Nova Scotia

Drake University distance courses still tapped for teacher upgrades

More than three dozen Nova Scotia teachers forged ahead with certification upgrades through Iowa-based Drake University, even after the distance courses were panned last year as too easy and the province's education minister moved to review them.

Education Minister Karen Casey imposed ban last April, but some teachers previously approved

Education Minister Karen Casey barred teachers from using Drake University distance courses to upgrade their certification. (CBC)

More than three dozen Nova Scotia teachers forged ahead with certification upgrades through Iowa-based Drake University, even after the distance courses were panned last year as too easy and the province's education minister moved to review them.

Karen Casey launched the review in February 2014 following a CBC News story about the questionable courses. Two months later, she banned them for teacher certification upgrade purposes.

At the time, CBC News found more than 40 teachers had completed the courses — largely in coaching — using them to boost their certification level and bump their pay between $6,000 and $8,000.

But they were not the last. Since the story first aired, another 37 teachers have also upgraded their teacher certification using Drake University, according to new numbers provided to CBC News by the Department of Education.

They were approved to take the courses — described as a "bird course" by at least one educator — before the minister ordered the review.

"I think in many ways it's unfortunate," said Robert Bérard​, a professor of education at Mount Saint Vincent University. "But I'm not sure that the minister could have done anything about it."

In April, Casey said she was putting an end to teachers using Drake distance education, but added that those already approved to take the courses would still be allowed to do so. That meant there were 477 teachers still eligible.

The issue, Bérard says, is that Drake distance courses had been approved by a minister's teacher certification advisory committee and the process of certification is subject to the collective agreement.

It's likely, he says, that some teachers had already invested time and money in the courses and wanted to finish, and some may have seen value in it. But he doubts that's the case for all.

'Not terribly challenging'

"The program, as I think many of us understood at the time, was not terribly challenging, was not difficult to do, it was not terribly expensive," Bérard said.

"I think there's some teachers who were just acting in what they saw was their best self-interest."

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said they are eyeing new requirements for teacher certification, in response to a report produced this fall by an education panel chaired by former lieutenant-governor Myra Freeman.

The new requirements will also cover certification upgrades and the department says it's looking to make sure teacher certification is aligned with teaching standards. 

The Drake distance courses involve reading, a DVD and writing assignments, but no significant research papers or regular conversations with professors and fellow students.

The bulk of the courses taken were coaching-related. The concerns of Bérard and others was that many teachers who enrolled didn't teach physical education.

When she moved to end the use of Drake teacher courses, Casey said "some of the content is probably good professional development." But she said it fell short of what was expected for a professional upgrade.

She also noted that after announcing a review of Drake distance courses on Feb. 19, 2014, the department received a flood of applications from teachers.

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