The model of 21st century learning described in this plan depends on effective teaching to provide all learners with equitable access to inspiring and engaging learning experiences. Research shows that consistent access to effective teaching dramatically increases learning, closes achievement gaps, and increases chances for success later in life (Sanders & Rivers, 1996; Wright, Horn, & Sanders, 1997).
Unfortunately, we do not have enough effective educators in many places, including those where we need them most. The shortage of effective educators is especially evident in the STEM areas that are vital to our economic prosperity. A prime example is high school physics: More than 1 million high school students take a physics course each year. Of the educators hired to instruct them, only a third hold a degree in physics or physics education. Many of the other educators who are asked to teach physics (usually in addition to other subjects) have not been trained in how to teach physics concepts and might have limited understanding of those concepts themselves (Hodapp, Hehn, & Hein, 2009).
Moreover, the least effective educators are most likely to be teaching in schools serving students from homes that are economically and educationally disadvantaged. Limited access to excellent teaching is a source of inequity in our education system (Darling-Hammond, 2010). A recent study found that students in urban and suburban high schools can choose from between three and four times as many advanced mathematics courses (which typically earn "extra credit" in the college admission process) than students in rural schools (Graham, 2009).
Technology can make it possible to extend the reach of specialized and exceptional educators through online learning activities made available to students in every zip code. When a school is unable to attract educators qualified to teach courses that its students need or want, students should be given the option of taking the course online. Many schools have found that K-12 students taking online courses benefit from having an educator who keeps track of their progress and provides encouragement, but that staff member does not need the depth of content expertise of a person solely responsible for teaching a class.
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