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Can micro-credentials help educators get their students back on track? Some schools hope so.

COVID-19 has forced leaders to re-evaluate and utilize technology in new ways. That’s especially true in education.

Mark Klaisner is encouraging school districts to use federal funding to utilize a new tool to help educators get students back on track: micro-credentials. He’s the president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.

Micro-credentials are graduate-level professional development. But Klaisner says they’re deeper than most professional development, while much cheaper and shorter than a master’s degree.

It’s not just for teachers either -- there are micro-credentials for staff like bus drivers and paraprofessionals. He says school districts like Bellwood in Chicago are already relying on them.

Klaisner also hopes micro-credentials can help ease the teacher shortage in Illinois by allowing paraprofessionals to earn a teaching license. States like Louisiana use micro-credentials for more than professional development: like earning endorsements for a teacher to become a principal.

“I am really hopeful that it could be used in this kind of certification realm, particularly bridging from paraprofessionals to full-blown teachers,” he said.

Klaisner says there are hundreds of topics to choose from, including remote teaching and English as a second language. His organization partnered with the Latino Policy Forum for a series specifically on leadership in English as a second language.

It’s not just for experienced educators either. He says they just hired 25 support workers to help at-risk students, and they’re using these micro-credentials as part of the onboarding process when they start.

“We can say, these three micro-credentials represent how we philosophically how we approach students who are at risk, and you need to complete these three within your first year,” he said. “And that's doable because they're less expensive.”

A partnership with St. Francis Universities also allows educators to get college credit from micro-credentials. Because they’re cheaper, he says some districts can offer educators stipends to pay for the programs.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.