The good news here is that teachers tend to show rapid growth between their second and fourth years, which seems to reinforce the “learning on the job” narrative.
But what if we could change that trajectory? What if we could show that there is a way to get teachers ready to impact student outcomes from day one? And most importantly, what if we could show that this method of teacher preparation does not only work in high performing charters but in the much broader world of traditional district schools? Imagine the impact that this new trajectory for rookie teachers would have on closing the achievement gap.
These questions are driving the Teacher Launch Project at the Sposato Graduate School of Education. Sposato has long been in the business of preparing rookie teachers to teach in the country’s highest performing urban charter schools and has consistently achieved strong outcomes. In aggregate, Sposato-trained teachers significantly outperform their non-Sposato rookie peers, as measured by outside experts and principal evaluations.
But it’s hard to know why these teachers are getting these results. Is it just that the program is recruiting and selecting the right people (Sposato’s admissions rate is historically <10%, with most participants coming from top-tier colleges and universities)? Or perhaps these teachers and the methods they learn through Sposato can only be successful in charter schools (which only educate 4.2% of the total student population in the U.S.)?
To affect the broader world of teacher preparation, we need to understand the degree to which the Sposato methodology, separate from the program’s selection and placement practices, is generating unusually effective rookie teachers. Methods can scale a lot faster and wider than teacher prep programs with 10% admissions rates.
At the heart of this methodology is two big ideas about how novices learn to teach: (1) Rookie teachers need detailed, nuanced, and prescriptive instruction on highly specific teacher skills and moves to guide their decision making with planning, classroom management, and instructional execution. (2) These skills can only be learned through intensive, deliberate practice and immediate feedback from expert coaches—feedback that sounds a lot more like what your basketball coach said when your shooting elbow was in the wrong place rather than the suggestive, “Hmmm, you might try doing X or Y or Z” coaching that happens in a lot of schools.
So beginning this summer, the Teacher Launch Project will embark on a three year randomized controlled trial of the Sposato methodology in partnership with Dr. Tom Kane and Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research. Our pilot cohort of 30 teachers—folks who are recent graduates of mainstream education school programs and who are on track to teach in traditional public school districts—will attend an intensive four week summer institute and then will receive 20 weeks of coaching during their rookie year. The summer institute will carefully replicate the types of teaching simulations and real-time feedback used in Sposato. And the weekly coaching in the fall and winter of their rookie year will look a lot like this session with UP’s very own Kelsey LeBuffe and Jesus Moore at UP Oliver: