (See The failure of education leaders, teachers, and the general public to understand the difference has perpetuated the condition of an undifferentiated muddle between the two. In effect, we have teachers, uncertified in efficacious uses of computers and/or technology in education, teaching in Connecticut schools.

To bridge this gap and move past the rhetoric, Connecticut needs an educational technology endorsement. We have not taken the lead like other states in implementing the National Educational Technology (NETS) endorsements for (1) district-level, (2) building-level educational technologists, and (3) computer science teachers. The Connecticut SDoE purports to subscribe to the NETS standards on its website, but the endorsements have not been implemented.

Former Commissioner Ben Dixon was intent on a single educational technology endorsement in the late 1990s, before the NETS endorsements were hammered-out. He and I had several meetings at that time to determine the scope of such an endorsement. His successor, Commissioner Betty Sternberg did not push the initiative.  In the early 2000s, Betty related to me her concern that requiring current ad hoc “computer teachers” to re-school for the NETS endorsements, coupled with the requisite provisioning or retooling computer labs, would cost too much. After she left, there was scuttlebutt of a proposal to move forward with the NETS endorsements, with the stipulation that current “computer teachers” would be grandfathered, but that too died on the vine.

Apart from the funky legalities of having teachers—uncertified in the discipline—teaching a core STEM subject, and given the current emphasis on technology in the national dialog, consider the opportunity costs of depriving today’s students from engaging in alternate channels for learning. They are digital natives with higher expectations for multi-channel delivery than most teaches can provide.

I have elsewhere argued that without the NETS endorsements we are putting Connecticut at a competitive disadvantage to other states. Recommending alignment to the NETS standards is not enough. What you don’t require, you marginalize, and this is already apparent in the reduction of demonstrated technology competencies in the curricula of graduate teacher preparatory programs throughout the state.

The cross-endorsement in Instructional Technology specified in the new Regulations for Teacher Preparation programs is a good start, but it requires a primary endorsement in another area. Typically only students certifying in secondary education have the elective space to take the 4 courses needed for the cross-endorsement; the majority of education majors are certifying in elementary, which is too regimented for the cross-endorsement.

Without a bona fide certification in Instructional Technology, classes in the discipline are being covered by ringers with dubious qualifications. There is plenty of ethos in our rhetoric on the subject—let this be a call for more in the way of kairos.

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