Tennessee Improves Teacher Preparation Programs Through Report Cards

A teacher writing on a blackboard while two teaching students listen.

A class at Lipscomb University on teaching geometry. Photo credit: Kristi Jones, Lipscomb University

Last year, the teacher preparation program at Nashville’s Lipscomb University was named one of the nation’s best by the National Council on Teacher Quality. In November, the State’s 2013 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs also lauded Lipscomb, saying the overall performance of those that completed the program made the school one of the most effective in Tennessee as measured by the Tennessee Value Added-Assessment System (TVAAS).

Lipscomb’s overall effectiveness had previously been recognized on Tennessee’s 2012 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs. But that year’s numbers also revealed a weakness: recent graduates of the private institution were, on average, less effective than those of other programs in teaching social studies to grades four through eight.

These insights into the relative performance of Lipscomb’s graduates were made possible by the State’s revamped teacher preparation programs report card, a key element of Tennessee’s many Race to the Top-inspired reforms.

Senior Vice President and College of Education Dean Candice McQueen said the relative weakness of the school’s social studies teachers confirmed what she had been hearing anecdotally and seeing in surveys of graduates during those years. Many felt they did not have full command of good teaching strategies and did not know how to plan strong lessons. Armed with the data, she was able to work alongside the university’s provost to alter their advising and social studies methods course and bring in two grade K–12 experts.

This year’s report showed that Lipscomb’s graduates were, on average, more effective social studies teachers than veterans statewide, as well as other beginners. “The report card was helpful in pushing the conversation,” McQueen said.

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Delaware’s Teacher Preparation is Setting a Higher Bar

A teacher helps a student read.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

When Frederika Jenner began teaching elementary school mathematics 42 years ago, she realized that she wasn’t fully prepared. “I didn’t have opportunities to learn innovative ways to teach mathematics,” she said. “There were some important skills and strategies that were missing.”

Jenner is now president of the Delaware State Education Association and her experience at the beginning of her career is just one reason she strongly supported legislation signed in June 2013 by Delaware Governor Jack Markell to increase the rigor of the process of recruiting and preparing teachers and principals. “Strengthening teacher preparation is very, very important,” she said. “Educators need more meaningful, real world training.”

She is acutely aware of the challenges her members face and the need for better preparation to deal with them. “We have a greater diversity of students than I had when I first started teaching, and a higher concentration of high need students,” Jenner said. She explained that new teachers “need training in integrating technologies in the classroom, and how to judge student work.” Working with parents, classroom management and transition times are other areas where she believes educators need preparation.

Headshot of Frederika Jenner.

Frederika Jenner, president of the Delaware State Education Association. Photo credit: Frederika Jenner

Senate Bill 51, the legislation signed by Governor Markell, addresses a number of weaknesses in Delaware’s policies identified by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a non-profit education policy organization, as well as a report on teacher prep issued by the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in 2012 on transforming education preparation. The legislation, which goes into effect in the summer of 2014, raises the bar for teacher preparation programs by:

  • Requiring candidates to have either a 3.0 grade point average, be in the top half of their most recent graduating class, or pass a test of their academic skills.
  • After they complete their classes, teacher candidates will have to pass a test of their knowledge of the subjects they plan to teach, demonstrate their teaching skills and complete a 10 week classroom residency (at minimum) supervised by a mentor.
  • The Delaware Department of Education and the teacher preparation programs themselves will monitor the performance of their graduates in the classroom and data on the programs will be reported to the public.

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Race to the Top Boosts STEM in Maryland Early Grades

Three teachers scoop material from a bucket to put into a small cup.

Teachers Jennifer Mazza (bottom left), Breanne Edmonds, and Rebecca Russell explore macro invertebrates from a stream ecosystem. Photo credit: Juliann Dupuis

On a recent Tuesday evening, about a dozen elementary school teachers huddled together in a classroom at a Towson University satellite campus in Aberdeen, Maryland, north of Baltimore, debating the best ways to conserve water and how long a faucet leaking a drop at a time would take to fill a bathtub. Mathematics Professor Honi Bamberger then led the group through a series of related mathematics and science problems they could use with their students.

Bamberger also asked the teachers to reflect on an experiment from the previous week in which they poured water at different rates on piles of sand and dirt to see what would happen. While the lesson created a mess, it touched on measurement, the use of ratios and percentages, and involved scientific inquiry –all components of good STEM instruction.

