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Study: Turn teacher prep “upside down”

Updated 11 a.m. – A report released today calls for converting teacher preparation to a more “clinical” model and making educator training a shared responsibility of higher education and P-12 schools.

Those conclusions are part of a report by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning, a project of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

The report repeatedly invokes the example of medical education in urging change in the way the nation’s education students are prepared for the classroom.

“We have a model from medicine, and we ought to use it,” said panel co-chair  Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York. Outgoing Colorado Education Commissioner Dwight Jones was the other co-chair of the 29-member group.

“To prepare effective teachers for 21st century classrooms, teacher education must shift away from a norm which emphasizes academic preparation and course work loosely linked to school-based experiences. … Candidates will blend practitioner knowledge with academic knowledge as they learn by doing.

“Teacher education has too often been segmented with subject-matter preparation, theory, and pedagogy taught in isolated intervals and too far removed from clinical practice. But teaching, like medicine, is a profession of practice, and prospective teachers must be prepared to become expert practitioners. … In order to achieve this we must place practice at the center of teaching preparation,” the report argues.

Lorrie Shepard, dean of the School of Education at the University of Colorado-Boulder, also was a member of the panel, which included state officials, P-12 and higher education leaders, teachers, teacher educators, union leaders and critics of teacher education.

Eight states, including Colorado, have agreed to develop strategies for implementing the report’s recommendations. The others are California, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Tennessee.

“These states will work with national experts, pilot diverse approaches to implementation, and bring new models of clinical preparation to scale in their states,” the report says.

Formal announcement of the study was made during a two-hour event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Jones, whose last day as commissioner is Dec. 13 before he becomes superintendent of the Clark County, Nev., schools, participated in the unveiling.

“Change certainly needs to occur in higher education programs, and a clinical emphasis has to happen,” Jones told the gathering, calling such an emphasis “A cost-effective front-end investment that will reduce turnover and increase productivity.”

Also attending were Rico Munn, director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, and Robert Hammond, interim commissioner of education.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke to the session for about 10 minutes, saying, “This has been extraordinary work … I wholeheartedly support the direction,” of the report. “We here in the United States need to urgently elevate the quality of the teaching profession.”

The only really cautionary note was sounded by Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, who said the report has “a lot of value” but expressed concerns that it emphasizes “one best model” only for teacher prep and doesn’t address cost issues “in an era of constrained resources.”

A look at the study

Report details

Among key recommendations of the report are:

• An intense focus on development of teaching practice and student learning and “making clinical practice the centerpiece of the curriculum and interweaving opportunities for teaching experience with academic content and professional courses.” The report also calls for expanded use of online and video demonstrations and of “case-study analysis and additional approaches widely used in other professional fields.”

• Shared accountability and responsibility for higher education and school districts, “with P-12 schools playing a more significant role in designing preparation programs, selecting candidates, assessing candidate performance and progress, and placing them in clinical experiences.”

• Increased efforts to attract academically better prepared and more diverse students to teacher preparation programs.

• Shifting the reward structure in both higher education and schools to value learning to teach, “and to support placing clinical practice at the center of teacher preparation.” Specifically, the report concludes “Schools need to adopt a new staffing model patterned after medical preparation, in which teachers, mentors and coaches, and teacher interns and residents work together as part of teams.”

• Increased scrutiny of preparation programs by states and accreditation agencies, “and preparation programs must become more accountable for meeting school needs and improving P-12 student learning.”

• State use of disincentives for education schools that prepare teachers for specialties that are not in demand.

• Federal support of research on the impact of clinical preparation practices on teacher effectiveness.

The report concludes, “Implementing this agenda is difficult but doable. It will require reallocation of resources and making hard choices about institutional priorities, changing selection criteria, and restructuring staffing patterns in P-12 schools. Clinically based programs may cost more per candidate than current programs but will be more cost-effective by yielding educators who enter the field ready to teach, which will increase productivity and reduce costs associated with staff development and turnover.”

Colorado teacher prep

Colorado background

There are 19 approved teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities in Colorado, producing about 3,000 teachers a year, and 43 approved alternative teacher prep programs, with about 800 graduates, according to the state Department of Education. About a third of Colorado teachers were trained in other states.

CDE and DHE have joint review over teacher preparation programs, with the State Board of Education having the final word on program approval.  (Get more information on state review of teacher prep programs and see the list of state-approved educator prep programs.)

Robert Reichardt, director of the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the University of Colorado-Denver, noted in an interview that Colorado already requires teaching graduates to have 800 hours of classroom time, “one of the highest in the country.”

He also noted that alternative training programs are by definition “on the job training.”

“The fundamental problem with teacher preparation is there’s this disconnect between the producers, universities, and the consumers, school districts. They don’t have a way to communicate with each other,” said Reichardt, who has studied teacher prep extensively.

He also noted that “We don’t have any idea which route [university or alternative] is better or worse” because “We don’t have any data.”

In the last three years Colorado has launched an extensive program of education reform, including educator identifiers, new content standards and statewide tests, greater alignment between K-12 and higher education, a new system for accrediting districts and schools and an educator effectiveness law, which ties evaluations to student academic growth.

Much of that program remains to be designed, funded and implemented, and there hasn’t been a major emphasis on teacher preparation. A 2010 law does require CDE, starting in July 2011, to produce an annual report on how the academic growth of students in new teachers’ classrooms, plus teacher placement, mobility and retention, correlate to the colleges or alternative programs where they were trained.

Accreditation background

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education accredits more than 700 schools of education with more than 10,000 educator preparation programs. The group recently announced it is consolidating with another major accreditation agency, the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, to form a new Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

James G. Cibulka, president of NCATE, said Tuesday, “The accreditation body will develop higher standards within two years and implement them as soon as possible.”

Colorado teacher prep programs accredited by NCATE include those at Mesa State, Metro State, all three CU campuses and the University of Northern Colorado.

Programs at Adams State, Fort Lewis, both Colorado State University campuses and Regis University are accredited by TEAC.

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