Teacher Preparation Programs Need to Step Up

Teacher Preparation

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, teacher preparation programs across the nation have been forced to scramble at breakneck speed to shift all their traditional face-to-face coursework to online learning platforms. That includes education methods courses, early field experiences, and even the culminating student teaching clinical experience. Problems are already starting to emerge. 

Teacher Preparation Varies from State to State

Each state’s department of education determines what is and isn’t acceptable practice during COVID-19. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) continues to work with state legislators to address clinical practice and other teacher licensure requirements during this challenging time; their website provides links to state departments of education that have revised their guidelines. In addition, AACTE maintains a repository of current research, best practice articles, and webinars for teacher preparation program staff. 

Some states have been more definitive than others when it comes to guidance for teacher preparation programs. For example, Missouri’s Governor Mike Parson waived the requirements of remaining culminating clinical experiences and internships for the spring 2020 semester. That means student teaching has been taken off the table. He also waived qualifying scores on exit exams, which includes the Performance Assessment (MEES or MPEA) and Content Assessment (MOCA) for candidates currently enrolled in a culminating student teaching or internship experience.

This means Missouri candidates in their last semester won’t have to complete student teaching and they won’t have to pass their culminating exit examinations required for state licensure. Upon graduation, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will simply issue teaching certificates to program completers based on the institution’s recommendation. 

California’s Commission on Teaching Credentialing (CTC), on the other hand, is holding the line on teacher licensing requirements in its state and provided specific guidance regarding clinical practice for pre-service teachers:

 

Teacher Preparation

 

A Real-Life Example: What Absolutely Must Be Avoided 

Someone recently sent me a video clip of an elementary education major who is now taking an education methods course online. Her professor assigned her to write a lesson plan and then teach it at home. She then had to record the lesson and submit the video for grading. Bless her heart—this young teacher candidate did her very best and I would award her an “A” for effort, but her “students” were her stuffed animals. She taught the lesson in her bedroom and was trying to teach those critters fractions. She broke them up into small groups and gave them a worksheet.

As she “circulated” around the room, she stopped beside each one and asked them questions or offered words of praise. Our teacher candidate then transitioned back to whole group work after her “students” had completed their worksheet. Shen then continued to demonstrate, question, redirect thinking, and conclude the lesson. Just before turning off the camera, I heard a quiet voice say to herself with a nervous laugh, “I’ve never felt so awkward.” 

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I sat in horror as I thought: What a poor way this is to train our future teachers. We know this is a crisis situation and colleges had to scramble quickly to move things online, but come on. Just imagine how ill-prepared this candidate may be for her student teaching. My heart breaks for her and for all those other young teacher candidates out there.

It’s Time to Step Up Your Game, Teacher Preparation Programs. 

While it’s still early, some institutions are already signaling that they may stay the course (pun intended) and put all their offerings online again in the fall 2020 semester. Teacher preparation program staff should be working diligently to make sure their candidates receive a quality educational experience in fall 2020 and beyond, despite COVID-19. That includes methods courses, field experiences, and even student teaching. Here’s how: 

Tap Into Your Partner Network 

Many P-12 schools are also teaching their students online right now and most educator preparation providers have formalized partnership agreements with at least one school district, and in some cases, multiple districts. This allows teacher candidates to complete their field experiences and student teaching in those schools. Why not allow teacher candidates to complete their field experiences or methods lessons online with “real” students? While it may not be ideal, this would be far better than “teaching” stuffed animals. 

Build New Partnerships

There are lots of K-12 online schools right now. Many are accredited and authorized to operate in multiple states. Teacher preparation program staff should consider partnering with some of those virtual elementary and secondary schools. If set up correctly, it could be a win-win. Teacher candidates could complete their field experiences with live students regardless of where they live. Practicing teachers could potentially become new graduate students enrolled in a master’s degree program. The teacher preparation program could offer virtual professional development webinars or online conferences. The possibilities are endless. 

It’s time to think outside the box because we don’t know what the future will hold. It just, however, can’t include teaching fractions to stuffed animals. 

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). 

