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May 1, 2016
Vol. 73
No. 8

Toward Better Teacher Prep

In many professions, trainees learn by working with skilled practitioners in residencies. It's time all teacher preparation followed suit.

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This fall, too many of the more than 150,000 brand-new teachers who will enter K–12 classrooms won't be adequately prepared (TeachPlus, 2015). Many will teach the most at-risk students—with no clinical training in such a setting (Glazerman & Jeffrey, 2011). Reformers and critics have seized on this situation as a lever to change the way teachers are prepared for practice (Aldeman & Mitchel, 2016). Traditional teacher preparation programs are under fire.
This scrutiny of teacher prep programs may be a good thing. New teachers deserve to be well-prepared to teach students on their first day, whether they receive that preparation in higher education institutions or in alternative programs. The good news is that there's a growing movement to improve the way teachers are prepared for professional practice. Rather than calling for the elimination of teacher preparation—one solution offered by past reformers (Holmes Group, 1986)—some forward-thinking teacher educators are emphasizing better, more intense preparation programs. Those who are designing these programs have bet on clinical training as the key lever that will increase new teachers' capabilities (DeMonte, 2015).

From "About" to "How To"

One criticism leveled at curriculums in traditional teacher preparation is that they focus on theory. That's probably not quite right. More often, traditional programs teach candidates about teaching, and theory is part of the curriculum. The shift in preparation now underway is to teach candidates how to teach, with an emphasis on the activities and performances that teachers carry out in classrooms with students.
This shift mirrors training for other professions, in which trainees spend significant time in clinical settings. Medical students learn how to practice medicine by working alongside skilled physicians. Those seeking to become clinical psychologists undertake internships in the field as part of their preparation. Future ministers work alongside practicing pastors while completing divinity school. These professions require practitioners to work directly with clients, as does teaching, so it seems reasonable that an improved program for preparing teachers would resemble what takes place in these professional schools.
Research on teacher preparation supports these changes. Although the evidence about what kind of clinical experiences are most powerful isn't all in, emerging findings suggest that having candidates do clinical training for longer periods and in more settings raises new teachers' effectiveness. One study found that teacher candidates with longer clinical training felt more prepared to teach and were more likely to stay in the profession (Ronfeldt, Schwartz, & Jacob, 2014). Teacher candidates who did their clinical training in the school district where they would ultimately be employed were likely to have a strong bond with the school and district (Goldhaber, Krieg, & Theobald, 2013). In Denver, school administrators, teachers, and graduates praised the comprehensiveness of a program that prepares teacher candidates through a district-based, yearlong clinical residency (Hallberg & Green, 2015).

