Starting An Ed School

I started this blog a couple years ago. Existentially, it poses a few questions. 1.Is it possible to prep rookie teachers better? 2.Should new Ed Schools be permitted? 3.What are some ways the new ed schools are different? 4.Even if these new Ed Schools are permitted to exist, are they a “good idea?”

Let’s pick these off one by one.

1. Is there a better way to prepare new teachers than the traditional ed school model?

Most scholars think so, from all stripes. Many Ed School deans, practitioners, policymakers, and teachers union leaders have called for change. In surveys, many teachers say some version of “I wish my prep was better/different.”

A blue ribbon national commission, called CAEP, is examining right now how to "turn teacher prep upside down." The commission includes many notable establishment names, so it's not likely this is an outsider critique.

2. Should new Ed Schools be permitted?

The alternative could be to only allow changes to the existing Ed Schools. But this horse may already be too far out of the barn. New Ed Schools are being permitted. Online, for-profit ones in particular. The top 3 masters-in-education granting institutions in the USA are online (or mostly so): U of Phoenix, Walden, Grand Canyon.

According to data that Alexander Russo just posted, these 3 online programs alone issued about 13,000 masters degrees last year. A masters degree might cost $22,000. There are others. They’re growing fast.

In a very different category, there are a few brand new "in-person" graduate schools of education. For example, in California, the High Tech High Graduate School of Education (HTH) was founded 5 years ago. Their creation of a new Ed School inspired us and others. Tuition is heavily subsidized by philanthropy, to keep cost low for teachers, and to allow for a lot of personal attention to each grad student. Enrollment is much lower, by orders of magnitude. Ours is < 100, for example.

3. What are some ways the new ed schools are different?

The for-profit online ed schools teach a traditional Ed School syllabus. They offer it mostly online. They have fairly open admission policies.

The small “in-person” new Ed Schools like High Tech High’s and ours have a very different view of what it takes to help new teachers be effective.

•First, while all Ed Schools have a mix of theory and practice, we lean more towards practice.

•Second, we each operate in partnership with existing charter schools, to more closely link the theory and the practice.

•Third, many instructors are skilled schoolteachers and leaders, rather than scholars.

•Fourth, because a lot of people apply and we’re quite small, we end up being highly selective.

(This is relevant later, when we’re evaluated. If we’re able to produce teachers that are judged effective, it will be hard to disentangle the effect of our selection from the effect of our coursework and practice).

•Fifth, the vision of what we’re preparing teachers to do, and what type of school they’ll ultimately work in, is more narrow and specific. For example, our friends Larry, Ben and Kelly at HTH have masters programs that prepare teachers for project-based learning, and to ultimately teach and lead in schools that support this vision.

By contrast, our new school prepares teachers for a type of college-prep charter school like KIPP et al. Ours hasn’t even opened yet. We were approved in March by the state’s Board of Higher Education. It will be called the Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education.

Now does my support of "teacher choice" to choose small new Ed Schools like HTH and ours extend to my supporting the online U of Phx? Here I'm mixed.

I've blogged about my mixed feelings about online charter schools, for example. I have some similar thoughts about U of Phx. Though I readily admit I know almost nothing about it -- never "visited" their virtual classrooms, never spent time with their alums or team, etc. So can't really opine yet.

4. Even if these new Ed Schools are permitted to exist, are they a "good idea?"

It's totally fair game to ask questions. What courses. What theory. What faculty. What vision. What tradeoffs. What bar to get in. What bar to get out.

Sometimes the questioning is sought by us. We have Ed School deans — from all sorts of Ed Schools like U Michigan, Penn State, and Harvard — visit and exchange ideas on these key questions. We also get pushed by Ed School professors....critical friends. Kay, a mentor to Orin and me, always pushes us in particular on how to help teachers create classes where the thinking asked of kids is ever-higher in complexity. Similarly, at a recent informal gathering that we arranged, a professor at a nearby grad school (Hey Scott) asked whether a particular lesson design (intro of new material, guided practice, independent practice) is less likely to lead to “deep understanding” of math than other approaches.

Sometimes the questioning is not sought by us. We just got our first zinger, which is here. It's a little intimidating when the critic is a leading national voice.

A friend reached out to me after reading the critique, cautioning me:

She is Goliath in ed policy, well-known, many readers. Your team = David. Same slight build, but not even a slingshot. Don't respond. I know your nerdy and coalition-building ways. You think you can engage, find some common ground, maybe get an intro from Randi W, one day have a Beer Summit, etc. Forget that. If you say anything, you'll get hit 100 times harder. Just let it go.

Well, he may be right in the asymmetry of power/readership (hers very high, ours very low). But the questions she poses are legit.

I’ll tackle them and many others here over the coming weeks, while hoping to avoid a blog war.