Online learning disrupts teacher ed

Online learning is disrupting teacher education, writes Meredith Liu, a visiting fellow at Innosight Institute, on Education Next.

The four largest education schools, in terms of bachelor’s and postbachelor’s degrees granted in 2011, were online programs, including the University of Phoenix (5,976) and Walden University (4,878), reports the U.S. Education Department.

University of Southern California’s online master’s — [email protected] — uses interactive, web-based lectures and classes of 15 students.

  Similar to a webinar, students sign into a live session hosted by the professor. All class participants are visible to each other via individual video feeds and can signal to the professor when they want to speak. . . . Each class is archived in a video library for later review on the student’s computer or mobile device. The program facilitates learning outside of class through online study groups and a customized social-networking platform for students and faculty.

USC arranges for teacher candidates to complete 20 weeks of in-classroom training in their own communities. Student teachers can record and upload their lessons to USC faculty and classmates for feedback.

From 2008 to 2010, USC expanded from 100 to 2,200 degree candidates thanks to the online program, even [email protected] charges $40,000 for the 13-month program, the same as the on-campus price tag.

Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit, fully online university, offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. Because WGU measures competency rather than credits, students can move quickly to a degree. The average student earns a bachelor’s degree in two and a half years.

The assessment for each competency uses multiple formats, including traditional testing, portfolio assignments, and observations. As many students have significant professional experience, they can skip some course content altogether and proceed directly to the assessment. For example, a career engineer switching into teaching does not need to suffer through introductory science and math courses to become a physics teacher.

Students complete their demonstration teaching near where they live.

WGU charges $2,890 for a six-month term during which students can take as many courses as they want.

WGU education graduates have “slightly higher rates of certification and employment than those attending comparison schools,” Liu writes. Still, it’s too soon to say whether online-trained teachers are as good as traditionally trained teachers.

By lowering opportunity costs — would-be teachers don’t have to quit their jobs and move to campus — online programs open up the profession to a wide range of people, notes Liu.

NCTQ: Teacher prep earns D+

Teacher preparation policies earned a D+ in 2012, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality’s State Teacher Policy Yearbook. That’s up from a D in 2011.

The highest grade — B- — went to Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Tennessee. Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont made the most progress. Three states – Alaska, Montana and Wyoming – received failing grades.

Only a third of undergraduate teacher preparation programs are sufficiently selective, NCTQ finds. The majority “fail to ensure that candidates come from the top half of the college-going population.” Only 24 states require teacher preparation programs to use a basic skills test to screen applicants.

Standards are low for elementary teachers:

Teaching children to read is among an elementary teacher’s most important responsibilities, yet only 10 states appropriately assess teacher proficiency in effective reading instruction. And only 11 states adequately test new elementary teachers’ knowledge of mathematics.

Even though all but four states require some subject matter tests for elementary teacher licensing, the passing scores are extremely low. Every state (for which NCTQ has data) except Massachusetts sets the passing score for elementary teacher licensing tests below the average score for all test takers (50th percentile), and most states set passing rates at an exceedingly low level.

Only eight states– Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas – use student achievement data to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the effectiveness of the teachers they graduate.

Too many (would-be) elementary teachers

State Output

Some states produce enough elementary teachers to fill anticipated openings, but others produce twice as many as needed—or more.

Supply Demand Percent Difference
Colorado 1,169 1,099 106%
Connecticut 701 600 117
Delaware 373 122 306
Illinois 9,982 1,073 930
Kentucky 1,275 730 175
Louisiana 1,033 650 159
Maryland 1,011 723 140
Massachusetts 1,175 1,051 112
Michigan 2,903 1,227 236
Minnesota 1,179 709 166
Mississippi 751 660 114
New York 6,498 2,800 232
Pennsylvania 6,048 1,420 426
Tennessee 1,970 1,380 143

In many states, colleges are churning out too many would-be elementary teachers, reports Education Week.

New York and Michigan prepared twice as many elementary teachers as needed in 2011-12. Pennsylvania turned out four new graduates for every job opening. Illinois issued nine new elementary-teacher certificates in 2009 for every one first-time teacher hired in 2010.

By contrast, Colorado and Michigan produce just enough new elementary teachers to meet demand. (That’s assuming nobody moves from Illinois and Pennsylvania.)

