A relatively new online teacher-certification program is planning a rapid expansion after meeting with initial success, its leaders say.
The newly rebranded TEACH-NOW Educatore School of Education (taking the go-big-or-go-home approach to capitalization) was founded in 2011 by Emily Feistritzer, a long-time analyst of alternative-certification programs. TEACH-NOW is a traditional certification program, however—it takes at least nine months to finish, leading to certification. The first class began in March 2013.
While the school has commenced or completed training more than 600 teaching candidates, it announced this week ambitious plans to prepare 10,000 new teachers over the next five years, and establish a master’s degree program. To help with the expansion, TEACH-NOW has hired Philip A. Schmidt, former dean of the teacher-training program for Western Governors University, a major nonprofit online school. At WGU, Schmidt helped oversee a similar scale-up over the past 14 years.
“It’s true that we’re in the relatively early years of this school of education [TEACH-NOW], but everything about what I see and hear tells me that the jury is no longer out,” Schmidt said in an interview. “This pedagogical approach is the real thing.”
That approach involves a cohort-based, activity-based model with a focus on group work and early exposure to the classroom, starting by week three of the program, Feistritzer said. There’s also emphasis on candidates understanding several forms of education technology.
TEACH-NOW’s move to expand may reflect a sense that there’s blood in the water around established teacher-prep programs, which have faced criticism for poor performance and poor oversight on the federal and state level.
“I dream big and I don’t believe in failure,” Feistritzer said. “I decided if I was going to live to see teachers prepared the way so many of us—including teacher-education colleges—know they need to be prepared, then somebody really did need to go back to the drawing board.”
The logistical impact of TEACH-NOW’s scaling up, however, may take some time to assess.
First, the school is proud of its roughly 20-to-1 ratio of students to instructors, but Feistritzer and Schmidt acknowledged they’re still developing plans around how to manage what will ultimately be hundreds (or even thousands) of instructors.
“What was always difficult to maintain at WGU, whenever we had periods of rapid growth, was ... that sense of intimacy that’s always desirable in professional training,” Schmidt said, adding that TEACH-NOW is focusing more up-front on addressing that issue.
Second, there is the issue of candidate diversity, where TEACH-NOW excels. Currently, just over half of TEACH-NOW’s U.S. candidates are white, according to data provided by the school. By comparison, the current teaching force is about 82 percent white, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. TEACH-NOW’s candidates are also only about 60 percent women, while the teaching profession is over three-quarters women. Whether TEACH-NOW’s diversity will be maintained through its expansion (and whether those candidates make it into schools) is another question.
Third: The most experienced of TEACH-NOW’s graduates have yet to earn even two years of full-time teaching experience. Feistritzer said that feedback from those teachers’ supervisors has been positive. Though how they stack up compared to teachers coming through other programs—most of all in terms of retention and performance—will also need further research.
While the U.S. Department of Education is theoretically tracking information on how teacher-prepartion programs do, as my colleague Stephen Sawchuk has reported (many times), that data is generally lacking.
Image: Emily Feistritzer and Philip A. Schmidt. Credit: TEACH-NOW
More on the frustrating world of teacher certification:
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.