Twitter: @RRossFisher

Email: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com 

     

Top Graphic Credit: dillydallyfarmingdale.com

Online Learning: The Future of Higher Education

online learning and higher education

Bloomberg reports that 2.4 million undergraduate college students took all their coursework online last fall–a mere 15% of the total number of students pursuing a baccalaureate degree at the time. Another 3.6 million took at least one online course in addition to taking classes on campus in a traditional face-to-face learning environment. That figure doubled in approximately two weeks. 

Online Learning: 300 and Counting

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, college and university presidents across the United States have been scrambling to provide alternatives to traditional coursework. Currently, almost 300 higher education institutions have either shut their doors entirely or have transitioned to a distance learning format. That’s impacting nearly 4 million students. What’s more, the number could certainly go higher.

While many have resisted distance education for the past two decades, university administrators are transitioning to online learning at lightning speed for two reasons (1) so students can continue to meet degree requirements and (2) so they won’t have to refund tuition and fees, thereby placing their institutions in dire straits financially. 

Higher Education Teetering on the Edge

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, many higher education institutions were already struggling financially. Small, liberal arts colleges have been particularly hard hit due to a combination of factors such as (1) an increased emphasis on workforce development in STEM areas, (2) a strong national economy, and (3) lackluster state funding

USA Today reports that Moody’s credit agency recently downgraded its 2020 outlook for higher education from “stable” to “negative.” Even prior to COVID-19 30% of all public and private institutions were already operating in the red, and now this. Nicht gut. 

Fortunately, higher education institutions aren’t alone. The USDOE, regional accrediting bodies, and state departments of education have essentially granted carte blanche to colleges and universities. That’s helpful in the short term, but it can’t be a long-term strategy. 

Higher education institutions should start planning their future now. 

Is higher education in the United States as we know it a thing of the past? Are colleges and universities doomed for failure? No. While it’s true that higher education leaders need to focus on getting students through this semester in the short-term, they also need to be eyeing a long-term strategy for the future. 

Experts can continue to have their ideological differences regarding traditional face-to-face vs. online instruction, but today it’s a moot point. The fact is we are where we are, and we need to be pragmatic. In all reality, this won’t be the last time we are faced with a regional, national, or global crisis. Administrators need to get through this crisis, but they also need to think through a different lens moving forward. 

Online Learning: Not Just a Strategy of Last Resort 

Traditional higher education doesn’t have to end. Not by a long shot. However, college administrators need to avoid making rapid-fire decisions out of desperation. 

Revisit short-term and long-term strategic goals. 

If you don’t have a clear plan for dealing with crisis situations like the one we’re going through now, build one. If you don’t already have an innovative programming committee, create one. Being proactive rather than reactive is the better approach any day of the week. 

Create a thought leader sandbox. 

Every institution has a least one “out of the box” thinker–one who tends to speak up in meetings and challenges administrative decisions. Deans and department chairs often view these faculty or staff members as a pain in the neck. However, despite them coming across as negative or challenging every decision, those are the very people who should be tapped to lead a sandbox for thought leaders. They are the creative thinkers, and they should be tasked with building their institution for the future. 

Hire distance learning experts who understand and believe in quality. 

Let’s face it: Many institutions simply haven’t properly funded their distance learning departments. In some cases, a single person serves as the entire online learning staff. He or she creates the course shells, trains faculty, serves as Helpdesk support, and more. Moreover, those individuals may or may not even be trained in distance learning andragogy–they simply have strong technical skills to get things set up behind the scenes. That’s just not good enough. 

During this time of crisis, institutions are creating online course shells feverishly en masse, and most faculty have never taught an online course and are trying to teach themselves how to use online learning tools such as Zoom, Blackboard, and VoiceThread

An Opportunity for Higher Education Institutions

As strange as it may sound, this is actually a time of great opportunity for higher education institutions. College and university presidents should look at online learning as a way to build for the future. 

For example, from this point forward each semester staff should automatically create an online course shell for every traditional face-to-face course. Moreover, those staff should populate the shells with current syllabi and learning resources. Professional development in effective online teaching techniques should be offered for all faculty every semester.  The nonprofit organization Quality Matters is an excellent resource institutions can use to train faculty and ensure online course quality. 

For those institutions still on the fence about distance education, administrators could consider adopting a hybrid model whereby courses are offered as a mix of both face-to-face and online instruction. Then, if a crisis should occur, it would be simple to transition courses to an exclusively online model. 