Colleges should be more selective about admitting teacher candidates and train them more intensively, argues the National Council on Teacher Quality.

“We could improve, enhance, and extend the quality of teacher preparation, and therefore produce better-qualified new teacher graduates, but probably fewer in number,” agrees Arthur E. Wise, former president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Prospective elementary teachers have lower academic qualifications than other college graduates, concludes a 2007 Educational Testing Service report. (Secondary teachers have higher-than-average test scores.)

“We could raise the bar and get teachers with higher aptitudes in classrooms and still have plenty of elementary teachers,” (NCTQ’s Arthur) McKee said.

AFT seeks national ‘bar’ exam for teachers

Teachers’ colleges would set higher standards — at least a 3.0 grade point average — and would-be teachers would have to pass the equivalent of a bar exam, proposes the American Federation of Teachers in Raising the Bar. That includes prospective teachers with alternative certification.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards would develop an “exam measuring content, pedagogy, and practice — based on a cohesive set of teaching standards crafted by practitioners,” reports Stephen Sawchuk on Ed Week‘s Teacher Beat. NBPTS might use the performance assessments that are under development, said CEO Ronald Thorpe. “This is not about reinventing the wheel.”

But the details are unclear. How will teaching competence be measured? Will one style of teaching — let’s say “guide on the side” — be required? What happens if the failure rate is higher for blacks and Latinos than for whites and Asian-Americans?

Everyone wants to professionalize teaching, writes Andrew Rotherham on Eduwonk. But “what if education isn’t really like law or medicine?”  What if “there isn’t a field-wide core of knowledge or skills all practitioners must have?”  We don’t  know what “makes a great 10th-grade English teacher or 12th grade government teacher,” beyond content knowledge, he writes.

A national exam would “level the playing field,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Maybe all the alternative certified teachers will pass with flying colors. But if only 10 percent of [Teach For America] passed it and 90 percent of the students from Teachers College passed it, that would say something.”

Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina look at how teachers from various preparation programs do in the classroom, responds Rotherham. Teach for America teachers do well.  The quality of other alternatively certified teachers varies. If Weingarten is trying to “reassert control over a rapidly decentralizing field” by freezing out TFA, that’s a waste of time.

Why not find out whether candidates can actually do what they’re being hired to do? Actual live teaching as part of the teacher hiring process remains stunningly rare.  I’d be a lot more excited if the AFT announced it wanted to pursue more of a guild model and see what we can learn from that approach. Even better if the union wanted to do training and put its brand behind the teachers who carry its label (in some cities AFT chapters do solid professional development). Instead, we’re once again trying to develop a test to address a problem everyone is aware of  but few have the political fortitude to take on: Most of our teacher preparation programs just aren’t very good.  We don’t need a test to tell us that, we need serious reform.

It’s a “serious proposal to raise standards for new teachers as part of a broader effort to strengthen the profession,” writes Fordham’s Checker Finn. But, among other things, he’s worried by the vagueness of AFT’s call for “an in-depth test of subject and pedagogical knowledge.”

There is no hint of what in-depth knowledge might mean for a U.S. history teacher versus a geometry teacher versus an art teacher, nor does it address what sort of testing arrangement might gauge whether an individual possesses enough of it. (We know that the current arrangement—with most states relying heavily on the “Praxis II” test—does not do this well. We also know that some states do not take this issue on at all.)

NBPTS, which board certifies veteran teachers, hasn’t shown “much interest in subject-matter knowledge,” Finn writes. “Pedagogy, yes. Even lesson-planning. But not the causes and consequences of the Civil War or the ways that atoms combine to form molecules.”

Update: Putting the teachers’ union in charge of certifying teachers is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast.

Teacher ed goes online (and mostly for-profit)

Online teacher education is booming,reports USA Today, which has been crunching U.S. Education Department data.

Virtually unknown a decade ago, big online teacher education programs now dwarf their traditional competitors, outstripping even the largest state university teachers’ colleges.

. . .  four big universities, operating mostly online, have quickly become the largest education schools in the USA. Last year the four — three of which are for-profit — awarded one in 16 bachelor’s degrees and post-graduate awards and nearly one in 11 advanced education awards, including master’s degrees and doctorates.

A decade ago, in 2001, the for-profit University of Phoenix awarded 72 education degrees to teachers, administrators and other school personnel through its online program, according to federal data. Last year, it awarded nearly 6,000 degrees, more than any other university.

Most new teachers earn bachelor’s degrees in education at traditional colleges, such as Arizona State, the nation’s leader. “But online schools such as Phoenix and Walden University awarded thousands more master’s degrees than even the top traditional schools, all of which are pushing to offer online coursework.”

Of course, if districts stopped paying teachers more for master’s degrees, the master’s market would collapse.

For-profit colleges, hit hard by the Harkin report for high tuition and low graduation rates, do no worse than public colleges and universities that admit all applicants, a defender argues.

Educating good teachers

Rejecting Michigan’s teacher licensing rules, Hillsdale College reinvented teacher education, writes Daniel Coupland. Since the program is now unaccredited, Hillsdale-trained teachers can work only at charter or private schools.

Future teachers “need a broad liberal arts education” and “deep understanding” of an academic discipline, Coupland writes. All would-be teachers, including elementary teachers, major in an academic field. All learn how to teach by working in “a real classroom with real students under the tutelage of a master teacher.”

We decided to eliminate methods classes and courses in educational psychology and technology. Because the state had such a heavy hand in dictating these classes (enforcing their “standards”), much of the content was irrelevant or antithetical to the mission of both the college and the department.

Philosophy of Education, Explicit Phonics Reading Instruction and Children’s Literature were made “much more content-driven and more demanding in terms of reading, discussion, and writing” to match the rigor of the college’s other courses.

The Education Department worked with the English Department to design an English grammar course for future teachers. “Language is the most important tool of the teacher’s trade.”

Instead of passing a paper-and-pencil test, would-be teachers are submitting lesson plans, homework assignments and videos of their teaching to earn a license, reports the New York Times.

New York and up to 25 other states are moving to the Stanford-designed Teacher Performance Assessment model.

“It is very analogous to authentic assessments in other professions, in nursing, in medical residencies, in architecture,” said Raymond L. Pecheone, a professor of practice at Stanford who leads the center that developed the new assessment.

. . . a teacher’s daily lesson plans, handouts and assignments will be reviewed, in addition to their logs about what works, what does not and why. Videos of student teachers will be scrutinized for moments when critical topics — ratios and proportions in math, for instance — are discussed. Teachers will also be judged on their ability to deepen reasoning and problem-solving skills, to gauge how students are learning and to coax their class to cooperate in tackling learning challenges.

In New York, prospective teachers’ work will be graded by “trained evaluators who have been recruited by the education company Pearson.” That’s spurred resistance from education professors, who complain their role is being undermined and “outsourced.”

At the University of Massachusetts, 67 of 68 students training to be secondary school teachers refused to submit videos of their teaching and a take-home test to Pearson evaluators.

British schools will train new teachers

Frustrated by ineffective teacher training colleges, Britain will let  schools train their own teachers, reports the Daily Mail.

More than half of student teachers will be trained by schools within three years, as under-performing colleges are denied funding and shut down.

Graduates who go directly to the toughest schools will be eligible for tax-free awards of up to £25,000 ($48,847)

. . . The move will sideline training colleges, which have expounded fashionable teaching theories – particularly in reading – instead of giving students a rigorous grounding in classroom practices.

“The idea is a simple one: take the very best schools, and put them in charge of teacher training and professional development for the whole system,” said Education Minister Michael Gove.

Schools will choose the teacher candidates they want to train and retain.

The largest grants will go to teacher candidates with a first-class degree in key subjects who train in schools where more than 25 per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals. (In the U.S., most schools have more than 25 percent of students eligible for a free lunch.)

Teacher training colleges rated as “needs  improvement” in two consecutive inspections will be shut.

Teaching teachers to drive data

“Data-driven” schools need teachers who know how to use information on students’ learning to improve teaching, writes June Kronholz on Ed Next. Some schools hire Achievement Network (ANet) to teach teachers how to use data.

During the data meeting, teachers pored over a form called an “item analysis template”—downloaded from the ANet web site—that forced them to think through the test questions that had given their kids the most grief. “What were the misconceptions” that led so many students to choose the wrong answer, the form asked them to consider. What groups of students missed the answer? What did students need to know to get it right?

