Teacher Preparation Opinion

A Model for Preparing STEM Teachers

By Urban Education Contributor — June 08, 2017 3 min read
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This week we are hearing from a research-practice collaboration between the American Institutes for Research (AIR, @Education_AIR) and the UTeach (@uteachinstitute) program to prepare STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teachers. Today’s post is part two of a two-part series discussing AIR’s study of the impacts of UTeach STEM teacher preparation programs in Texas funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), following Monday’s post, How Teacher Preparation Programs Impact Student STEM Achievement.

This post is by Kimberly Hughes (@hugheskk), Director of the UTeach Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

The shortage of high-quality STEM teachers has long been a problem in national efforts to improve K-12 STEM education. This has colleges and universities looking to explore innovative approaches to strengthen the preparation of STEM teachers and to recruit STEM majors into teacher preparation programs.

UTeach is a university-based STEM teacher preparation program that approaches the STEM teacher shortage problem by allowing undergraduates to obtain a major in their discipline while also obtaining a teaching certification — without adding time or cost to the degree. Hallmarks of UTeach include early field experience, master teachers, strong content knowledge, pedagogy grounded in STEM education research, and a focus on inquiry. UTeach has spread from the founding site at The University of Texas at Austin to 46 universities across the country, involving more than 800 STEM and STEM education faculty, and has produced more than 3,200 graduates to date. This expansion was made possible because of the UTeach Institute.

This significant spread indicates some of UTeach’s impact. We have been able to assess, descriptively, the success of UTeach programs in meeting STEM major recruitment and graduation targets and graduate entry and retention in the field, and the degree to which the UTeach programs across the nation were modeled on the original program.

But what about the effectiveness of UTeach in terms of producing high-quality and effective STEM teachers?

A long-term research-practice partnership between UTeach and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) allowed us to answer that important question.

Prior to the partnership, we were already engaging in research and data collection, as we have always been committed to continuous program improvement and to a shared foundation for all UTeach programs nationally, with program adaptations and innovations being quickly adopted throughout the national UTeach network. As such, The UTeach Institute devotes significant resources to research on program components and approaches and to the ongoing collection of a common set of data on program implementation, including university, program, and student characteristics; student recruitment, enrollment, and persistence; degree information and student performance; and student satisfaction.

But not until the UTeach-AIR collaboration, which resulted in AIR’s study of the effectiveness of UTeach teachers in Texas, were we able to provide critical information on the actual effectiveness of teachers trained by UTeach, as measured by their students’ STEM achievements. The study found that students of UTeach teachers do learn more than other students.

This new evidence about student learning gains demonstrates the effectiveness of the UTeach model in streamlining the preparation of undergraduate STEM teachers without sacrificing quality, positioning it as a promising design for teacher preparation programs.

The research-practice partnership between UTeach and AIR has significance beyond the 46 universities that are collaborating within the UTeach network. It provides a way to study high-quality university-based teacher preparation in a diverse collection of higher education institutions that have adopted a uniform academic program. It also has the potential to provide a more disciplined approach to the ongoing improvement work carried out by the UTeach network.

Long-term, deep engagement between practitioners and external researchers increases opportunities to address ongoing problems of practice in meaningful ways. The evidence we will continue to obtain on practices such as early field experience, clinical teaching, and adoption of research-based teaching strategies should inform prospective teachers, higher education administration, and school districts about how best to prepare teachers for the high-shortage STEM education fields.

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice 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.