Prior to new education standards coming in 2017, two Texas Tech educators are offering advice to teacher education programs in other states on the process of reform.
With new federally mandated education standards around the corner, teacher education programs throughout the country are evaluating how effectively they prepare students to become teachers.
To that end, state superintendents from two states have reached out to Texas Tech University, asking about the College of Education's teacher education program that requires more and quicker accountability from both its teacher candidates and professors.
On top of that, the Urban Teacher Residency United recently highlighted TechTeach in its research report, “Clinically Oriented Teacher Preparation,” as one of more than 20 programs that have shifted teacher preparation to competency-based standards and more time in the classroom.
Doug Hamman, chairman of the Department of Teacher Education, and Kathryn Button, associate professor of teacher education and director of the TechTeach distance program, went first to Massachusetts, then Louisiana, to discuss Texas Tech's teacher education program with teacher education directors in those states. Dean Scott Ridley went to Massachusetts as well.
The purpose of their visit to Massachusetts was to discuss teacher preparation program reform. Although not everyone was on board with the idea of reform, the three Red Raiders discussed changes the university had made in only a few years – completely redoing curricula and syllabi, overhauling the system, creating evaluation measures and forming partnerships with school districts.
Those are the keystones of TechTeach, which Ridley pioneered while associate dean at Arizona State University. When he was hired at Texas Tech, he told the hiring committee he would implement that teacher preparation program.
“The difference between our story and the story of Arizona State is they had many, many, many years to get to where they are now, and we have done all of this since the dean came in 2011,” Button said.
Because the state superintendent in Louisiana was driving reform, their visit focused on implementation. Texas Tech was one of three schools represented, along with Arizona State University and Louisiana Tech University. The programs are facing changes that will directly tie K-12 students' performance with the program that prepared their teacher.
“Our worth is determined by how well our graduates' students do on their tests,” Hamman said. “The stakes are very high.”
Preliminary implementation of the U.S. Department of Education's new accountability standards will begin in 2016; they will be widespread by 2017. When these reforms were approved, teacher education programs throughout the nation said they weren't a good idea. The Department of Education moved forward anyway.
Those reforms include evaluating teachers according to a rubric, which will include students' test scores, and holding not only the teachers accountable, but also the programs that prepared them to be in the classroom.
“The biggest part about that is teacher preparation programs will be responsible for the achievements of students taught by our graduates,” Hamman said.
Although TechTeach has not been around long enough to have a complete data picture, the feedback from principals and mentor teachers is good: students are more prepared for the classroom, they have new ideas, they're excited. They're also teaching well. Anecdotal evidence from administrators and other teachers show TechTeach graduates are finding success in the classroom and bringing enthusiasm to their jobs as well as being more prepared than many traditionally educated teachers.
“The dean's promise was that if you hire one of our graduates, within the first three years they will have student gain scores above the district average,” Button said.
As the government is demanding changes with federal dollars on the line, states are looking around for ideas and landing at Texas Tech. The initial invitation to Massachusetts came through a relationship with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), which provides the rubric on which Texas Tech based its evaluation system.
“We're serious about coming out good in that accountability system, but we also want to be leaders in the state,” Hamman said. “We want to be the No. 1 provider of teachers and prepare the measurably best teachers in Texas.”
The specifics of TechTeach
TechTeach is different from traditional teacher education programs in a number of ways:
- Competency tests: Teacher candidates must pass competency tests before they are allowed to student teach, thus putting only those candidates who are prepared into the classroom.
- Yearlong student teaching: TechTeach students spend their entire senior year in a classroom working closely with a mentor teacher and being an active part of the classroom. Professors observe the student teachers via web recordings and give feedback immediately after a lesson.
- Partnerships with local school districts: Administrators in the College of Education have reached out to dozens of superintendents to build these relationships, which requires the school to invest more in its student teachers, including involving mentor teachers who actively work with the students to whom they are assigned. Schools also give Texas Tech student test scores and other data. The university releases its data to the schools.
- Instructional rubric for evaluations: Using NIET's competencies, Texas Tech administrators created a measurement rubric with specific criteria for instructional plans, standards and objectives, presenting instructional content, activities and materials, academic feedback and managing student behavior. All students are rated according to the listed criteria.
- On-site coordinators: TechTeach Across Texas allows students who live in different parts of the state to take classes online and do their student teaching in their areas. The university has coordinators in each of the areas to oversee the program and observe the teacher candidates in the classroom.
- Connection between classroom learning and student teaching: The teacher candidates are recorded and their professors watch the recordings. They're able to troubleshoot in almost real time what candidates are doing well and what they need to fix. This also allows professors to tweak their curriculum if teacher candidates aren't applying their classroom lessons.
The benefits and challenges of reform
During the panel in Baton Rouge, a number of deans said they didn't have the funding to implement the entire program. What was the most important part?
“We went across the panel and we each had something different,” Button said.
As the distance education coordinator, she chose the site coordinator position, who is in the field conducting assessments, coaching teacher candidates and representing the university to the districts. Hamman chose yearlong student teaching and the use of instructional rubrics for evaluating teacher candidates.
“Those are the least expensive and I think, initially, the most effective,” he said.
Teacher education programs considering reforms have more than financial cost to consider. They have to persuade professors and students it will be in their best interests and figure out how it works in a school of their size. (Texas Tech graduates about 500 teachers a year, while ASU graduates thousands. Some of the schools in the Louisiana and Massachusetts graduate 50 to 100; one had two teacher candidates graduate one semester.)
Administrators then need to build partnerships with school districts, which Hamman said they're still learning about four years in. The relationships aren't just forced once; rather, they have to consistently meet with principals and superintendents.
“Figuring out how they all work together, that's something everybody has to work out on their own in their own unique settings,” Hamman said.
Since reform is coming, though, programs are listening. Ridley is working on a grant that will allow Texas Tech to be an education center for a number of other universities and help them through the reform process.
“They hope to learn from us because what we are doing is getting a lot of attention and graduating very strong teacher candidates,” Button said.