DOE Jumpstarting Teacher Training

The Delaware Department of Education recently published a Request for Proposal (RFP) to catalyze educator training program improvements within Delaware institutes of higher education.

The RFP, which was released in early April and due at the end of May, is open to all educator training programs and builds off of Senate Bill 51, which recently passed both chambers and is awaiting the signature of Governor Markell. In order to be competitive for the RFP, training programs must demonstrate how they will better recruit and select candidates, provide rigorous coursework and clinical practice, and establish exit criteria that demonstrate readiness to assume responsibility for a classroom of students. If selected, programs can implement the “pilot” program in school years 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 as new criteria begin to take effect.

It is extremely heartening to see Delaware take the lead nationally and begin the difficult work of designing world-class teacher preparation for our educators – which will no doubt reap tremendous benefits for our students.

Moore’s Law Coming to a Classroom Near You

Moore’s Law is pretty straightforward – technology capacity doubles almost every two years. Looking back, it’s clear that the theory has been uncannily accurate, with all of us scrambling just to keep up with the pace of technology’s development and applicability to our daily lives.

As covered previously, it seemed like technology has yet to have that sort of compounding impact on education. However, based on events of the past couple weeks, maybe Moore’s Law is coming to a classroom, school, or even home near you much sooner than we realize.

For starters, Coursera, one of a few Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) providers, announced it will offer free professional development courses to all interested educators. Initial topics range from strategies to help you be successful as a novice teacher, utilizing formative assessments to ensure math instruction aligns to the Common Core, to incorporating positive psychology to increase student engagement and achievement. Looking at the list of topics and providers, two things become glaringly apparent. First, educators, regardless of zip code, are going to be able to learn from the best, whether it’s unpacking student motivation from KIPP’s Dave Levin or digging deep into various science topics from the American Museum of Natural History. And second, as Delaware educators begin to voluntarily enroll in MOOCs and see (or don’t see) value – are we going to start seeing credit given for completion? And while these are free initially, will districts and/or schools be willing to pay for their teachers’ enrollment in the future?

In addition to development, an initiative to extend the reach of great teachers to more students is starting to take root – with astonishing interest from educators. Project L.I.F.T (Leadership and Investment for Transformation), a public/private initiative that works with Opportunity Culture in Charlotte, had 708 applications for 28 positions for its initial cohort of teacher leaders! Those numbers alone demonstrate that teachers are hungry for opportunities to grow professionally. In addition to Charlotte, Metro Nashville Public Schools and Clark County School District (Las Vegas) are working with Opportunity Culture to expand similar initiatives to their districts. Many of the benefits educators experience working in these types of environments can be found in Digital Learning Now!’s recently released report Improving Conditions and Careers: How Blended Learning Can Improve the Teaching Profession.

And last, the National Education Association is encouraging teachers to lend their voice in highlighting the positive and negatives associated with various assessments used within our schools through Teach Plus’ Assessment Advisor. The partnership between the NEA and Teach Plus is unique and represents an extraordinary opportunity for teachers to share their expertise directly with both each other and external folks. This collaboration is one of the first (among hopefully many) times groups that are seemingly at odds partner to empower educators to solve our most pressing issues. Whether it’s rating assessments in partnership with Teach Plus or working with the National Center of Time and Learning to provide extended learning opportunities for kids, it’s clear that there are areas in which agreement is within reach and collaboration can help provide better educational experiences for all our students. 

Hopefully, these aren’t just one-offs and point to something much bigger – a world in which teachers, students, and others embrace the power of technology to drive improvement within our schools. I know Moore would be excited to see his theory start to take root within our schools, clearly expanding the benefits we’ve all experienced outside of classrooms to our students and teachers.

Let’s Not Leave Teachers’ Effectiveness to Chance

As a new teacher, we all understand – the first year inside a classroom is hard. Really hard. It’s a time when we go from imagining what our classroom might look like to the reality of getting it done day in and day out. However, when we look at our schools today, it’s clear that very few people, if any, give it the attention it deserves – leaving teachers’ development and effectiveness to chance. 

Recognizing this reality, TNTP sought to find out what new teacher performance looked like and what it takes to improve novice educator’s craft inside classrooms. The findings can be found in their recently released report, Leap Year. The report summarizes the results of their Assessment of Classroom Effectiveness (ACE), which utilizes multiple data points, including classroom observations, student surveys, student growth data, and principal ratings in order to determine the overall effectiveness of the over 1,000 novice teachers in 15 TNTP programs throughout the country.