Enter Residency Models

Teacher preparation providers across the United States are embracing the internship or residency model as a way to focus sharply on the professional practices teachers must learn. Some residency models are connected to alternative programs, some to institutes of higher learning. All emphasize increased clinical training; teaching as professional practice; and partnerships among schools, districts, and the preparation program.
The University of Michigan's School of Education has incorporated many new practices into its teacher preparation programs, including forming a deep partnership with nearby schools that serve as teaching and learning labs for practicing teachers, teacher candidates, and teacher educators. Each year, a dozen candidates in a master's or undergraduate education degree program—called interns by the university's school of education—do a yearlong internship in Mitchell Elementary School or Scarlett Middle School in Ann Arbor. Another 200 teacher interns do a portion of their training at Mitchell or Scarlett, returning to the schools at multiple points throughout their preparation to teach.
Mitchell and Scarlett are ethnically diverse schools; more than 75 percent of students at the schools identify as minorities, and 30 percent speak a language other than English at home (Arndt, 2012). Seventy-two percent of Mitchell students and 50 percent of Scarlett students are economically disadvantaged (MI School Data, 2015).
University faculty teach courses at the schools. Interns move between course and clinical training throughout the day. For example, recently, one class of interns was working with a university faculty member on how to help children read and understand a difficult text. A classroom teacher at Mitchell, along with the faculty member, designed a highly structured activity for these 25 interns to help small groups of students read and understand the text. The interns first met at the school in a classroom designated for use by the school of education. Then, under the supervision of the classroom teacher and the teacher educator, the interns moved to a classroom down the hall to work with students. The same interns might visit the schools two or three times a semester to learn about, observe, and practice specific skills.
Unlike traditional university education courses, most of these courses are taught as modules designed around high-leverage teaching practices—fundamentals of teaching that all new teachers should be competent in—such as leading a whole-class discussion. Teacher interns learn to plan and teach using specific practices, rehearse those practices, and then move directly into K–8 classrooms where they practice what they've learned (Reischl, Khasnabis, Boerst, & Stull, forthcoming). The rehearsal is comprehensive; interns practice teaching specific content using a specific method in front of peers and teacher educators and get feedback. They might look at video of others teaching the subject using the same method. Such integrated design of coursework and clinical experience offers a powerful preparation to teach.
Another innovative program, UTEACH, started at the University of Texas-Austin and has spread to 43 U.S. universities. The program's goal is to recruit more science and mathematics candidates into teacher preparation and prepare them to deliver competent instruction. Teacher candidates have the chance to work in a classroom alongside a practicing teacher during their very first course. This early placement in a school is powerful. What follows is a tightly designed course of study that allows undergraduates to complete a rigorous major in mathematics or one of the sciences while embarking on a set of clinical experiences with middle or high school students.
Candidates learn from professors in their subject major, who work in close collaboration with professors in the school of education. The clinical faculty are often former classroom teachers with expertise in the actual work of teaching.
UTEACH emphasizes rehearsal as part of clinical training. Candidates practice teaching lessons to student colleagues and faculty and receive feedback before they deliver the lesson in an actual classroom (Urban Teacher Residency United, 2015).
Some programs with a residency component began as independent providers—either within school districts or as nonprofits—and brought in college and universities as partners. The Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago manages several schools for the Chicago Public Schools and also runs the Chicago Teacher Residency program. Aspiring teachers spend a year in a Chicago public school learning to teach alongside professional practitioners (Banchero, 2012).
New Visions for Public Schools in New York City started in 1989 as an organization that championed home-school relationships and small schools. New Visions has become a supporting partner to more than 70 schools in New York City and has worked with Hunter College to create a teacher residency program. Residents work alongside practicing teachers during the school day, while taking master's degree courses at Hunter College. The college faculty and residency staff align the clinical preparation activities and coursework to better support residents as they learn to teach (New Visions for Public Schools, n.d.).
Both these residency programs are part of the National Center for Teacher Residencies (NCTR) network. NCTR collects data from its network partners about the effects of residencies on residents and the schools where they learn to teach. According to its 2014–15 report, 84 percent of residents were still teaching in the districts where they were trained three years after they completed their residency program. NCTR surveyed hiring principals about the effectiveness of its graduates. Eighty-eight percent of hiring principals reported that graduates of residencies were more effective than typical new teachers in instruction and pedagogy, culturally responsive teaching, and professionalism and leadership (UTRU, 2013, 2014).

