Teacher Preparation

New Gates Teacher-Prep Grants: Some Themes to Watch

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 18, 2015 2 min read
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As I reported today, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is putting $34 million into grants to improve teacher preparation—its most significant investment in teacher quality efforts since announcing that it would continue its overall K-12 strategy this summer.

Take a look at the story, which is now up on the edweek.org home page.

As always, there are a few themes that are worth additional attention, and you should keep them in the back of your mind as these grantees get going about their work.

Scale. Gates wants each of the four funded centers to produce 2,500 teachers. Well, that is a LOT of teachers. It’s actually more teachers than 25 states produce on an annual basis, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s federal Title II collection (which you really ought to be paying attention to if you aren’t already). Scaling and quality don’t always go hand in hand, so this could be a big lift for the grantees.

Partnerships. Each grantee is supposed to develop strong relationships with the K-12 school districts and other partners. But those contexts are different across the grants, and sometimes even within each grant. For example, 75 percent of teachers produced by the Relay Graduate School of Education, which is the main partner for the TeacherSquared center, work in charters; the other 25 percent work in traditional schools. Clearly, teacher prep is shaped by the norms and conditions of the receiving schools and districts, so the specific demands of different schools and partners may complicate the centers’ objectives.

Effective Teacher Educators. Almost every grantee I spoke with identified these “teacher teachers” (now you know how TeacherSquared got its name) as pretty much the key thing they have to work on to make these grants meaningful. But that is not going to be an easy task. Rules about governance and academic freedom, especially in universities, make it harder to get faculty to change what they’re doing. In addition, it has been difficult for programs to find enough high-quality “cooperating teachers”—the real, live K-12 teachers willing to have newbies in the classes.

New Tools. Several grantees want to use simulations to help candidates practice their skills. The technical-assistance grantee, TeachingWorks, is going to provide some performance assessments. Brent Maddin of TeacherSquared tells me he wants to develop videos and a taxonomy about good teacher educator practice. What else will be in the works?

Policy. How will these grants fit into states’ complicated regulatory apparatuses around teacher prep? How will they navigate byzantine requirements for certification and program approval? After all, many are located in different states, and different states have different demands for their programs. One grant to watch here is the one to Massachusetts, which has already revamped its program-approval process and therefore has a leg up.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.