From The Teachers Edition, newsletter of the U.S. Department of Education

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) recently launched an initiative to strengthen educator preparation and support innovation in the professional community. The Innovation Exchange will serve as a forum to share findings for addressing the most urgent issues of student achievement, curriculum reform and educator preparation program advancement.

Key programs of the initiative include an Innovations Inventory for institutions to share promising practices, an Educator Workforce Advisory Task Force to improve retention of novice teachers in high-need schools, and a Networked Improved Community to increase Black and Hispanic males in teacher prep programs. Are you part of a research team interested in educator preparation? Apply for the AACTE Research Fellowship for Educator Preparation, due March 28.

From Education Week
By Robin Flanigan

At Clemson University, aspiring teachers are working together to develop and review digital lessons. They're learning how to use social media to find classroom resources. And they're being encouraged to partner on projects that emphasize technology with students from other majors.

Those strategies reflect a shift underway at some teacher colleges that are working to revamp their programs to improve the technology literacy of future educators—and address what many see as a major shortcoming in the profession.

Technology is swiftly assuming a dominant role in classrooms, and in students' lives. Many observers have raised doubts about whether schools of education are providing future teachers with the skills they need to address blended learning, and whether they're using digital tools to improve instruction.

Faculty members at Clemson's school of education and at a number of other higher education institutions are determined to address the issue head-on.

Officials at the South Carolina university have taken numerous steps to raise future teachers' tech-proficiency, including increasing course requirements and setting up forums for future educators to share ideas about how to craft lessons using technology tools.

"There's a really firm commitment to transforming the teacher ed. program here," said Danielle Herro, an assistant professor of digital media and learning at the school. Other higher education programs, she said, need "to recognize, embrace, and apply the shift in [technology] literacy to practice."

Some say the evidence suggests teacher colleges have a mixed record, at best, in providing future educators with the skills they need.

The National Association of State Boards of Education, in Alexandria, Va., released a report in 2012 that cast a critical eye on teacher colleges' performance in building digital skills. It said that the training of teachers "too often has not kept pace with advances in technology or new ways of learning," and asserted that educators were not being prepared to use technology to personalize learning or shape students' analytical skills.

Novices and Natives

The authors pointed to a variety of obstacles standing in the way of teachers and administrators improving their proficiency with technology, including steady turnover in the profession and the age gap between them and their students, who are "digital natives."

report released last year by the Washington-based American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, meanwhile, found that nearly all of teacher education programs, 98 percent of them, prepare students to use technology for instruction, and that 62 percent have a technology-related requirement for graduation or program completion.

AACTE President Sharon P. Robinson said her group will obtain more nuanced data in the future on technology's place in teacher-preparation programs and the ways in which candidates for the profession are being expected to show proficiency with digital applications.

Yet a much bleaker picture was presented by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based research and policy organization, in an inaugural teacher-preparation review published last year.

In an evaluation of more than 1,100 colleges and universities, it found that just 15 percent of 668 elementary and secondary teacher-preparation programs required candidates to provide a rationale for their use of technology when planning a lesson or project. (The NCTQ's methodology has been criticized by some teacher programs, which describe the research as superficial and flawed.)

"We see little evidence that programs have embraced technology for its ability to improve how students learn," said NCTQ President Kate Walsh.

Peer Review

A number of policymakers, including President Barack Obama, have shown an interest in improving teachers' preparation to use technology in the classroom. As part of his ConnectEd initiative to overhaul the federal E-rate program and improve schools' technology access, Mr. Obama has called for the U.S. Department of Education to help teachers become more adept at using classroom technology.

Clemson officials have designed a program that they believe will give future teachers the grounding they need.

The university began requiring undergraduate aspiring educators to take the three-credit Foundations of Digital Media and Learning course, focused on building their understanding of technology and its classroom applications.

Students in the program are also taught to think critically about how, not just which, technology can best illustrate a particular lesson.

They design and develop rapid prototypes of digital stories, spending two or three hours creating simple storyboards that present academic content. They then have colleagues in the program review the work for educational value, impact on future learners, and developmental appropriateness.

They learn how social media can be used to gather resources and ideas about teaching strategies. Additionally, a newly created digital media and learning lab offers four breakout rooms to help them experiment with various approaches to learning, a setup that includes an audio room with music-mixing software and podcasting equipment.