Identifying Essential Skills

This new emphasis on learning how to teach through clinical experiences relies on ideas about what new teachers most need to know how to do. The field of teacher preparation has struggled for years to build consensus around these capabilities. Renewed calls for improved teacher training have inspired a number of organizations to create lists of the professional skills new teachers need and to design rubrics and other instruments to measure how well candidates are mastering such basic capabilities as designing lessons, interpreting student work, and creating a safe learning environment.
In some cases, policymakers have taken up this work as part of their mandate to approve providers and certify new teachers. The Massachusetts State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (2015) brought together stakeholders to design the Candidate Assessment of Performance, a rubric that specifies the skills new teachers need and that is used to evaluate a candidate's readiness. Specific skills are organized around four domains: (1) Curriculum, Planning, and Assessment; (2) Teaching All Students; (3) Family and Community Engagement; and (4) Professional Culture. For example, "Meeting Diverse Needs" is one skill within Teaching All Students. To complete a preparation program and be qualified to become a licensed teacher in Massachusetts, a candidate must earn a passing score on a summative evaluation that uses this rubric.
Mirroring Massachusetts's effort, preparation providers in Utah have designed and piloted the Utah Preservice Teacher Evaluation Rubric, which delineates the skills and capabilities new teachers should have before leading a classroom independently—for example, being able to work with parents to support student success.
TeachingWorks, an organization at the University of Michigan's School of Education dedicated to improving teacher education, has identified 19 high-leverage teaching practices. These include such activities as leading a whole-class discussion, setting long- and short-term learning goals for students, and talking about a student with a caregiver. The list of practices can be found at
These lists of essential teaching practices vary somewhat, but share significant similarities. They give teacher preparation providers a way to talk about the essentials of teacher preparation and the most effective way to build new teachers.

Cause for Hope

Criticism of the state of teacher preparation and calls for reform have been around, in various forms, for decades. But there's cause for hope that the efforts to redesign teacher preparation described here, rather than simply recycling arguments about what teachers ought to be able to do, will push the field toward more powerful structures for preparing teachers. Certainly there are encouraging examples taking root in the field.

Aldeman, C., & Mitchel, A. L. (2016). No guarantees: Is it possible to ensure teachers are ready on day one? Washington, DC: Bellweather Education Partners.

Arndt, D. (2012, April 2). Mitchell-Scarlett partnership with U-M sees more engaged students, praise from teachers. The Ann Arbor News.

Banchero, S. (2012, August 16). To train teachers, a new lesson plan. The Wall Street Journal.

DeMonte, J. (2015). A million new teachers are coming: Will they be ready to teach? Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.

Glazerman, S., & Jeffrey, M. (2011). Do low-income students have equal access to the highest-performing teachers? NCEE evaluation brief (Document No. PP11–23a). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

Goldhaber, D., Krieg, J., & Theobald, R. (2013). Knocking on the door to the teaching profession: Modeling the entry of prospective teachers into the workforce. Economics of Education Review, 43, 106–124.

Hallberg, K., & Green, G. (2015). How can we hire and keep high-quality teachers in struggling schools? [blog post]. Retrieved from InformED Blog at

Holmes Group. (1986). Tomorrow's teachers: A report of the Holmes Group. East Lansing, MI: Author.

Massachusetts State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2015). Guidelines for the Candidate Assessment of Performance. Retrieved from

MI School Data, 2015. Retrieved from

New Visions for Public Schools. (n.d.). The New Visions-Hunter College Urban Teacher Residency (UTR). Retrieved from

Reischl, C. H., Khasnabis, D., Boerst, T., and Stull, M. (forthcoming). Foundational frameworks that guide activity within a school university partnership. Chapter to appear in R. Flessner and D. Lecklider (Eds). The power of clinical preparation in teacher education. Rowan and Littlefield Education in association with the Association of Teacher Educators.

Ronfeldt, M., Schwartz, N., & Jacob, B. (2014). Does preservice preparation matter? Examining old questions in new ways. Teachers College Record, 116(10), 1–46.

Sawchuk, S. (2015, December 2). Gates Foundation puts new focus on transforming teacher prep. Education Week.

TeachingWorks. (2015). TeachingWorks receives $6.8 million grant to support broad transformation in teacher preparation (press release). Retrieved from

Teach Plus. (2015). Teach Plus teacher preparation flash poll summary. Boston, MA: Author.

Urban Teacher Residency United. (2013). Network end-year survey trends report: 2013–2014. Chicago, IL: Author.

Urban Teacher Residency United. (2014). Measuring UTRU network program impact 2014. Chicago: Author.

Urban Teacher Residency United. (2015). Clinically oriented teacher preparation. Chicago: Author.

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