Regardless, college leaders should work tirelessly to make sure that their faculty, staff, and students are never placed into such a stressful situation again. 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). 

Twitter: @RRossFisher

Email: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com 

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: educationaltechnology.net

 

Blended Learning & Student Achievement: What Really Matters

Technology might actually have a negative effect on student learning. Or, more specifically, using technology in the classroom isn’t a guarantee that students will become better readers or develop stronger math skills, or go on to graduate. Brookings looked closely at achievement data and concluded what many educators have already understood:

Teachers matter. High quality instruction matters. Technology tools help, but only as supplements to support and enhance instruction.  

 

Blended Learning

One method that’s become popular these days is blended learning. There are many approaches to teaching and learning, but the blended learning model makes a lot of sense for students in 21st Century schools. With blended learning, students receive face-to-face instruction from their teacher(s), which is then supplemented by some type of technology-based or online learning. This approach is sometimes referred to as hybrid learning, but the two really are not necessarily the same. Sometimes, hybrid learning represents a mixture of on-site instruction and field-based experiences and could even be part of an apprenticeship model. Technology certainly plays an integral role within a hybrid model when students complete on-site simulations such as in a healthcare field experience, or gain practice working on a computerized numerical controlled (CNC) machine as part of an apprenticeship.

Using Blended Learning in School

Sometimes using labels as personalized learning, blended learning, hybrid learning, and others, elementary school officials are starting to rely heavily on technology to boost students’ learning. When used as a supplement or an extension to teacher instruction, it can be an effective tool. Parents report their students are more eager to attend school and they seem more excited about learning. This increases daily attendance rates which in many states, supports the funding schools receive each year.

High schools and universities have also been experimenting with infusing technology into instruction for several reasons. For example, technology can be a great way for small or rural schools to provide their students with a teacher who has expertise in a foreign language or some other specialty that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Likewise, advanced learners often benefit from taking online courses for college credit while still in high school.

However, the adoption of blended learning is sometimes driven by economics—with an eye on the bottom line, administrators have figured out that it’s possible to increase teaching loads when inverting the ratio between on-site and web-based instruction, thereby saving the institution considerable money in the short term. A typical classroom can hold approximately 25-30 students, but an online classroom could theoretically hold an unlimited number. In a school that’s operating on a razor-thin budget, an administrator could easily determine that it costs less to hire one teacher as opposed to three or four and temporarily choose to place ethical practice on a shelf. It doesn’t take long, however, for the impact of those poor choices to be realized and the practice is quickly abandoned.

Setting the Stage for an Effective Blended Learning Experience

Front-Load a Successful Outcome: Designing effective blended learning experiences that involve online instruction require up-front work. It’s relatively quick and easy to build an online course but it’s essential to create one that will provide a substantive, meaningful learning experience for students. This means that special attention must be given to curriculum development, instructional methods, assessment design, user-friendly learning platforms, and of course, faculty training. Powerful online teaching and learning doesn’t just happen by itself, which is why many institutions have elected to partner with Quality Matters, a non-profit quality assurance organization that guides schools in their web-based instruction development.

Professional Development is Essential: Effective instruction doesn’t just happen. Teachers must be properly trained in using technology effectively within the blended learning model, and due to the nature of constant change within the field this training must be ongoing. Schools of education must prepare future elementary and secondary teachers to use current technology as instructional tools, and then once in service, school districts must take on the responsibility of providing high-quality professional development, peer coaching, and mentoring to ensure that technology tools are being used effectively. Likewise, while their faculty members hold advanced degrees and are experts within their fields, colleges and universities must also provide high-quality professional development to support excellence in teaching and learning.

Conclusion

As evidenced by the data, Brookings concluded:

It’s not what technology you use; it’s how you use it that matters.

In other words, simply having technology in a classroom does not guarantee that students will learn. Cutting-edge technology tools in and of themselves just aren’t enough to drive achievement. However, when used to supplement high-quality direct instruction, the use of web-based applications and courses can be effective for many students.

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Supporting Learners in a Competency-Based Education Classroom

This is the fourth installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education. Previous posts included: There IS a Better Way to Teach; What’s Under the Hood; and The Basics of CBE Curriculum Development.