Teachers Matthew Myer and Veronica Szabo identify submerged aquatic vegetation and macro invertebrates they found on a canoe trip with a Notre Dame of Maryland program to improve STEM instruction. Photo credit: Juliann Dupuis

Teachers Matthew Myer and Veronica Szabo identify what they found during a STEM instruction canoe trip. Photo credit: Juliann Dupuis

“It was a math-based lesson, but there was engineering involved in it, technology, and, of course, the science piece,” said Lori Pitcock, a fourth-grade teacher in Bel Air, Maryland, who has used the lessons she’s learned from the Towson program in her classroom.

These teachers are among more than 200 current and aspiring teachers learning to integrate lessons in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) into their elementary school classrooms. This effort is part of the State’s comprehensive strategy to make Maryland a leader in STEM education. The strategy was developed as part of the State’s successful application for a Federal grant under the Race to the Top program, which was designed to increase college and career readiness by improving instruction.

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Ohio’s New School Models Spur Innovation

Five students crowd around two laptops to prepare a presentation.

Students prepare to make presentations about endangered species. Photo credit: Chris Rost

Aunay, a junior at Winton Woods High School outside of Cincinnati, is figuring out what she can do to combat the problem of child labor around the world for a school project.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Yasmine, who is a junior at Lincoln West High School, is arguing on behalf of Sierra Leone, the African country her group chose to represent in Model United Nations debates.

In a suburb outside of Cleveland, students at Brooklyn Middle School are learning skills for college success in study groups and juniors at Brooklyn High School are taking honors classes and visiting prospective colleges.

Students at Winton Woods High School outside Cincinnati work together on a math project. Photo credit: Chris Rost

Students at Winton Woods High School outside Cincinnati work on a mathematics project. Photo credit: Chris Rost

The schools that these students attend all have won State grants over the past two years, enabling them to remake themselves by adopting one of five innovative school redesign models endorsed by the State.  These transformations were set in motion by the State’s Race to the Top program. One of Race to the Top’s primary goals is to increase college- and career-readiness, and all of these models have track records in that regard.

This graphic displays the unique elements and national results of five models implemented in Ohio to increase achievement and graduation rates: AVID, Asia Society, New Tech Network, Ohio STEM Learning Network, and Early College High School Initiative. The unique elements of AVID are: rigorous course-taking (at least one AP or other advance course each year); required college-level AVID course to boost reading, writing and inquiry skills; and academic and social support (tutoring by college student role models). The national results of AVID are: Latino and African American graduates enroll in postsecondary education at higher rates than national average, Latino students take AP exams at five times the national rate for all students, and 89 percent of AVID students who go on to post-secondary education are still enrolled two years later. The unique elements of Asia Society are: international content integrated with all subjects, technology to support instruction and connect students to schools around the world, and international travel and exchanges. The national results of Asia Society are: schools in Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network outperform their peers in all core subject areas and across all grade levels in 85 percent of all cases, according to a study by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. The unique elements of New Tech Network are: project-based learning (students collaborate on projects requiring critical thinking, creativity and communication); authentic assessment (students are assessed on ability to solve real-world problems using content knowledge); and technology to foster collaborative learning. The national results of New Tech Network are: high school graduation rate of 6 percent above the national average, college enrollment rate of 9 percent above the national average, college persistence in 4-year colleges 17 percent above the national average, and college persistence in 2-year colleges 46 percent above the national average. The unique elements of Ohio STEM Learning Network are: subjects integrated to emphasize connections across disciplines; investigation and problem solving tasks emphasize analysis and creativity; and classroom learning connected to real world through internships, mentoring, and other opportunities. The national results of Ohio STEM Learning Network are: graduates of selective schools (defined as those that enroll small numbers of highly motivated students with demonstrated talent and interest in STEM areas) are nearly 50 percent more likely to major in STEM, and graduates of selective schools are 20 percent more likely to earn a STEM-related postsecondary degree. The unique elements of Early College High School Initiative are: students can earn both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree; small learning environments that demand rigorous, college preparatory work; and extensive academic and social support provided. The national results of the Early College High School Initiative are: 77 percent of graduates pursue some form of postsecondary education, more than half earn two or more years of college credit, and graduation rate of 80 percent of schools is equal to or greater than the rate for the district as a whole.

Click for descriptions of the models. Image credit: U.S. Department of Education

That’s evident at the Academy of Global Studies, which is now part of the International Studies School Network operated by the Asia Society, a New York-based nonprofit organization. “When you go in and see the kids, they’re looking at things from different angles, they’re using technology, they know how to manage their time,” said Kevin Jones, a counselor at the school. “They’re engaged in real-world tasks; they’re pushed to think critically. We ask kids: ‘What is the global impact?’ We want them to think more deeply about these issues and become self-directed learners.”

