Taking Stock of Innovation in Educator Preparation

As another ambitious teacher preparation innovation captures national attention, I invite you to join me in taking stock of how widespread creative change has become in this field. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently announced the launch of their brand-new research laboratory and graduate program to prepare teachers and school leaders. The educator preparation field, already rife with innovation, welcomes the new Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning as the latest partner in a robust entrepreneurial environment.

While I do not embrace the negative rhetoric that accompanied the new program’s announcement, I am keenly interested in the work. In fact, the Academy’s goals are quite aligned with those being addressed by many other educator preparation providers and organizations. Foundation President Arthur Levine and his partners at MIT will find themselves in good company as they pursue their particular reform interests and share their findings.

Like any other field preparing professionals, educator preparation continually develops its knowledge base, adjusts to changes in policy demands and market conditions, seeks evidence of its impact, and collaborates with practitioners in schools—all in the interest of continuous improvement. The spirit of innovation pervades all that we do. Even quality assurance practices are catching up, as our latest accreditation standards and processes expect experimentation—grounded in what we’ve already learned—rather than holding programs to a cookie-cutter model. Certain outcomes are not negotiable, but the new way of thinking encourages creativity along the way.

Consider some of these other innovations from the field, which we already follow with interest:

  • Competency-based programs, such as the model proposed for the Woodrow Wilson Academy, have been deployed successfully in other places—perhaps most notably by Western Governors University, which is also a leader in online education. As more programs adopt and fine-tune models such as these, the broader opportunities to share and learn from each other are an exciting prospect.
  • Further, the question of assessing competency is top of mind for the whole profession, as the nation grapples with backlash against test-centered accountability and seeks more meaningful measures of abilities. In teacher preparation, this quest has borne fruit in the form of performance assessments such as edTPA and others still in development to assess novice teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical skills.
  • Many programs are employing new technologies to simulate teaching situations, to reach a broader student base, to reduce costs and boost efficiency in program delivery, or for other improvements. Think of the UTeach programs for secondary STEM teachers, the University of Southern California’s online MAT program, and the University of Central Florida’s mixed-reality TLE TeachLivE Lab—not to mention those who developed or adopted the TPACK framework to prepare teachers for the most effective use of technology.
  • More than 60 universities across the country have accepted federal Teacher Quality Partnership grants, which require recipients to institute significant reforms in partnership with high-need schools. These sites are heavily invested in expanding the clinical preparation of teacher candidates and in monitoring student outcomes to help inform future improvement. The heightened focus on clinical practice is also reflected in the popularity of teaching residencies, many of which are producing their own important contributions to the research base—such as the “Learning Teaching in, from, and for Practice” project involving the University of Washington, the University of Michigan, and UCLA. The Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s own Teaching Fellowship program is another successful residency-based approach, now operating in many states. And we at AACTE are convening a new Clinical Practice Commission to help define the burgeoning field and its lexicon.
  • At the University of Florida, the CEEDAR Center is taking a silo-busting approach to preparing all teachers to be able to help students with special needs achieve college- and career-ready standards. By bridging the boundaries that commonly divide state agencies, universities, schools, and related organizations, CEEDAR’s technical assistance is already making a difference in 15 partner states, such as with the Ohio Deans Compact on Exceptional Children.
  • Elsewhere, other partnerships—some quite unconventional—are targeting new interventions and speeding the pace of change, from Deans for Impact to Arizona State University to the remarkable 100Kin10 partnership to boost the STEM teacher pipeline. The brand-new Urban Superintendents Academy brings a residency-based solution to preparing effective leaders for urban school districts, thanks to a network-oriented joint effort of Howard University and AASA: The School Superintendents Association.
  • Targeted philanthropic support can also make an impact on practice, and we’ve seen that in the Bush Foundation’s Teacher Effectiveness Initiative with 14 universities in the Midwest. This group’s work to improve productivity and impact on learning has also led to a useful framework of common measures to reinforce their efforts, which include such star innovations as coteaching in clinical practice settings. We also celebrate the ongoing efforts of the Wallace Foundation to improve the preparation and practice of school principals, funding a wide circle of partners to tackle varied components of their common vision for reform.

Because of their shared commitment to pedagogy in high-quality educator preparation, these efforts are worthy of our support—more so because they seek innovative solutions to real problems of practice. Clearly, the Woodrow Wilson Academy is in good company, and I look forward to following its progress.

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Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE