What Teachers Want Out of Their Preparation

As lawmakers turn their attention to improving teacher preparation, they have access to a wealth of analysis about the quality of prep programs and recommendations for how to improve teacher prep policy, including our own.

What are not so readily available are the experiences and opinions of teachers themselves. To change that, Ed Trust partnered with Teach Plus to bring a group of their Teaching Policy Fellows to Capitol Hill this week for a candid conversation about their own preparation experiences.

These fellows are experienced, effective teachers from across the country, working in high-poverty schools. They come from a variety of preparation backgrounds — traditional and alternative, undergraduate and graduate — and, as expected, had very different preparation experiences. But throughout the conversation, some themes surfaced again and again. Among them:

  • Prospective students need more and better information about the quality of prep programs. When choosing which programs to attend, fellows wanted clear, accessible information on the academic background of enrolled students (average SAT/ACT scores, GPAs), as well as information on how program graduates fare once they get into the classroom. Because that information wasn’t available, they found themselves making decisions based on the reputation of the institution as a whole, or on ratings they didn’t necessarily understand.
  • Programs don’t prepare prospective teachers for classroom realities. Fellows were taught how to craft a strong lesson, but not how to differentiate that lesson when some students are far behind and need additional support while others are far ahead and need acceleration. Likewise, fellows said they weren’t taught workable strategies for classroom management or parent engagement.
  • Good clinical experiences matter. A lot. Fellows repeatedly stressed the need to get out of university lecture halls and into the kinds of classrooms they’ll be teaching in. But they were quick to say that it’s not enough just to be in a classroom. Teacher candidates need strong mentors, ones who are effective at educating children and at supporting teacher candidates. While some fellows had strong mentors who prepared them well for the demands of teaching, others could only imagine how much better their first years of teaching would have been if they had.
  • Prep programs have real influence over the kinds of schools teachers want — and are prepared — to teach in. Some fellows attended programs specifically geared toward preparing candidates to teach in schools serving large concentrations of low-income students. They learned about the challenges and opportunities of teaching in these schools and were given extra supports to be successful. Others, however, were told that preparation was preparation, no matter what kind of school they’d end up teaching in. And some were actively discouraged from going into high-poverty settings. Had they gone with the flow, these effective educators might never have taught in the kinds of communities where they’re so sorely needed.

CA’s Reed Settlement Supports Teachers, Students But Dodges Harder ‘LIFO’ Issue

A court settlement in California this month represents a victory of sorts for 37 Los Angeles schools that have, for years, suffered from a revolving door of teachers and abysmal academic results. But it’s hardly the “historic agreement” that some have touted it to be.

Although the Reed v. California settlement sends much-needed resources to these schools, it should not be considered historic that labor and district partners agreed to fund three years of professional development, special education support services, mentor teachers, counselors, and assistant principals — all arguably basic services every school needs. Nor should we celebrate the fact that Reed fails to address California’s “last-in, first-out” (LIFO) layoff law, which started the whole fight back in 2009.

That year, the recession forced the Los Angeles Unified School District to slash its budget and lay off thousands of educators, starting with newer teachers. These teachers were, predictably, concentrated in some of the district’s neediest schools. The Reed lawsuit, brought against the state and district, argued that the layoffs denied students in these schools the right to equal educational opportunities. The case ping-ponged between various courts and weathered appeals in the years that followed, until this month’s final settlement.

The settlement manages to sidestep tough questions of how teacher seniority or effectiveness factor into employment decisions, instead focusing on new and much-needed investments in educator supports. The settlement rightly recognizes the need to invest in teachers and encourage principals to come to, and stay at, needy schools. It remains to be seen whether bonuses of $10,000 per year are sufficient to attract and keep talented leaders, rather than just warm bodies.