How we teach is just as important as what we teach. In other words, instructional methods are just as vital to the learning process as the content being taught. Very few students learn by simply reading or absorbing material—if they did, we really wouldn’t need teachers.

Just as with traditional learning models, there are many ways P-12 and higher education faculty can instruct students within the competency-based education (CBE) model. However, the key here is to provide academic support in a way that helps learners attain essential content and ultimately demonstrate what they know and are able to do. Facilitation, as opposed to direct instruction, has been proven to be an effective way of providing this type of academic support primarily because by its very nature the CBE model creates a space for flexibility for instructors as well as for learners. Of course, face-to-face and online learning environments may require use of different facilitation models, but some good options to consider include:

 

Regardless of the facilitation model chosen, learning should be constant, and not time-dependent in a competency-based learning environment. In other words, learners should be actively engaged at all times but should not be forced to move in lockstep fashion with all other students. They should have the freedom and flexibility to learn at their own pace and in their own way—which is one reason why CBE is commonly referred to as personalized learning, although the two terms are not completely synonymous.

In the next blog installment, we will dive more deeply into the teacher’s role within a competency-based learning environment.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

 

The Drive-Thru Approach to Teacher Preparation

The Drive-Thru Approach to Teacher Preparation

I read yet another article about national teacher shortages; this one was entitled Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional). As a result of their desperation to staff classrooms, school district officials are putting pressure on states to relax teacher licensure requirements. In some cases, this has led to the watering down of standards and expectations. Some are taking advantage of the current climate, smelling the sweet aroma of serious revenue by offering what is essentially a drive-thru teacher preparation program: The “customer” arrives at the window, attracted by the bright lights and yummy-looking food pics. Enrollment counselors take their order and send them on. Worker bees behind the scenes serve up a program that may be of questionable or untested quality and the customer is on their way in record time. They don’t know that their fries were cold or there was no straw until they are miles down the road. Programs know such a model is cheap to build and cheap to operate; it’s easy money and there are so many students rolling through the drive-thru lane that they can afford to have some unhappy customers and still turn a profit.

In the short term, school districts are happy because they have a less difficult time hiring teachers, and program completers are happy because they’ve gotten through their program at break-neck speed and haven’t had to “waste” their time on courses they perceive as useless. However, in the long term, a host of new cyclical problems are revealed, including:

  • Individuals are admitted to the programs who really shouldn’t be—they sometimes lack the academic preparation or the professional dispositions necessary for success in the classroom.
  • Program completers are often ill-prepared to enter the classroom; they require a great deal of on-site training by the school district.
  • Many new teachers quickly become disillusioned and leave the profession because they didn’t know how challenging teaching really can be. Some leave in the middle of a school year.
  • Students often suffer due to constant turnover and lack of consistency.
  • Test scores lag and fall behind state averages; impact outcomes tend to be dismal.

 

Not all for-profit alternative certification programs are of poor quality, but many are. While accrediting bodies have recently come under greater scrutiny for their standards and expectations, many of these programs fly under the radar and are not regionally accredited*, which is the foundational accreditation any legitimate institution of higher education should attain. Some are taking the easy path to accreditation through bodies that focus mostly on career schools** such as beauty schools, truck driving schools, at-home hypnosis training, etc. just to state on their program’s website that they are accredited. These programs use “sleight of hand” language with the lay public, saying they are “accreditation eligible” which in reality means nothing but it sounds very convincing to those who are not well versed in the lingo.  Make no mistake: The drive-thru teacher preparation model is very real, and it is having a very real impact on our P-12 schools. The question is: Are we going to accept it as the new normal, or are we finally going to draw a line in the sand and insist on academic excellence for our children?

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions in areas such as accreditation, institutional effectiveness, competency-based education, and virtual teaching & learning.  Roberta can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

*The regional accreditation bodies in the United States include: (1) Higher Learning Commission (HLC); (2) Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); (3) New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE) Commission on Institutions of Higher Education; (4) Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); and (5) WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

**The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) awards accreditation to degree-granting, high school, military, and post-secondary schools. A search of accredited post-secondary schools, which would apply to alternative teacher certification programs, includes the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, At-Home Professions, and the Modern Gun School, to name a few.