Training Teachers Based on Competencies

Meeting of doctors at the university of Paris.jpg

"Meeting of doctors at the University of Paris" Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

As a graduate of a teacher-preparation program, I am always interested in hearing about new approaches to that process. Lately, there has been increasing demand for educators. I suspect that is partially from a lack of supply. Teaching is not seen as being a very attractive career these days. When I entered teaching four decades ago, it was viewed as a good solid career. The pay would not be great, but the benefits were good. It was particularly attractive to women who were mothers and could arrange their days and the year on a similar schedule to that of their children. It was a profession, but seen as less professional than a lawyer or doctor, although those three were once grouped together in rank. But that was a long time ago.

I have also seen more alternative preparation options being offered. The latest I have seen is a new graduate school and research lab announced by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. It will be a partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to conduct research on teacher and school leadership education. (MIT has no school of education.)

It is very research-based and it will be part of a new institute at MIT, called the MIT PK-12 Initiative. That aspect will provide support to STEM teachers.

It is also competency-based, which is not entirely new to higher education, but a new approach to teacher preparation. It will focus on competencies rather than on seat time. 

Arthur Levine (former president of Teachers College, Columbia University and now head of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation) says that "Instead of focusing on courses and credits students need to take, we're going to focus on the skills and knowledge they need to have to enter the classroom." Most education schools have such low admission standards and are of such poor quality, Levine says, it would be easier to replace them than repair them. "They're old and dated." 

The Woodrow Wilson Academy only will take in 25 students during 2017, its first year. Being selective seems to be important for success. A new report from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) found that the more selective the program, the more likely that graduating teachers will remain in the profession and that students will be successful in the classroom. Students in the new Academy will have an opportunity to work with partner school districts in the greater Boston area. 

Some comparisons have been made to Teach for America. That program is also selective. It trains new teachers for up to 10 weeks over the summer and then sends them into some of the poorest parts of the country. But TFA's results show that rather than training new teachers, it helps people figure out what they want to do with their future. And after Corps members complete their required two year commitment, fewer than a third stay in their positions beyond that period. 

This Academy is at the graduate level and I feel that the real problems in teacher preparation - and the best place to make change - occur in undergraduate programs. I'm not aware at any radical departures in programs at that level.


Art and the MOOC

A new "virtual art school" called Kadenze has already teamed up with programs at 18 institutions to create a digital platform designed for arts courses.

According to a company co-founder, Perry R. Cook (an emeritus professor at Princeton, one of the schools involved), the platform will be “multimedia rich” and allow students to create online portfolios, upload music files and scanned art, watch videos, and participate in discussion forums.

Their website describes Kadenze as "the future of creative education" as it "brings together educators, artists, and engineers from leading universities across the globe to provide world-class education in the fields of art and creative technology."

Kadenze will initially offer about 20 courses on subjects including music, art history, and technology and art.

Their "business model" is one that has been evolving the past two years for many MOOC providers. Similar to the free and premium model used by many app and software as service (SAS) providers, it offers free access and also additional access or features for paid users. You can enroll in courses and watch videos for free. Paying $7 a month allows you to submit assignments and receive grades and feedback. Additional fees of  $300, $600, or $900 will be charged for courses that are offered for credit.

Advanced Placement Exam Prep Goes MOOC

At the end of the school year in the U.S., students who are taking accelerated advanced placement courses (ones designed to be similar in content to general education courses in colleges) take the Advanced Placement (AP) exams. These exams are important factors for admissions to most elite universities. Those terms are registered trademarks of the College Board, but high schools create their own AP classes. There has long been a market for test prep materials and courses for those exams,  and teachers who do tutoring outside the classroom often focus on those courses.

Now, edX is offering more than 40 high school and Advanced Placement® preparation courses. This massive open online course (MOOC) provider and online learning platform hosts online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide audience, some at no charge. EdX was founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in 2012 during the peak of MOOC frenzy. More than 60 schools, nonprofits, corporations, and international organizations offer or plan to offer courses on the edX website and edX has more than 500 different courses online.

Their offerings let students around the world prepare for college and also for AP exams. They can also be used to supplement AP coursework by student or teachers.

The edX model is to allow you to take any course free, or pay for a Verified Certificate to share with teachers or college admissions. 

The College Board was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, these offerings. This is not an offering that other test prep companies or individuals might welcome. But it is a logical, and I think welcome, application of the MOOC model. It is another move forward in the [r]evolution of offering large (if not massive) open (if not always fully open) online courses to learners.

What's In A (Credential's) Name?

The Lumina Foundation is worried about credentialing. They feel that with a widening range of certificates, badges, experiential transcripts, industry certifications and licenses, in addition to those traditional college degrees, we are left with a fragmented system for job seekers and employers.

What do those credentials represent? What rigor is behind them? Whose standards do they meet?

Lumina already sponsors a Degree Qualification Profile, which attempts to define what a degree should mean. Now, they are suggesting a "Lingua Franca for Credentials" that would create a common language across systems. They released a beta version of the framework, which experts from the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce and the Center for Law and Social Policy developed. Dozens of contributors from other groups also helped create the template.

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