For starters, not all teachers start off the same. Some walk in and perform well from the start. Some need a lot of support in order to improve. However, where a teacher starts is a pretty good predictor of what their growth trajectory will look like throughout the year. And, more importantly, the multiple measures ACE utilizes tend to point towards the same conclusion about a teacher’s impact inside the classroom. In addition to where they start and finish, certain characteristics are predictive of how they’ll grow in between. First year teachers that can predict students’ needs, design and facilitate structured lessons, and utilize deep content expertise are more likely to grow and be successful than their peers.  

What’s really interesting, though, is how TNTP restructured their new teacher support this year to ensure they got the “launch” skills necessary for classroom success. These include maintaining high academic and behavioral expectations, delivering academic content clearly, and maximizing instructional time. Based on current results, teachers who master those subsequently master all other ACE components – demonstrating the importance of the fundamentals of teaching.

Looking at the results, I’m extremely heartened by two recent developments here in Delaware. First, with the unveiling of legislation aimed at improving teacher preparation, Delaware is fixating our eyes right on many of the issues outlined in this report. Through high-quality student teaching experiences, rigorous content exams to ensure content knowledge, and expansion of programs with track records of success, we are poised to raise the bar on the quality of our teaching workforce – which will pay immeasurable dividends for our students. And second, with the release of the report Delaware Educator Diagnostic, An Analysis of the First State’s Teaching Force, we are starting to get a better understanding of teachers working in our schools and areas we need to address as a state.

Looking ahead, I’m all smiles as I start to see significant interest in and movement towards ensuring the training is right and supports in place to ensure all novice educators have a launching pad capable of propelling them to success in their first year and beyond.

Legislation Brings Clarity, Transparency to Families Seeking School Choice Options

House Bill 90 was introduced yesterday by Representative Williams and Senator Poore, building on Governor Markell’s vision outlined in his State of the State of providing transparency and consistency to Delaware’s school choice process for all families, which includes inter and intra-district choice, charter schools, and vocational technical schools.

The school choice program was originally established with the stated goal to “increase access to educational opportunity for all children throughout the State regardless of where they may live.” However, the school choice program has not received substantive attention since 1998, and current school choice practices vary widely across the state.

The bill creates a simple, consistent, and equitable process that all parties, including school districts, vocational technical schools, charter schools, and families, must go through each school year as part of the school choice process. If enacted, the process would look like this:

  1. No later than October 31st – all school districts and charter schools would hold a public information session about enrollment opportunities for interested families
  2. November 30th – each school district (for each individual school) and charter would report capacity and projected enrollment information to the Department of Education
  3. Second Wednesday in January – parents interested in enrolling their child into the school choice program would fill out a standard form on the Department’s website indicating their enrollment preferences
  4. Ten Days After Application Submissions – the Department would send applications to each district and charter for approval or disapproval
  5. February 28th – each district and charter must approve or disapprove an application for admission into programs in grades 1-12 (June 15th for kindergarten) based upon the preferences listed below

With regards to approval/disapproval of applications, priority MUST be given to students for the following reasons:

  1. The student attended the school previously;
  2. Students live within the school’s feeder pattern; and
  3. Students have siblings that already attend the school

In addition, priority MAY be given to:

  1. Siblings of students who live in the districts over siblings of students that live outside; and
  2. Students that have designated the program as either their first, second, or third choice;
  3. Children of school employees

Once all applications are submitted and students placed based upon preferences, every student thereafter will enter a lottery and chosen at random until the school reaches at least 85 percent of its capacity. Those not selected will be placed on a ranked waiting list maintained by the district or charter school until June 30th.

This bill is an extremely positive step for many parents and students. No more camping out overnight in the Brandywine School District and no more confusion on deadlines and application requirements for parents. In addition, the bill will eliminate discrimination against choice students by requiring the same information from all choice students as zoned students, removing a provision that allows districts and charters to reject students with special needs, and requiring a lottery for entrance.

In addition to the benefits for parents, taxpayers will have transparency on building capacity due to standardized reporting requirements, which will ensure public dollars are being spent as wisely and efficiently as possible – which hasn’t been done in the past. In addition, a Task Force will be created to explore enrollment preferences at magnet, vocational technical, and charter schools, and develop recommendations as necessary.

Overall, the bill is a giant step forward and we applaud Governor Markell’s leadership in bringing this to the forefront and Representative Williams and Senator Poore for putting it on the table for discussion. Delaware families have a lot to gain from a transparent and effective school choice system – one which will truly live up to the original purpose of providing families access to high-quality educational options, regardless of their zip code.