This week, the President recognized some of the best and brightest science and engineering students from across the country during the 2015 White House Science Fair. At the Department of Education (the Department), we share the President’s commitment to supporting science education that is student-centered and grounded in real-world settings. We have made great strides in improving and broadening science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for all students by including STEM priorities in dozens of competitive grant programs in recent years. Most recently, the Department announced that the 2015 Ready-to-Learn Television grant competition will, for the first time, include a priority to support the development of television and digital media focused on science.
For the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30, 2015, the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) will conduct 11 grant competitions in six program areas: Arts in Education, Charter Schools, Investing in Innovation, Opportunity Scholarship, Ready to Learn Television, and Supporting Effective Educator Development. Announcements of these competitions began this month and will continue through this spring and summer.
The 31 graduate students in the Richmond Teacher Residency (RTR) are not your typical teacher candidates, and the Virginia Commonwealth University master of teaching degree program is not your typical graduate program for new teachers. Like other urban school districts, the Richmond Public Schools (RPS) faces unique challenges, not the least of which is providing its 25,000 students with outstanding teachers. For RTR, that means persons with “extensive content knowledge, along with the heart and vision to create a more equitable outcome for all students.”
Among the 31 aspiring teachers in this year’s RTR program, several are Peace Corps veterans, some have come to teaching from other professional careers following college, and others are fresh from their undergraduate degree programs, but often without undergraduate teaching experience. These “nontraditional” teacher candidates experience an intensive, year-long residency in Richmond City Schools’ classrooms, in a teacher-training model adapted from the field of medicine.
Creating a pipeline of extraordinary teachers
The RTR program is part of a national effort — the Urban Teacher Residency United Network — and a grantee of ED’s Teacher Quality Partnerships (TQP) grant program, which supports model teacher preparation programs through reforms by higher education institutions working in collaboration with high-need schools and districts. As it is with the RTR program, TQP places an emphasis on recruiting effective individuals, including minorities and persons from outside the teaching profession.
Arizona State University’s college of education has given new meaning to the old expression, “hit the ground running.” The iTeachAZ program, with support from a $24.7 million OII Teacher Quality Partnerships (TQP) grant, improves readiness of new teacher candidates by extending their student teaching experience into a year-long residency.
Essentially, the program creates a seamless transition from the student teaching experience to the K-8 classrooms where iTeachAZ candidates find themselves after graduation.
The program is getting high marks from both local superintendents and principals because of what they observe in the classrooms of iTeachAZ graduates in their “first year” as new teachers. “This is not a first-year teacher; this is an iTeach teacher,” is how local superintendent Catherine Stafford describes the level of preparation that the extended residency model provides. Principal Randall Watkins aggressively recruits iTeachAZ graduates for classroom openings because he knows “they will be ready to come in and provide high-quality instruction.”
The program is unique in Arizona and was recently added to the Innovations Inventory of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, an online database highlighting innovative practices that provide educator candidates a competitive edge in the field.
Eighteen middle and high school students from Los Angeles and Lawrence, Mass., learned about the power of serendipity at the ED headquarters on May 15. The students — from the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles and the Elevated Thought Foundation — were there to demonstrate their artistic achievements and speak to both the importance of arts education and the power of student voice in education reform. The lesson on serendipity was courtesy of ED’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows program.
Linda Yaron, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF) at the ED headquarters, worked with seniors from the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities to showcase their art and writing in response to the question: “What does it means to be a learner?” As plans for the exhibit were discussed with the Student Art Exhibit Program team this past winter, current Washington TAF Emily Davis shared her experience with students from Elevated Thought, an extra- and co-curricular program in Lawrence that uses the arts to examine societal issues that the 12- to 18-year-old participants encounter in their community.
Lupita Prado Machuca, once an English language learner, teaches students from the same community where she grew up and helps them to see the importance of an education that prepares them for college and the workforce.
Lupita is the product of efforts in Kern County, Calif., to change the face of teacher preparation. California State University Bakersfield (CSUB), with funding support from an OII Teacher Quality Partnerships grant, brings mentor teachers into classrooms of first-year teachers and provides teacher candidates with field experience from day one, increasing their confidence and abilities when taking on their own classrooms.
The five-year, $10.5 million grant, which began in 2009, supports a partnership among CSUB, California State University Monterey Bay, and California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, along with two K-12 partners — Kern County and Tulare County school districts — in the central region of California. Known as the Edvention Partners, their combined efforts address the diverse needs of schools, teachers, and students within a large geographical, primarily rural, area.
They didn’t go bearing apples, but tidings of appreciation nonetheless for the important work teachers do in preparing students for college and careers. As part of its contribution to Teacher Appreciation Week (May 5-9, 2014), the U.S. Department of Education took teacher appreciation to another level by “respecting through understanding” during its third annual ED Goes Back to School. On May 6th, 70 ED staff members — eight from OII — shadowed teachers throughout the country in order to better understand their work and the challenges teachers and their students encounter on the road to making America’s public education system the best it can be.
For ED headquarters staff, the day is an opportunity to see firsthand how principles of effective teaching and learning translate from the likes of grant applications to the classrooms of teachers in the D.C. metro area.
As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, I had the privilege of participating in ED Goes Back to School and shadowing kindergarten teacher Debbie D’Addario at McKinley Elementary School in Arlington, Va. My experience left me with a lasting impression of just how challenging it is to be an effective teacher and with a renewed appreciation for the people who step up to a teaching career.
In Ms. D’Addario’s classroom, when the morning bell rang, five-year olds who had been patiently lined up outside filed into the classroom one-by-one, systematically marked their attendance, turned in their homework, and sat in their assigned seats. I was immediately impressed by the routine Ms. D’Addario had established in her classroom. Next, everyone gathered on the carpet in the front of the room for a song about the class rules, which students sang and danced, reinforcing the expectations for the day in a fun and memorable way. We were then ready for our first activity!
What happens when you invite students to a project directors’ conference on school leadership? They infuse the atmosphere with energy and enthusiasm, push the envelope in thoughtful ways, inspire with their creativity, and remind the adults why our work is critical.
OII’s School Leadership Program office recently hosted a convening for 45 of its grantees currently implementing projects that prepare and develop principals to serve in high-need schools and districts. The conference provided an opportunity for districts, universities, partner organizations, Principal Ambassador Fellows, and federal policymakers to learn from each other and other experts in the field about how to improve and promote school leadership. Throughout the two-day conference, student performers graced the stage to intermittently bring our work back in focus while also challenging us all with provocative questions, such as “At what point does patience give way to urgency in our reforms?”
Every spring, the National Writing Project (NWP), an OII grantee, brings together a core group of teacher-leaders from across the country to study and share effective practices that enhance student writing and learning. This year’s Spring Meeting was held on March 28 in Washington, D.C. Matt Williams, educational technologist at KQED, the San Francisco Bay Area’s award-winning PBS affiliate, led off the day with an engaging discussion about the powerful role of digital tools in promoting and improving civic engagement among the country’s youth. Matt was joined by NWP teacher-leaders Janelle Bence, Chris Sloan, and Meenoo Rami, who are implementing the Do Now project in their classrooms as part of a collaborative effort between KQED and the NWP’s Educator Innovator network. There are currently 150 schools across the nation actively participating in this endeavor.