Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009 | Cesar Alcantar gave grades to more than 500 struggling high schoolers last year, yet he never met any of them.
He is one of a handful of San Diego Unified employees who were listed as teachers for online classes last year, even though they seldom interacted with students and never taught lessons. Computers and tutors did the teaching for them. They checked that students’ grades matched their scores on tests.
The practice might seem bizarre, but pegging Alcantar and other credentialed educators as the official teachers for the online classes helped the school district stay out of hot water under No Child Left Behind, which requires every class to have a teacher qualified in that subject. It was a hasty solution to a dilemma created with the birth of a program called credit recovery, which is meant to usher more kids to graduation by letting them make up failed classes at their own pace online.
Credit recovery began last year at the urging of Superintendent Terry Grier, who touted it as a way to quash dropouts. More than 3,700 students enrolled and earned back credits. But the haphazard rollout of credit recovery illustrates the clash between the brave new world of online schooling, where classes are taught in part by computers, and the familiar rules that districts still have to live by.
The faraway teachers were not part of the original plans for the program, but were recruited as an afterthought to avoid violating the federal rules. School district officials say that dubbing the employees as teachers was legal, though it seems to stretch the definition of a teacher.
The fix also altered the classes themselves. To avoid overburdening employees such as Alcantar, who already had a regular job, San Diego Unified stripped away any assignments that had to be graded by a teacher from the online classes, nixing essays for English class and the need to show student work in math. District officials are still trying to figure out who will be the official teachers, what their role will be, and how schools can beef up the classes to include something more than computerized tests.