Next, they worked through a “reteach action plan,” also downloaded from ANet. How was the lesson taught originally, the form asked. How and when would it be retaught, and to whom—the whole class, a small group, individual children?

After reteaching, teachers give a short quiz to see if the new lesson was effective. Then they discuss the results.

Schools in ANet’s network model their teaching practices to other schools, asking teachers, principals and instructional coaches “to help one another figure out how to reteach a troublesome lesson,” Kronholz writes.

There’s lots of detail in the story on how this works.

Few teacher education programs prepare future teachers to use assessments to improve instruction, concludes the National Council on Teacher Quality in a new report. Only three percent of programs surveyed adequately prepare future teachers to use performance data to improve instruction, the report concluded. Another 24 percent were rated “partially adequate.”  One program out of 180 “prepares candidates to work collaboratively to dissect, describe, and display data that emerge from both in-class and standardized assessments.”

If not value-added, then what?

“Would-be reformers for getting waaaay ahead of themselves” in building systems around value-added data, writes Rick Hess. But value-added can be a useful tool, even if it’s not perfect. And what’s the alternative to value-added? Principals observing teachers in the classroom? Value-added haters don’t like that either.

Only peer review — teachers evaluating teachers — has support from “self-styled teacher advocates,” Hess writes. And peer review rarely has teeth.

. . . few peer review efforts have lived up to their billing. For instance, as Steven Brill has reported, the lauded Toledo peer review program — which has been credited with aggressively weeding out bad teachers — turned out, when studied for The New Teacher Project’s “Widget Effect to have removed just one tenured teacher (in a fair-sized, low-performing system) during the two years studied.

“Public educators who are paid with public funds to serve the public’s children ought to be responsible for how well they do their jobs,” writes Hess.

Low-stakes value-added analysis can provide useful feedback to teachers, writes Matthew Di Carlo on the Shanker Institute (affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers) Blog. Teachers need disaggregated data, he adds.

For instance, if a teacher is told that her English language learners tend to make less rapid progress than her native speakers, this is potentially useful – she might rethink how she approaches those students and what additional supports they may need from the school system. Similarly, if there are strong gains among those students who started out at a lower level (i.e., their score the previous year) and stagnation for those starting out at a higher level, this suggests the need for more effective differentiation.

In a few states, teacher education programs are analyzing graduates’ value-added data to identify weak areas writes Stephen Sawchuk on Education Week.

“It was frustrating at first. Based on earlier assessments, we always had exemplary status, and then to get these data showing some weaknesses—well, it was a shock,” said Gerald M. Carlson, the dean of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “But we ultimately said, ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves and see what we can find out.’ ”

. . . the school set up teams of faculty to look at the curriculum, switched the sequencing of elementary math courses, and is now requiring faculty members to spend more time observing student-teachers, Mr. Carlson said.

Students taught by the university’s elementary teachers struggled with essay questions, the value-added analysis showed. “The university’s teacher-educators have worked with colleagues from the liberal arts department to require more writing instruction in introductory English composition courses.”

 

UM crafts national standards for teacher ed

The University of Michigan’s TeachingWorks is developing national standards for teacher education, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Aspiring English instructors were supposed to be mastering their craft in the teacher education class Francesca Forzani observed.

Forzani, a former English teacher, looked on in horror as the students spent an entire semester debating what a high school reading list should look like. More contemporary or classical literature? Perhaps multicultural books?

“They never practiced anything as simple as introducing students to a text,” said Forzani, who observed the class as part of an auditing process.

Forzani, associate director of TeachingWorks, said education professors discuss issues and theories but devote too little time to the practical challenges of teaching. As a result, more than 60 percent of teachers say they weren’t prepared for the classroom in a federal survey.

TeachingWorks will stress “leading a classroom discussion, crafting small-group projects and conferencing with parents”  and 16 other teaching skills.

. . . the goal of TeachingWorks is to highlight traits that every good teacher needs, whether the fourth-grade math class they’re leading is in Tacoma or Tampa.

Forzani hopes TeachingWorks’ standards will be used not just by college-based teacher education programs but also by alternatives such as Teach for America.