Opinion
Education Opinion

Generic vs Coherent Teacher Prep

By Tom Vander Ark — March 23, 2016 5 min read

Graduate schools of education offer an assortment of courses that provide broad exposure to historical concepts in education and human development, yet are often divorced from practice. There’s some benefit to a survey approach but it often does not add up to preparation for to lead a great classroom or school.

We’ve inherited sedimentary layers of local, state and federal EdPolicy. Not a system designed one to prepare young people for the idea economy and not an easy system in which to teach. In contrast we know that good schools are coherent; everything is mission-aligned to benefit teachers and students.

A Coherent School
One of the best examples of a coherent school is High Tech High (HTH) in San Diego. It was formed around four design principles: personalization, adult world connection, common intellectual mission, and teacher as designer. Everything at the school (structure, schedule, staffing, systems) works together for students and teachers.

“Most of life is a project and exhibition,” said High Tech High founder Larry Rosenstock. Trained as a lawyer, Rosenstock taught high school carpentry. Larry’s maker ethic is baked into the frequent exhibitions of authentic work at High Tech High. Rosenstock thinks we should ask students to use their head, use their hands, make things, and think about things; that students should spend more time on production technology than consumption technology.

Rosenstock thinks school be about be revealing and uncovering-not just covering content. He thinks students should do field work and demonstrate their learning.

Students in the 13 school HTH network cover less material than traditional schools but they trade superficial knowledge for deep understanding. Scan HTH projects and you’ll appreciate that these learning experiences are memorable for a lifetime.

The famous school network is featured in the documentary film Most Likely to Succeed. Producer Ted Dintersmith is engaging students, parents, teachers and administrators on a 50 State Tour.

From HTH to GSE
In 2006, HTH was the first charter network to launch a graduate school of education. Like the school network, the GSE attacks three standard practices: tracking, isolation from the adult world and separation of thinking and doing.

HTH GSE “prepares educators to design and to assume leadership in programs with a parallel commitment to equity, rigor, and relevance for all students.” Network schools serve as clinical sites for learning, “an opportunity to take risks, reflect on practice and shape their own vision for effective teaching, learning and leadership.”

The HTH GSE offers a one year hybrid online leadership academy program,two year teacher credentialing program (while teaching), and amasters degree in education (one year full time or two years part time). GSE also offers three day institutes, workshops
, online courses, tours, and a journal.

Purpose-Built Professional Training
While HTH GSE was among the first purpose-built graduate programs, several more have recently emerged.

Launched in New York in 2011, Relay GSE has a “curriculum that emphasizes the teaching and instructional leadership skills that have the greatest impact on student learning.” Rather than design principles, Relay reflects a framework of teacher and leader competencies identified at KIPP, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools. More than 1400 educators take blended courses (about 40% online) offered on nine campuses. Online courses are offered on Coursera.

WGUoffers online credentialing and master’s programs and is the largest provider of math and science teachers in the country.

TEACH-NOW serve 650 candidates with an an online program that “focuses on equipping, enabling and empowering teachers to be resourceful problem solvers through a collaborative, activity-based learning system in a dynamic and diverse world.”

Trends in Teacher Prep & Development
Historically, most aspiring educators paid for expensive preparation programs and then paid for a masters degree in order to qualify for an early career pay bump. There is some movement toward subsidized preparation for high potential candidates including Americorps awards, district/network contributions and debt forgiveness.

There is growing micro-credential momentum. Relay provost Brent Maddin thinks it will be common to earn degrees and micro-credentials simultaneously. Post certification growth will increasingly be signaled with stackable micro-credentials. This will encourage more just-in-time learning from several different sources.

Maddin notes the big “got it, do it gap” in education--a teacher candidate may have conceptual knowledge but it may not translate into effective classroom practice. For that reason Relay uses classroom video extensively. Developments in virtual reality and immersive environments will make applications like ASU’s Quest2Teach a common practice environment supported by a social-professional network. These immersive experiences will provide authentic and individualized practice for aspiring teachers that bridges theory and practice.

Design-built programs will increasingly incorporate artificial intelligence to fully personalize the learning experience drawing on comprehensive learner profiles and assisting advisors in crafting customized sequences.

With the proliferation of school models, an increasing amount of preparation and ongoing development (marketed by micro-credentials) will be model specific with strong links to specific networks (like HTH or New Tech Network) or district consortia.

Transformation of Professionals, Schools and Student Learning
When the link to a coherent network is present, such as with High Tech High’s GSE, a purpose-built approach to professional learning sets the stage for:


  • Transformation of professionals through opportunities to reflect on practice and shape a vision for leading, learning and leadership is powerful;
  • Transformation of schools by building capacity and collaboration around common design principles; and
  • Transformation of student learning through a focus on equity, rigor and relevance.

The benefits of purpose-built coherent teacher preparation hold the potential to extend quality learning for all teachers and students.
For more see:

This post is a part of a blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Rethinking Professional Learning” Smart Bundle produced in partnership with High Tech High Graduate School of Higher Education (@hthgse). Join the conversation on Twitter using #EdLeaders or #RethinkPD and #SmartBundle.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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