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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 18, 2007

$1.8 million grant to help certify teachers of English as a second language

More K-12 students from immigrant families are entering schools in Iowa without strong English language skills.

To better equip Iowa educators to help English Language Learners succeed in school, two faculty members in the University of Iowa College of Education's Department of Teaching and Learning have received a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant will fund an innovative program called Project RELEVANCE (Reaching English Language Educators Via Advanced Networked Collegiate Education).

"In Iowa, it is difficult to find ESL certification programs within driving distance of teachers and administrators serving school districts with many English Language Learners," said Leslie Schrier (photo, left), associate professor of foreign language and ESL education in the Department of Teaching and Learning, who serves as grant principal investigator.

The project will provide funding to certify 33 Iowa in-service teachers in ESL education through distance education programs over the next five years, partnering with the Iowa Department of Education and Schools in Need of Assistance (SINA) as defined by the No Child Left Behind legislation. The project will also include opportunities for educators to pursue master's degrees in the Department of Teaching and Learning.

"We do not have a cadre of in-service teachers with master's level training -- basically because of access," Schrier said. "So by developing programs that are accessible in a distance education format, these teachers will also be funded by the federal government to obtain this type of educational advancement. Research does show that teachers who have advanced degrees do have better achievement rates in the classroom."

Schrier said that Iowa has experienced a large population shift in the last seven years, and a wave of immigrant families from diverse countries ranging from Bosnia and Botswana to Mexico and Somalia have made Iowa their new home state.

"This is a very innovative program that addresses unique needs in the state of Iowa. The project reaches beyond teachers' geographic boundaries to deliver high quality professional development opportunities leading to ESL certification," Schrier said.

Michael Everson (photo, right), an associate professor in foreign language and an ESL educator who serves as the project director, said that the program fills a great need in the state.

"With the view that most Americans have of Iowa being the quintessential mid-American heartland state with its obvious strengths in farming and agriculture, they might be surprised to learn that the enrollment of students whose first language is not English has increased dramatically over the last decade," Everson said. "In fact, data indicate that young learners come to Iowa schools with backgrounds in 77 languages other than English. Most disturbing, however, is the dropout rate that is associated with these minority English language learners."

Everson said one of the project's goals is to reverse that trend by empowering Iowa educators with the knowledge and skills they need to help these students succeed.

"Traditionally trained to be experts in their own particular content areas, teachers have slowly come to realize that the changing demographics of American society and its schools requires them to better understand the role that language plays in school learning," Everson said. "This project specifically targets teachers who work in schools in need of special assistance in this area, and provides them with the education they need to deal with the needs of learners who come to school with diverse language backgrounds."

Using Breeze Macromedia, a Web communication tool, the UI will provide distance education programs that mirror a face-to-face educational setting through the delivery of live real-time interactive courses, where students and faculty can see and interact with one another in a synchronous environment, said Everson.

"RELEVANCE will employ state-of-the-art technology to provide a distance learning format for in-service teachers," Everson said. "Its curriculum is standards-based, and emphasizes areas such as language, culture, classroom instruction, assessment, and professionalism, the cornerstones of professional teacher development."

Schrier said that currently more than 50 percent of Iowa educators who are working with "English language learner" students are not endorsed or educated in how to meet the needs of a population "that is not at all shrinking in the state, but growing."

"These are schools that have had challenges in meeting the requirements set by the No Child Left Behind legislation," Schrier said, adding that there are currently 114 schools on the list in Iowa, including schools in Ankeny, Cedar Rapids, Denison, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Iowa City, Marshalltown, Ottumwa, Storm Lake and Waterloo, just to name a few.

The RELEVANCE program will make obtaining this certification affordable and accessible, Schrier said.

"Teachers can do this from their kitchen tables or in their classroom thanks to the Internet," Schrier said. "I'm very sensitized to this because I was a classroom teacher in the state for 10 years in a rural area so I know that access can be difficult."

Additionally, Schrier said one of the hallmarks of RELEVANCE is that in the future all UI College of Education teacher education students will have the distinction that no matter what their content area -- whether math, science or another area -- they will have the skill set to work with English language learners.

"The college is developing a well-organized ESL modules which will be integrated as part of the teacher education courses so all teachers graduating from the University of Iowa will be highly qualified to teach this population and meet the requirements as stipulated by No Child Left Behind," Schrier said. "This will ensure that the program can be sustained beyond the federal financial assistance and greatly impact the future of education in the state of Iowa and the entire nation."

Applicants to Project Relevance must fulfill all of the following: be K-12 in-service teachers; teach in Iowa; teach in a school designated as a School in Need of Assistance; and must not hold an ESL license. To view a list of schools designated as SINA in Iowa, visit

For more information or the project or to apply, call 319-335-5593 or visit

Founded in 1872, the University of Iowa College of Education was the nation's first permanent college-level department of education. Since then, the college has gained an international reputation of excellence in programs as diverse as Rehabilitation Counseling, Testing and Measurement, Counseling Psychology, Elementary and Secondary Teacher Education, and Higher Education Administration. The College of Education is also home to the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Leslie Schrier, UI College of Education, 319-335-5048,; Michael Everson, UI College of Education, 319-335-6175,; Lois Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077,