November 30, 2011

Pioneers in Teacher Prep Chart Changes in Training Landscape

Original article in GothamSchools by Geoff Decker

If the people on a panel Tuesday about teacher preparation didn’t convey the urgency they felt about improving teacher training, then a flash poll of the audience surely did.

More than two-thirds of the audience, made up primarily of young teachers, said they didn’t think their masters degrees had made them better at their jobs, according to electronic votes that were tallied in real time.

With that context, a five-member panel of advocates for alternative certification and training dove into a 90-minute discussion about how traditional theory-driven teacher training had failed the profession, particularly in high-needs urban schools. Research has shown that having a masters degree does not make teachers more effective, and local, state, and federal efforts are underway to re-imagine how teachers are trained.

Panelists largely agreed that many traditional education schools lack accountability, aren’t willing to share performance data for their graduates, and have a detached relationship with the public schools where their graduates eventually work.

“For too long schools of [education] have sat back and spun out academic theories of what should work in the ideal school with the ideal conditions,” said a panelist, Bob Hughes, president of the nonprofit New Visions for Public Schools, which trains and certifies teachers and operates 99 schools in New York City. “And they’ve been divorced from the reality of what happens in schools .”

Joining Hughes on the panel were representatives of alternative training programs that are being pioneered in New York City: Maritza Macdonald, head of the soon-to-be-launched urban residency program for science teachers at the American Museum of Natural History; Mayme Hostetter, dean of Relay Graduate School of Education, the brand-new certification program created by three charter networks; and Kat Hayes, of The New Teacher Project, which handles recruitment and training for the New York City Teaching Fellows.

The panel was held at the American Museum of Natural History and hosted by Educators 4 Excellence, an organization of young teachers that advocates for reform in the teaching profession, including an evaluation system that takes test scores into account and an end to seniority-based layoffs. NY1 education reporter Lindsay Christ moderated.

Also on the panel was David Steiner, dean of Hunter College’s school of education and the former New York State education commissioner. As commissioner, Steiner expanded the role of alternative training programs to allow them to certify teachers, a policy that two of his co-panelists — Hostetter and Macdonald — are now making the most of with their certification programs.

Steiner said the culture of teacher preparation programs supported ”a huge divide between content and method” that was not producing highly-effective classroom educators. He equated the programs to a hospital that provides only a bare minimum of care.

“They’ll help make sure the patient doesn’t die, but it wont actually make the patient much better,” Steiner said.

The panel didn’t just harp on what was wrong with current teacher preparation programs — members also suggested ways to improve them.

Steiner, who complained about gridlock in Albany after resigning as commissioner, said “one of the easiest things to do” in New York would be to make licensing exams harder to pass, something that has been done successfully in Massachusetts. Currently, less than 1 percent of test-takers fail New York’s exam.

Hostetter’s Relay program is known for its performance requirements to be eligible for graduation. Teachers in that program can’t graduate unless they have helped their students grow at least one year in one year’s time, according to specific assessment standards.

To an extent, the panelists were actually preaching to the choir. The majority – about two-thirds – of the audience had taken alternate routes to certification, meaning they had enrolled in many of the same programs supported by the panelists.