October 2016, Vol. 2

New initiatives in teacher prep programs

By Zach DiSchiano

The value in spending time and resources training teachers is higher than ever, thanks to a variety of initiatives, programs, and legislation forming around the country. 

In Louisiana, teacher preparation is undergoing a major change after the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted last week to approve a new way to train its educators.

The primary change from the vote is a rule that requires new teachers to spend a full academic year in a classroom with another experienced teacher to mentor and guide them. Districts and colleges will now share responsibility for preparing teachers for the challenge of managing a classroom and engaging students.

A recent National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) study found that most teachers aren’t prepared for the classroom and Louisiana’s new legislation provides a way to ease educators into their new professions.

Like Louisiana, Texas is a state that struggles with funding for education. In theory, a statewide change in teacher preparation requirements similar to Louisiana’s would end up as a mandate without funding in Texas—which is already something districts see all too regularly.

However, there are programs in Texas that offer solutions to assist new teachers in a variety of ways. One example is a grant for districts establishing or enhancing a beginner teacher induction and mentoring program designed to increase retention of beginning teachers, called the Beginning Teacher Induction and Mentoring (BTIM) program (Texas Education Code §21.458).

To be eligible for the grant, a teacher mentor must:
  • teach in the same school,
  • teach the same subject or grade level, as applicable, and
  • meet qualifications as determined by the Commissioner.
Mentor teachers are required to:
  • have at least three complete years of teaching experience and a superior history of improving student performance,
  • have completed a research-based mentor and induction training program approved by the commissioner, and
  • have completed a mentor training program provided by the district
Back in 2013, the 83rd Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1752 to address the state’s need to elevate the significance and professional nature of teaching. Public higher education institutions chosen for an award with the Texas Teacher Residency Program (TTRP) were required to form a partnership with area school districts to offer employment to program members.

The TTRP was designed to allow teaching residents participating in the program to earn a master's degree and to get their teacher certification. Awarded institutions also are required to provide a monetary or in-kind contribution or match to validate that the program may be continued in the absence of grant funds or state appropriations.

Other institutions are stepping in and providing extra support for new teachers, like the Dallas Teacher Residency (DTR). DTR was initially created separately from HB1752 as a standalone non-profit, but since launching in 2013, it partnered with Texas A&M University-Commerce to work collaboratively to identify funding for the program goals. The TTRP has directly assisted in supporting these efforts.

DTR and TAMU-Commerce partnered in establishing a 14-month program where graduating teachers receive:
  • a master’s degree from TAMU-Commerce,
  • a Texas Teaching License,
  • a yearlong apprenticeship under guidance of a mentor teacher in a partnering school district,
  • access to early job contracts and preferential interviews with principals in partnering school districts, and
  • continuing new teacher support from DTR through individual coaching and professional learning communities.
These programs are huge steps in improving teacher readiness and quality. Even the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) is getting involved in this cause. Last week, the DOE issued regulations on Teacher Preparation Issues to set accountability requirements for teacher preparation programs. The final regulations incorporate stakeholder and public feedback obtained throughout four years of negotiated rulemaking, public hearings, and public comment processes. The Department received nearly 5,000 comments on the draft rules proposed in 2014.

The new regulations focus on providing transparency around the effectiveness of all preparation programs (traditional, alternative routes, and distance) by requiring states to report annually—at the program level—on the following measures:
  • placement and retention rates of graduates in their first three years of teaching, including placement and retention in high-need schools;
  • feedback from graduates and their employers on the effectiveness of program preparation;
  • student learning outcomes measured by novice teachers’ student growth, teacher evaluation results, and/or another state-determined measure that is relevant to students’ outcomes, including academic performance, and meaningfully differentiates amongst teachers; and
  • other program characteristics, including assurances that the program has specialized accreditation or graduates candidates with content and pedagogical knowledge, and quality clinical preparation, who have met rigorous exit requirements.
Whether or not districts have a classroom residency requirement in place, the value of mentorship for new teachers cannot be overstated. The teacher dropout rate is about 13 percent each year in Texas. Providing new teachers with the guidance, resources, and time to succeed is integral in lowering teacher attrition and increasing their overall quality.