Clemson has also launched a series of interdisciplinary efforts that allow education students to partner with undergraduates in other departments, such as those working in digital production.

Other universities are taking different approaches to help teachers use technology more effectively.

The University of Texas at Austin's UTeach science program, which oversees more than 6,000 preservice mathematics and science teachers at 40 universities nationwide, recently received a grant from telecommunications giant Verizon to integrate mobile technologies into inquiry-based lessons.

"Good educational use of technology has to help students make the transition from being consumers of knowledge to contributors and, eventually, producers," said Michael Marder, the executive director of the UTeach science program.

"Now that mobile technology is ubiquitous, it's natural to ask how it's going to be employed in instruction," he said.

Creating Courses

In January of last year, Teachers College, Columbia University, opened a prototype technology-demonstration classroom. The program allows students in the technology-specialist-certification program, who include preservice and working teachers, to gain more experience learning in a technology-rich environment.

The classroom has multiple display screens that let students plug in their own computers and experiment with different uses of technology; two of the display screens are touch screens, allowing a student to use Google Earth to explore topography issues, for instance.

"The more we help our students learn about the thoughtful use of technology as a tool to enhance the learning experience, the better," said Ellen Meier, the co-director of the Center for Technology and School Change at Teachers College. "We want them to develop a vision for what is possible, so they, in turn, are able to help schools design technology-rich, authentic projects that engage K-12 students."

The University of Central Missouri, in Warrensburg, Mo., has taken a different approach to building teachers' technology skills. Last year, it launched a 16-week class to help graduate students design their own eight-week, one-credit-hour online courses.

Specialist Degrees

Tailored for those earning their education specialist degree in educational technology, the class gives students the option, once the semester ends, to teach their course to peers as adjunct professors. The vast majority of the program's participants are teachers already working in schools.

"I really wanted to give them a real-world experience from start to finish," said Odin Jurkowski, a professor of educational technology and chairman of the university's department of career and technology education.

"It's beyond other things they've done in their coursework, like creating modules and lesson plans," he said. "This is a neat way not just to provide opportunities for students at the highest level to practice their skills, but to allow them to create something that could benefit other students as well."

Enrollment in the University of Central Missouri's education technology programs has more than quadrupled, from 46 to 199 students over the past six years, with the addition of a certificate in online teaching and learning in 2009 and the new specialist degree in educational technology in 2012.

More colleges and universities need to empower future teachers to help bridge the gap between what they learn on campus and what they practice in the classroom, said Tom Carroll, the president of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington.

Mr. Carroll backs blended learning for preservice teachers in courses and internships and says a stronger focus on technology would keep more teachers in the profession.

Challenging Traditions

According to the commission, 46 percent of teachers leave their jobs within the first five years, mostly because of inadequate preparation and a lack of classroom support.

Too much emphasis has been placed on critiquing schools of education, rather than focusing on how they can improve their curriculum, in technology and other areas, to help educators and benefit students, Mr. Carroll argued.

"It's time to move beyond this counterproductive fight and adopt truly innovative practices that are embedded throughout teacher-prep programs," he said.

Those charged with helping teachers weave technology into their instruction say doing so will take time, given that change doesn't necessarily come easily to colleges and universities steeped in tradition.

"This is all still fairly new for a lot of us in higher ed.," said Ms. Herro of Clemson. "The idea that we no longer hold all the expertise is hard to accept."

From Education Week
By Learning First Alliance

By Jane E. West, Ph.D., Senior Vice President for Policy, Programs and Professional Issues at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

As education policy continues to center on teacher quality and effectiveness, it is encouraging to see teacher preparation being emphasized. Teacher preparation's critical role in the education system has been an afterthought for far too long. Though, along with the spotlight, come both risks and rewards.

From EdCentral
By Melissa Tooley

Research has shown that many new teachers enter the profession underprepared to be successful in the classroom, despite having invested in formal preparation. As a result, many become frustrated and cut their careers short, while the students they taught fall behind.

Teacher performance assessments—standardized models for assessing pre-service teachers' readiness to teach—have been touted by some in the educator preparation field as the solution to this problem, with edTPA being the most widely heralded of these. Now the summary report of the 2013 field test of edTPA is available, along with recommendations on how states can use edTPA to set entry standards for the teaching profession. At the official edTPA roll-out event last Friday, representatives of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) indicated that the development and implementation of edTPA is a sign that, for the first time, the "profession is holding themselves accountable." But the recommendations the field has issued for using edTPA scores reveal a hesitancy to truly embrace strong accountability.

Stanford University's Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) led the edTPA development process, which was supported by AACTE. edTPA is designed to offer formative feedback to teacher candidates and their preparation programs throughout their training, and to provide a summative assessment of candidates' readiness to lead a classroom. SCALE's 2013 field test report claims that edTPA is also designed "to assure the public that preparation programs are accountable for candidate performance."

edTPA is customized for 27 different education disciplines, from early childhood to technology & engineering, but shares a common architecture focused on candidates' skills in planning, instruction, and assessment. Trained and certified educators with pedagogical and subject knowledge in each discipline score the summative assessments. For most disciplines, the summative score is based on 15 rubrics, each on a five-point scale (minimum score of 15, maximum score of 75). A level "3" on the scale is intended to represent "the knowledge and skills of a candidate who is ready to teach."

Data from the field test report show a wide range in teacher candidates' summative scores, with a median score of 43. As field test participation was voluntary and without consequences, these results may not be generalizable to a "fully operational" system. But they do highlight two initial findings:

  1. The summative assessment appears to be effective at differentiating prospective teachers' level of skill and/or effort, and
  2. If edTPA's rubrics and summative measure are valid and reliable measures of candidates' classroom readiness—as represented in SCALE's report—and a score of at least "3" on each rubric would yield a summative score of 45, then many teachers are indeed graduating from preparation programs insufficiently ready to teach.

SCALE's report recommends that states use the summative edTPA score to set a standard for performance that all prospective teachers must meet to enter the profession. (Six states—Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin—already plan to require edTPA for program completion, state licensure, and/or state program accreditation over the next several years). But the maximum recommended cut score—a 42—only requires that teachers meet expectations on 13 of 15 rubrics. At Friday's event, AACTE President and CEO Sharon Robinson explained that 42 was a reasonable maximum score because of the scoring error margins, but she also suggested that states may consider setting initial cut scores lower than 42 while programs ramp up.

Recommending a maximum score—but not a minimum—and then advocating for using a lower one seems like saying, "although we've determined that many of our candidates aren't ready to teach, we think we should keep sending them out to teach students anyway." That seems more like an attempt to shrink from accountability than to embrace it. And while implementation of any new initiative takes time to get right, a better solution would be to follow the lead of several states and encourage or require programs to administer the assessment for at least one year prior to stakes being attached to results.

At this point, the teacher preparation field appears to be trying to meet preparation programs and candidates where they currently are (perhaps because even with a cut score of 40, only two-thirds of field test candidates would have passed), instead of pushing programs and candidates to meet the level of quality that their own field has deemed necessary. So while the edTPA holds some promise for better aligning teacher preparation with the skills teachers need to be successful, states must also hold programs accountable in other ways, such as assessing whether programs' graduates are effective once in the classroom—an area the edTPA is unable to measure.

From Education Week
By Sean Cavanagh

In attempting to bring "MOOCs" to the world of teacher training, the Silicon Valley company Coursera and its partners at universities and other institutions are courting a new and potentially vast audience, one that is becoming increasingly accustomed to receiving professional training via the Web.

The decision marks the first time that Coursera—a major provider of "massively open online courses"—has moved into K-12 education. Until now, the company has provided free content in higher education, a landscape also served by providers such as edX and Udacity.

So far, seven universities have agreed to provide free online coursework through the venture, along with five other institutions that provide educational content. The courses will not be offered for credit, but rather as content that can meet teachers' requirements to obtain ongoing professional development through continuing education units, Andrew Ng, the co-founder of Coursera, told Education Week.

Twenty-eight free online courses are being provided initially through the program. The topics range from direct academic content on such topics as evolutionary biology and literacy to broader pedagogical lessons, such as how to structure discussions to promote learning and how to survive the first year of teaching.

While the primary audience for those courses is practicing teachers, including those in foreign countries, who are trying to improve their skills, Mr. Ng predicts the online courses will appeal to others, including parents curious about the instruction their children are receiving and online visitors who are considering a teaching career and who want to understand its demands.

