A new Chicago schools initiative will not only send teachers back to class, it will make them pay-perhaps thousands of dollars.

The new policy, effective 2010, requires sixth- through eighth-grade teachers to be specialized in the courses they teach as a way to increase education standards in schools. If a teacher is not specialized in a subject or does not teach the subject he or she is specialized in, there are two choices: either teach at a lower grade level where specialization is not required or go back to school.

“Schools will be required to have these people and the people who don’t have these credentials in two years will get bumped in favor of the people who do,” said Michael Lach, an official with the Chicago Public Schools’ high school teaching and learning department.

Teachers who wish to remain at their current positions must either be specialized or enrolled in endorsement programs by the 2010 school year, Lach said.

For sixth- through eighth-grade teachers to be considered specialized by CPS, they will have to fulfill state criteria through a set of courses, usually included in a major or minor degree in college. Specialization was previously only required for high school teachers, leaving some middle school teachers short of the new requirements.

Middle grades teachers who do not have a specialization in the subject they teach will have to take classes at their own expense.

“This places the burden on the teachers,” said Barbara Radner, director of the Center for Urban Education at DePaul University, explaining that while instructors should have strong backgrounds in the subjects they teach, this policy will leave teachers asking: “Is anybody going to help us with money?”

To help ease their financial burden, Chicago schools will team up with a bank to offer loans to teachers, said Lach. No partner banks have been identified yet, but Lach said the school system plans to reimburse teachers for interest on loans.

The Chicago Teachers Union did not respond to requests for comment on the new requirement. Even with a little help from schools, teachers are still facing thousands of dollars in tuition and won’t receive a pay increase after their completion, as they would if they obtained an advanced degree.

The number of courses a teacher must take to receive a subject “endorsement” by the state, or specialization in a course, depends mainly on their academic history. Generally, a state endorsement requires about eight courses depending on the subject. But that is not taking into account classes the teacher may have taken previously, Lach explained.

“Best case scenario, you have to take one course,” said Brandon Washington, assistant director of graduate admissions at DePaul University. “Worst case scenario, you have to take six.”

Each course at DePaul costs about $2,000 in tuition. Teachers can choose where to complete their endorsement, but tuition figures could easily reach more than $10,000. After taking these courses, a teacher does not necessarily have a new degree, but a certification to teach specific classes. A state board approves teachers’ applications for the new endorsement, which is applied to their current teacher certification, said Shatell Coleman, admissions officer at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The school system does not keep track of the number of teachers working within their endorsed subject areas, added Lach, nor how many will have to complete endorsement. While obtaining specialization in courses may be expensive and time-consuming for teachers, many people agree it will benefit the students.

“We have 82 [kindergarten through eighth grade] schools this year that don’t have a single adult with a mathematics background in them,” Lach said. “That’s not right.”

Radner stressed the importance of teachers understanding the material they are presenting to students and that their specialization in subjects is absolutely beneficial to students.

According to a Chicago schools’ program release, success on the ACT, the standardized college-entrance test, begins in middle school. A study of 2006 Chicago graduates showed that students who scored high marks on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) in eighth grade have a 75 percent chance of scoring a 20 or better on the 36-point ACT.