Education students stressed by costs of state requirements

Melisa Soysal
Photographer’s Firstname Lastname/THE REVIEW
Before receiving their teaching certificates, education students at the university are presented a litany of financial obstacles.

BY
SENIOR REPORTER

The road to becoming a teacher is steeper than ever before, littered with money from the pockets of education majors.

Several students and faculty members involved with education programs at the university said they are “frustrated” by the many financial barriers that students encounter in the process to become a teacher.

Education students, by state law, must overcome a variety of obstacles just to receive a teaching certificate, and each hurdle comes with a troublesome price tag.

Deborah Alvarez, an associate English professor, explained that the root of the issue is the pressure placed on educators to get their students to perform well on standardized tests.

“In the last 20 years, there has been increased scrutiny about the quality of the teachers that are graduating and taking jobs in the public schools,” Alvarez said.

More responsibility is placed on teachers to raise their students’ test scores, because the scores are tied to the the public school’s monetary allowance, Alvarez said.

“The accountability has moved onto the original program that has prepared the teachers,” Alvarez said.

As a result, more rigorous standards fall to undergraduate students in teaching programs, in the form of expensive exams. The list of additional expenditures for an education student at the university, Alvarez explained, includes yearly clearances to allow them to be in public schools, two mandatory exams and an external assessment.

Clearances cost between $30 to $60, and the Praxis 1 and Praxis 2 exams each carry a price tag of about $150, Alvarez explained.

“The latest one, which we are struggling with the most, is an external assessment required by the state of Delaware,” Alvarez said. “It’s an independent assessment of their ability to teach, and that is $300.”

The exam is called the education Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA), and like the Praxis, it requires a fee of more than $200.

Students who do not pass the edTPA cannot receive their teaching license from the state.

Bill Lewis, an associate professor in the School of Education, explained that students who do not pass these exams the first time must pay more for a second chance.

“Retakes themselves are somewhere around $90 per test,” Lewis said of the Praxis exams, also known as the Praxis Performance Assessment (PPAT).

Lewis also mentioned the additional costs students incur to get to and from student teaching appointments. Students use their personal vehicles to travel to their school placements, and often incur major gas costs, he said.

Kimberly LaRosa, a sophomore chemistry education major and vice president of the Secondary Educators of Tomorrow, agreed that transportation is a considerable stressor for education students.

Students often must commute to and from field placements two-to-three times each week (if not more), and transportation costs are not covered at all.

“Ideally, it would be nice if the transportation to the field placements were provided or refunded by the university,” LaRosa said in an email message.

She added that for many of her peers, covering extra expenses can be a challenge.

When all of these additional costs, large and small, come together, it places a burden on the students when they graduate from the program, Lewis added.

“These are some extra costs that our students are going to incur, and it’s not like they’re going to be coming out of university and making $100,000,” Lewis said. “They’re going to be making teachers’ salaries.”

Lewis also expressed a greater concern that these complications will dissuade students who have an interest in becoming teachers.

“We really want to encourage working with kids and schools as an attractive profession, but these kinds of consistent monetary hits throughout the program can cause a real disincentive,” Lewis said.

Elizabeth Soslau, assistant professor of education and interim director of the Delaware Center for Teacher Education, said it is important that they monitor how much of an effect these added costs have.

“We are working hard to diversify our student population and would like to attract more first-generation students and students from underrepresented populations,” Soslau said in an email message. “We need to discern if these additional costs are part of the reason why recruitment efforts have been difficult.”

While the situation needs further investigation, Soslau said it is crucial that the extra costs of studying education receive more attention.

If the state Department of Education were to step in, perhaps the state could cover the extra costs for students who make a commitment to teach in Delaware schools, Soslau suggested as a potential solution.

Lewis said he would love to see the edTPA and PPAT eliminated entirely, because they undermine the university’s ability to determine a student’s readiness to enter the classroom.

He also said he would like to see more emphasis on efforts to help education students financially to cover the exam costs. Alvarez said there are some resources on campus for students to receive vouchers to cover the cost of the external assessment, but these programs cannot help as many students as is necessary.

“We try to give them to those most in need, but there isn’t anything formal that exists to help offset the cost of what these kids have to pay for to get a license to teach,” she said.

Alvarez said she would love to see some sort of fund put together by donors and alumni from the education programs that would help current students cover their extra costs.

“They are going back into the schools, they are contributing in ways to the state, and there should be some compensation, some way to help them,” she said.

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