Ohio wants to take charter schools to a whole new level: colleges of education.
The state department of education is seeking to establish teacher-preparation schools that are free from state regulations so long as they produce high- quality teachers—a variation on the concept that has led to the creation of more than 3,000 K-12 charter schools in 41 states since 1992.
State officials successfully lobbied for federal money to help launch the effort, which they hope will get under way in the fall. The state is now soliciting proposals.
“We want to start a conversation about … how to develop innovative, cutting-edge proposals to rethink teacher education,” Susan Tave Zelman, Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction, said in an interview last week. “We’re thinking about how we can create multiple pathways for teachers to meet our standards.”
The charter colleges of education may be new schools or even departments within existing colleges, she said. They must involve an existing institution that produces teachers, but could include school districts, nonprofit groups, or businesses as partners.
Ohio officials want the new ventures to focus on preparing teachers for schools that face the biggest challenges in raising student achievement, typically urban schools with large numbers of poor and minority children.
The idea of charter colleges of education grows out of recent attempts to hold teacher colleges accountable for the quality of graduates they produce, according to David G. Imig, the president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a Washington group that represents campus-based programs. With the freedom of charter status, colleges could ignore some of the many burdensome state regulations and concentrate on the essential skills needed to be a good teacher, he said.
California State University-Los Angeles and Berry College in Rome, Ga., have been operating charter colleges of education with state approval since the 1990s.
“There is excessive state regulation, and there are many things that a school of education could do or would want to do but is prohibited by state regulation,” Mr. Imig said. “We’ve seen some examples of success.”
Even if the chartered teacher colleges envisioned in Ohio get free rein, one expert on certification issues doubts that they would dramatically change the teacher-preparation landscape.
Because Ohio’s program requires that an accredited college be part of any winning grant proposal, it is likely to draw on the ideas of existing faculty members and not from people who would bring fresh ideas to the projects, said C. Emily Feistritzer, the president of the National Center for Alternative Certification, based in Washington.
“I don’t think it’s going to do anything to improve the production of highly qualified teachers,” she said. “It may produce a few,” she added, but not enough to meet the demand for them.
Since 1992, Berry College’s charter education school has required its students to spend more time in precollegiate classrooms than traditional teacher-preparation programs. Its graduates each complete a liberal arts curriculum and speak a second language fluently.
At CSU-Los Angeles, the college of education is exempt from many state rules so it can focus on preparing teachers to work in urban schools with high numbers of English-language learners. Teacher-candidates work in Los Angeles schools for a significant part of their college experience. The school has had charter status since 1995.
With the flexibility, the school designed a curriculum in which students earn a bachelors degree and a teaching certificate in four years—a process that once took five years. The curriculum has since been approved by the state for use at other teacher-preparation schools, according to Judith M. Washburn, the associate dean at the CSU-Los Angeles charter college of education.
To start such charters in Ohio, Ms. Zelman lobbied Congress to provide $800,000 for the state. U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, ensured that the earmarked grant was included in an omnibus federal spending bill for fiscal 2004, she said.
The state expects to make two grants with the money, according to Marilyn B. Troyer, the state’s associate superintendent for the Center for the Teaching Profession. Proposals for the projects are due June 14, and the state would like to see the grant recipients working with prospective students in the fall, Ms. Troyer said.
Although the money is a relatively small amount, she said, state officials hope it will eventually have a big effect.
“If we see that they are promising and show good results,” Ms. Troyer said of the projects, “it may have a statewide impact.”
Should the projects be successful, Ms. Zelman said, she will push for more funding from state and federal sources.
Ohio’s colleges of education are excited about the possibility of trying out new ways to prepare teachers, according to one university administrator.
“It would be exciting to be part of something that asks: What does evidence-based teacher education look like?” said Elizabeth J. Stroble, the dean of the college of education and the provost at University of Akron, which has 3,000 students attending its school of education.
The university is planning to apply for one of the grants, Ms. Stroble said, and is considering various models to propose.
For example, it may work with a school district to arrange for prospective teachers to be part- time employees working in classrooms while they take courses at the university. To do something like that or apply other creative ideas, Ms. Stroble said, the university might need the state to waive coursetaking requirements.
Businesses, however, may be cautious about applying for the grants, one analyst said last week.
Although the higher education market is ripe for business activity, for-profit enterprises shy away from projects focused on helping the most challenging K-12 students to teach, according to Sean Gallagher, a senior analyst for Eduventures, a Boston-based research firm that tracks the education market.
“The ultimate goal—and it’s a noble goal— is to, at any cost, ensure there is quality education for all,” Mr. Gallagher said. “But it’s hard to reconcile that with a for-profit business model.”
While Ohio may soon add just two new charter colleges of education, a bill pending in Congress would set up a grant program to establish such charters. The bill passed the House last year and is awaiting action in the Senate. (“GOP Bill Aims to Produce Better-Qualified Teachers,” June 4, 2003.)
The legislation would allow states to apply for federal grants under the Higher Education Act to set up the charter colleges, among other innovative ways of improving the quality of teacher preparation.
The concept matches the Republican emphasis, in particular, on deregulation. But officials in the colleges will want the anti-regulation rhetoric to be matched with flexible programs, Mr. Imig of AACTE said.
“Are states really going to want to give up that authority over teacher education?” he said. “If you carry the charter notion to its logical conclusion, they do.
“The best situation is if they say, ‘We’re going to empower you, but don’t forget we’re going to judge you on the success of your students,’” he said.