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The goal: 25,000 new teachers

Published (1/28/2011)
By Kris Berggren
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Misty Sato, left, Campbell Chair for Innovation in Teacher Development at the University of Minnesota, and Karen Balmer, executive director of the Board of Teaching, give the House Education Reform Committee a teacher performance assessment overview Jan. 25. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)While the debate over education reform has swirled around alternative paths to teacher licensure and last year’s stymied application for federal Race to the Top funds, a quiet movement has been brewing that could significantly change how teachers are trained.

The Bush Foundation has committed $40 million over 10 years to the Network for Excellence in Teaching. The grant is the foundation’s largest-ever investment of resources in a single focus area, Susan Heegaard, the foundation’s vice president for educational achievement, told the House Education Reform Committee Jan. 20.

The funds are helping 14 colleges and universities in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota redesign teacher preparation programs and recruit top talent into the profession. The goal is to produce 25,000 highly effective teachers to replace those who will retire during the next decade.

The case for prioritizing quality teaching is bolstered by wide variances in education outcomes in the state. Though Minnesota students score highest in the nation on ACT college entrance exams, many need remedial courses once they get there, according to a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities report released Jan. 18. It revealed that 40 percent of the state’s 2008 high school graduates who enrolled in a two- or four-year college needed at least one remedial class.

“That represents 13,000 kids in Minnesota who are showing up to our colleges unprepared,” said Minnesota Business Partnership Executive Director Charlie Weaver.

In 2009, the foundation decided to focus on improving teacher quality as a means to close the achievement gap based on strong evidence that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor in student achievement.

Bush Foundation President Peter Hutchinson called the partnership a “breakthrough” that could “change the trajectory of education, not only to make sure everybody does well, but that those who are doing the least well get caught up.” He said a key is that the 14 institutions will guarantee their graduates’ effectiveness in the classroom.

Exactly how they’ll make good on that guarantee is still in the works, said Kathy Ofstedal, co-director of St. Cloud State University’s Teacher Preparation Initiative.

“We have the data showing why we have to change,” she said, and although getting groups of people together from six school districts, two university departments and the teachers union has been painstaking, it’s been worth it. “Right now, in the midst of all this other stuff, reorganization, cuts to our campus, we have been given this opportunity to do this and we are grabbing it and running with it.”

What is changing in teacher training

The 14 institutions are working with K-12 districts whose superintendents, classroom teachers, principals and union members have agreed to participate.

Ofstedal said St. Cloud State University is working with six school districts ranging from St. Cloud, with many schools and 25 percent students of color, to tiny Holdingford, which has one school. They’ve formed a joint powers agreement, and are working to schedule a common in-service day for training in conjunction with the university.

Another welcome byproduct is much better communication between St. Cloud State’s education and arts and sciences faculty who share responsibility for budding teachers’ education, but who have traditionally bickered about credits and course content.

Rep. Linda Slocum (DFL-Richfield), an eighth-grade history teacher, welcomes a better melding of content and pedagogy. She has recommended that some student teachers she’s supervised take more history coursework so they can be more effective in the classroom.

Redesign is underway at Twin Cities Teacher Collaborative member institutions: Augsburg College; Bethel University; Concordia University, St. Paul; Hamline University; St. Catherine University; and the University of St. Thomas.

Linda Distad, a St. Catherine University professor of education, said members have agreed on “signature experiences” that each will embed in its curriculum. They include a residency model for teacher candidates before they complete their traditional student teaching, and “co-teaching,” a mentor-trainee model of sharing planning and instruction duties that’s been successful at St. Cloud State University.

A cohort of pre-service teachers pursuing the same licensure, such as secondary chemistry or elementary special education, could work at the same K-12 site, along with mentor classroom teachers and a university professor. The residency model will benefit the teacher candidate, the classroom teacher and the higher education professor, Distad said. “Most important, we believe it has a direct impact on the children in the classroom, making a much stronger learning experience for them.”

Another key component of the programs’ redesign is a focus on value-added teacher assessments, such as the Teacher Performance Assessment, which the Board of Teaching is already piloting in Minnesota.

Licensure candidates will be evaluated on content knowledge, ability to work with various types of learners, lesson planning and classroom management. The results are not intended to isolate individuals performance — at least not yet — but will be aggregated and funneled back to the teacher preparation program which will learn where graduates are achieving desired results, and adjust their instruction accordingly.

“We are hoping to do a couple different kinds of analysis,” said Misty Sato, Campbell Chair for Innovation in Teacher Development at the University of Minnesota. “First, of changes in professional culture and learning at the higher education level, and of student learning in regard to Bush Foundation partnership.“

Selling teaching to potential teachers

The foundation will launch a recruitment campaign to attract top talent to teaching, by inviting “change makers” on campus to consider teaching, strengthening admission requirements to teacher preparation programs, and possibly offering tax credits, scholarships or loan forgiveness.

”I think it’s going to fit in well with something that is going on naturally,” said Rep. Kurt Bills (R-Rosemount), who estimates he’s taught 7,000 students during his career as a high school economics teacher. “With this generation you do see some really high level students in pre-med, financial industries, engineering, doing the Teach for America route or just opting into teaching. Not for pay but for giving something back.”

The marketing plan will also try to match graduates’ certification with K-12 district’s needs. Minnesota graduates about three times more elementary education majors than are needed, but has shortages in some areas such as science and math disciplines

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