"There's a huge need out there" for high-quality professional development, Mr. Ng said. And "for someone trying to see if [teaching] is their profession, this would give them an entrée into what the profession looks like."

Tapping Resources

Teachers and aspiring teachers are already tapping online resources for professional training, evidence suggests. Seventy-four percent of teacher colleges offered some kind of online for-credit courses as of the 2009-10 school year, a survey released this year by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found.

And the number of teachers using online professional-development resources, including social networks, webinars, and professional learning communities, has risen over the past few years, according to nationwide survey results published in April by Project Tomorrow, an Irvine, Calif.-based nonprofit. Forty-one percent of the teachers surveyed reported having taken at least one online class, up from 33 percent in 2008, according to the organization, which seeks to promote the innovative use of math and science resources in schools.

The higher education institutions partnering with Coursera are the University of California, Irvine; Johns Hopkins University's school of education; Match Education's Sposato Graduate School of Education, in Boston; the Relay Graduate School of Education, in New York City; Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education and Human Development; the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education; and the University of Washington's college of education.

Sustainable Model?

In addition, five museums and other institutions will provide course content: the American Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York City; the Commonwealth Education Trust, a British organization focused on improving education and teacher training; the Exploratorium, a museum in San Francisco; and the New Teacher Center, a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based group that focuses on improving teacher skills.

Coursera forged agreements with the universities and other institutions after researching institutions the company believed were taking innovative approaches to teacher training, Mr. Ng said.

"We heard a fairly consistent [list of] organizations," he said. Other universities and institutions could join the venture, he said.

One of the biggest questions surrounding MOOCs is whether they can continue to operate with their existing business model, in which content and services are for the most part given away for free.

Founded in 2011, Coursera has received substantial funding from investors—the company announced last year having received $16 million in venture capital, for instance—and it now offers 280 courses and boasts 3 million registered users. The company says it has begun exploring sources of revenue, including fees and career services for students.

Mr. Ng said the new arrangement for teacher professional development will follow the same free model his company has used so far. The only cost to users will conceivably be a fee they are charged if they want a certificate stating they have completed a course. That revenue would be shared among Coursera and the institutions, he said. That arrangement would presumably require permission of the institutions. As of last week, one partner institution told Education Week it had no plans to accept revenues from fees.

The new Coursera arrangement leaves unanswered many of the pre-existing questions about the financial viability of MOOCs, said Joe Doiron, a senior analyst at Eduventures, a Boston-based research and data company.

"Free is not sustainable," Mr. Doiron said. "Universities are spending money to create these courses."

Even so, Coursera's arrangement with higher education institutions brings potentially significant benefits to the participating schools of education, he said. The market for professional development is balkanized, with states and districts placing very different demands on teachers, and universities with extensive experience in teacher training often struggle to break into those markets, Mr. Doiron said. The Coursera partnership offers the potential to reach large numbers of individual teachers at once, Mr. Doiron said.

But Coursera's professional-development strategy, while offering flexibility to teachers and other online users, is somewhat "scattershot," he said, and might not be as effective as teacher-training programs that build skills in a more systematic way. At the same time, Mr. Doiron credited the company for having "engaged schools of education, rather than bypassing them," in providing content.

Leveling the Playing Field?

Robert Pianta, the dean of the Curry school at the University of Virginia, said his institution does not expect to receive any revenue from the Coursera arrangement through fees or other means. The school is offering an online course through Coursera to help educators understand how effective teacher-child interactions boost early-childhood development.

"This is an opportunity for us to innovate," Mr. Pianta said. "It's a good idea for us to be experimenting in this way. ...We think it's going to help us go out there to a much broader audience."

Sharon Robinson, the president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said the Coursera venture reflected the increasing demand for timely, flexible course offerings. She said she did not regard it as a threat to the institutions AACTE represents.

"This would help us bring some really important content to a wider group of users than would be possible otherwise," Ms. Robinson said. "It levels the playing field."

Schools of education should not be "turning away from an obvious path because it challenges their business model," she added.

The content of the Coursera courses, and how well the online program works overall, will be closely scrutinized by educators and policymakers, she predicted.

And the online forum is relatively transparent, she said. If teachers believe the courses are beneficial, the venture will grow; if they see little value, it will not, she said.

"This is not going to operate in a black box," Ms. Robinson said.

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