The redesigned schools are having a broader impact on he State because they’re demonstrating what’s possible for students, said Pamela VanHorn, director of the Ohio Network for Innovation and Improvement. “Race to the Top allowed us to have many working models across the State that will give other schools an impetus to redesign their schools.”

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Washington D.C. Charters, District Schools Collaborate Around College- and Career-Ready Standards

An elementary school educator leads a group of teachers in a discussion.

Ross Elementary School educator Kelly Worland Piantedosi leads a group of second-grade teachers in a discussion about literary analysis and poetry as part of the DC Common Core Collaborative. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

Two hundred teachers from diverse schools inspire and learn from one another to increase student engagement and achievement.

The rhythmic sound of poetry could be heard coming from the second-grade classroom at Ross Elementary School in Washington, D.C., one recent afternoon, though the students already had left for the day. Inside, teachers from several schools in the city were trying to find a poem that would captivate second graders, teach them about figurative language, and serve as the basis for a writing assignment.

The teachers are part of the DC Common Core Collaborative, which has about 200 participants from 22 District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools in the city. They get together regularly to discuss how to align their instruction with new college- and career-ready standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which were voluntarily adopted by the District of Columbia and 45 States to prepare students for college and careers. The teachers work in small teams of about six educators, all of whom teach the same grade, but at different schools in the city.

Kelly Worland Piantedosi teaches at Ross Elementary School and serves as the coach for the group of second-grade teachers that met in her classroom that afternoon. She said the teachers get inspired by hearing about strategies other educators use. “The exchange of ideas is great—nine times out of 10 you hear, ‘Oh we hadn’t thought about that yet,’” she said. “I know for myself, collaboration makes me a better teacher.”

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Educators Explain Colorado’s New Performance Evaluation System

A teacher stands in front of her elementary school students performing a lesson.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Throughout this school year, the Denver Post is reporting the experiences and views of four Colorado teachers as their districts fully roll out the new educator evaluation requirements for the first time.  Each district is taking a slightly different approach; some have adopted the state model and some have created their own systems. 

Denver Public Schools has opted to use their own evaluation system called LEAP (Leading Effective Academic Practice).  Zachary Rowe, a teacher in the district, told the paper that “the biggest challenge is shifting the culture we have in teaching around evaluation from one that is focused on what it used to be, which was finding bad teachers, to what LEAP is, which is finding good teachers and helping them improve…That’s a huge culture shift.”

Terace Viney, a middle school teacher in Greeley, said the evaluation system was “overwhelming” at first but now she’s accustomed to it. “I want to be [rated] advanced, that’s my goal,” she said. “That’s how I’ve been all my life. I know I’m proficient. The hard part, to be advanced, you have to get all your students on board.” Another teacher noted that a strong, trusting relationship between principals and teachers will also be critical.

The five parts of the Post series can be found herehere, herehere and here

Teachers Leading Transformative Changes in Ohio School Districts

Three teachers discuss strategies.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Teachers are taking the lead in increasing college and career readiness and improving instruction in several school districts in Southeastern Ohio, according to the Ohio Race to the Top newsletter. High school teachers in the Franklin Local School District near Zanesville developed a Peer Assisted Review process that gives teachers time to plan together and support one another in the classroom. This and other teacher-led initiatives in the district created a “culture of collaboration” and “just-in-time” support for teachers striving to prepare their students for college and career success. Teams of teachers in nearby Coshocton City Schools are working together to assess students and analyze data to improve instruction.

Read more about these teacher-led initiatives here.

Massachusetts Districts Adopt Rigorous MassCore Course Requirements for High School Graduates

A teacher helps two students in a school science lab.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Twenty years ago, Massachusetts was one of the first States to raise expectations for what all students should know and be able to do by implementing higher standards and greater accountability for schools and districts.  Today, the State’s students consistently perform at the top on national assessments. Even with that enviable track record, Massachusetts continues to see gaps in achievement and college- and career-readiness based on students’ race, ethnicity, native language, and family poverty level.

So, in 2007, after the State Department of Education reported that too many students were leaving high school unprepared for the rigors of college and the workplace, Massachusetts established what it called the “MassCore” course of study: more instruction in mathematics, English, science, social studies and a foreign language. Massachusetts recommended that all high school students meet the MassCore course of study, and left it up to individual school districts to determine whether to require it.

A student does a math worksheet with a graphing calculator nearby.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

The Melrose Public School district just north of Boston was among the first to make the MassCore course of study a requirement.  “We’re asking more of students,” said Margaret Adams, the district’s chief academic officer. “If we help and support them and give them the tools to be successful, they rise to the occasion every time.”