In an attempt to head off future layoffs, the district plans to offer teachers in the 37 schools specialized training in how to teach “the unique student population” served by these schools. The district’s hope is that it will be able to skip these specially trained teachers when assembling layoff lists, just as it may skip special education teachers and language specialists. This band-aid approach to protecting certain schools from layoffs has been used with mixed success, at best, in a small handful of other California districts. While this might help these schools in the short-term, it’s hardly a long-term solution. What’s needed is the more sweeping overhaul of LIFO called for by Vergara v. California, which will be decided in the coming months. When no longer forced to make layoff decisions based on seniority alone, California districts might finally be able to make employment decisions based on what’s best for kids.

Carrie Hahnel leads research and policy analysis for The Education Trust–West. She focuses primarily on issues of funding equity, accountability, teacher effectiveness, and public transparency in California.

A Much-Needed Occasion for Educators to Reflect, Collaborate

As an educator for more than 23 years, I know — like you do — what it’s like to do the hard work on the ground; to not just observe the problem of deep educational inequities and outcomes in our schools, but to roll up my sleeves early every morning and stay up late every night to fix it. Like many of you, I know what it is to be constantly immersed in the work of improving supports for teachers and outcomes for students.

And, like you, I’ve learned how important it is to step back and reflect: to get a different view of the classrooms, the schools, the communities, the districts, the states in which we work, zooming out for the perspective gained from seeing the big picture and zooming in to the bright spots for critical lessons learned. Continue reading

Engaging Faculty in Efforts to Improve Grad Rates

This is the third in a four-part series that explores how high-performing colleges and universities use data to improve student retention and graduation rates. Detailed lessons from eight institutions are shared in our higher education practice guide. This blog series highlights how some of those colleges have made progress and how others can follow their example to increase student success.

When President Steve Weber arrived at San Diego State University in 1996, he understood the strong culture of shared governance with the faculty senate and knew that they were an important group to engage to move student success programs and strategies forward. Continue reading

What Do the SAT Test Specifications Tell Us?

The College Board seems to be following through on its stated desire to make the redesigned SAT test more meaningful and reflective of the knowledge and skills students should be learning in high school. The level of detail and transparency provided in yesterday’s release is a big change from the old test, which was often perceived as unfair and susceptible to gaming and test-prep, giving some students an advantage over others. Continue reading

Georgia State Shows the Way in Student Success

Below is the second in a four-part series exploring how high-performing colleges and universities use data to improve student retention and graduation rates. Detailed lessons from eight institutions are shared in our higher education practice guide. This series highlights how some of those colleges have made progress and how others can follow their example to increase student success.

Enough hemming and hawing from the higher education community about President Obama’s college ratings plan. The data and research make clear there are colleges and universities that excel in helping students to graduation, and there are colleges and universities that hinder, if not harm, students with similar characteristics on their way toward a degree. Continue reading

Improving Higher Ed Outcomes Starts With Smart Data

Below is the first in a four-part series exploring how high-performing colleges and universities use data to improve student retention and graduation rates. Detailed lessons from eight institutions are shared in our higher education practice guide. This series highlights how some of those colleges have made progress and how others can follow their example to increase student success.

I recently travelled to Lexington, Ky., for a retreat and planning session of chief academic officers from the states’ public colleges and universities. The Kentucky public colleges have increased their graduation rates significantly in recent years — up 7 points (to 51 percent) since 2005. Likewise, the rate for transfer students has jumped 12 points to 65 percent.

But these public institutions, like the vast majority of colleges nationwide, see low-income students and students of color graduating at lower rates than their peers. It’s a problem plaguing many colleges, and these gaps in degree completion continue to persist despite the efforts of the campus leaders at the Kentucky meeting. Continue reading

#AccessMeans Opportunity for All Students

A national social media campaign is showing that, while sometimes tagged as lazy, this generation of millennials — especially those of color — are breaking down barriers and dispelling myths that have plagued their communities for years. In the past decade, the percentage of black students going to college has gone up 63 percent; for Latinos, it’s up 38 percent. (And did you hear about Kwasi Enin, the first-generation American who got into all eight Ivys this year?) Continue reading