In 2009, the Federal Race to the Top program invited States to submit aggressive, comprehensive plans for improving curriculum and instruction, enhancing educator effectiveness, and ensuring that more students are well prepared for success in college and careers. In their response to the invitation, Massachusetts State officials highlighted the potential of MassCore to increase student success in higher education and the 21st century global economy. That led to efforts to provide districts with incentives and support to encourage more of them to make the MassCore course of study a requirement.

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Delaware and Hawaii Putting Student Data and Teacher Collaboration at the Heart of Instructional Improvement

Three teachers looks at and discussing student data at North Dover Elementary School in Delaware in order to improve instruction.

Teachers discuss student data at North Dover Elementary School. Photo credit: Lindsay Osika

When North Dover Elementary School in Dover, Delaware was awarded $50,000 as one of the State’s 17 “recognition” schools for its gains in student achievement in 2013, Principal Suzette Marine gave some of the credit to what she called the school’s “Go Green” culture. “Students know that any time their data is green it’s great because students have reached their benchmarks on proficiency levels and are on track for success,” Marine wrote on the school’s website.

“Go Green” refers to the way positive data is displayed on the computer dashboard the school uses to keep track of student progress. Teachers meet with their students several times each year “to look at data and talk about ‘this is where you perform’ and ‘where would you like to be next time’ and ‘what do you need to get to the next level,’” she said. Teachers also meet for 90 minutes once a week to analyze their own performance. “It’s phenomenal the way they lean on each other and they share,” Marine said of her teachers. “When they look at data, they can say, ‘this is my concern, this is what I’m seeing in the classroom’ and then talk together about how to address it.”

Five teachers at North Dover Elementary School discussing student data in order to improve instruction during a Professional Learning Community.

A Professional Learning Community at North Dover Elementary School. Photo credit: Lindsay Osika

That was what State, district and union leaders hoped would happen after winning a Federal Race to the Top grant in 2010. Teachers in many schools already were meeting to discuss their students’ work. The grant deepened the discussions by making it possible to hire coaches. Coaches help teachers in each of the State’s 237 schools become more adept at using student data to focus their instruction on the concepts and skills that their children needed the most help mastering.

As a result of the weekly meetings, which are called “professional learning communities (PLCs),” Marine is seeing much more differentiation of instruction in both reading and mathematics when she observes classrooms. “Teachers are going above and beyond to meet the needs of every student,” she said.

North Dover is one of two schools in the Capital School District that have been recognized by the State for the progress they are making. Pam Herrera, who oversees the professional learning communities for the district, said the entire district is focused on using data and improving instruction as a way of implementing the Common Core State Standards adopted by the State. Those standards, adopted by 45 States and the District of Columbia, emphasize the critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills needed for success in college and careers.

“Our focus is on our students and we communicate that throughout the district in terms of our expectations and cultures and the professional learning communities fit right into that,” Herrera said. “We’re looking at the student data and getting right at the heart of what’s happening with all of our students.”

Christopher Ruszkowski, who heads the Delaware Department of Education’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Unit, said he hears comments like that all over the state. “Every teacher, every principal, every superintendent cites the professional learning communities as a core reason they have seen gains over the past three years.”

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Bringing STEM to Rural Scholars in Florida

Florida student Phidell and fellow rural Florida high school students work on a STEM project.

Phidell (far left) and fellow rural Florida high school students work on a STEM project.
Photo credit: FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

Phidell Lewis, a 17-year-old senior at a 450-student high school in a thinly populated area of the Florida Panhandle, had two big adventures this past summer.

He spent four days alongside some of the nation’s top scientists as part of a group analyzing nanomaterials, tiny particles with special characteristics. He also attended a forum of engineers representing various industries, where he learned that mechanical engineers have skills that can be useful in the field of animation, which Phidell has been considering as a career.

Florida students working on STEM activities in the Summer Challenge

Photo Credit: FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

Both opportunities came about because Phidell is one of hundreds of students from rural communities in Florida who are STEM Scholars—part of a new State initiative to expose students to opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through its Race to the Top grant.

STEM education is critical in preparing the State’s labor force to be competitive in the increasingly high-tech global economy. Many new and existing jobs require expertise in STEM fields, as well as post-secondary credentials. In Florida, estimates indicate that nearly 9 out of 10 new jobs that become available over the next decade will be in STEM fields according to a 2010 report issued by the Council of 100, a group of Florida business leaders who advise the governor, called Closing the Talent Gap.

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