Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bush Foundation to Provide Unprecedented Support Through Teacher Effectiveness Initiative

 April 11th Parents United Summit
Attendees of a Parents United for Public Schools conference were reminded Bush Foundation President Peter Hutchinson is not one to "tiptoe through the tulips" where public education is concerned. 

Hutchinson's path-breaking style surfaced when he became the first "private" superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools while heading Public Strategies Group in 1993, and his new leadership on a $40 million, 10-year Network for Excellence in Teaching initiative designed to buttress a beleaguered teaching profession illustrates he still strides long for schools.

Parents United Executive Director Mary Cecconi invited the Bush Foundation president, Minnesota Board of Teaching's Karen Balmer, and St. Paul Federation of Teachers' Mary Cathryn Ricker to its annual summit-- held April 11--  with the intent of providing "a much deeper look at effective teaching than what has been provided in the newspaper."

In his part, Hutchinson kicked off the trio of presenters with a bold spiel citing a "Big 3 problems" in education:

1. Overall student attainment is mediocre and not getting better.
2. The education system is becoming a drag on the economy (a view he's been reluctant to share publicly).
3. There is an almost unmentionable set of disparities between the students of different races in Minnesota.

Add in the statistical projection that 70% of jobs will require a post-secondary degree or certification over the next decade (while only 27% of current high school graduates are doing so).  You now have the basis for why the Bush Foundation is investing considerable resources in teacher effectiveness--  the single most important factor in creating academically successful students.

Along with the 3 educational beliefs above and the increased need for graduates goes this fitting "demographic": 25,000 teachers (half the teaching corps of the three participating states) are expected to retire during the next 10 years.  As a result, the 14 institutions of higher education* participating in the Bush initiative have committed to producing those 25,000 teachers.

Unlike most other teacher quality initiatives that assist teachers once in their professional environments, the Bush initiative will be helping the collaborating institutions prepare teachers by recruiting candidates, giving them earlier student teaching experiences, and supporting them professionally after becoming full-time educators.

If the initiative develops as intended, partnering institutions will not only cultivate good teachers by targeting scholarships and preparing their candidates, they will also maintain relationships with graduates after they are placed in the teaching field.

"Instead of the 2nd semester of a student's senior year being the first time she works alongside a classroom teacher, these programs will have students co-teaching in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th years of their undergraduate programs,"  Hutchinson said in emphasizing a distinction that will help people determine whether teaching is for them at an earlier stage of their teaching track.

Once a candidate from the consortium becomes employed, his performance will be "guaranteed" for the first 4 years of his career by the college granting the diploma.  Any professional development needs during that time period will be the degree-granting institution-- not  the employing school district's--- responsibility to provide.  To build that bridge between the teaching institution and employer, longitudinal data links will be developed to strengthen the status of the teaching degree programs.

Lonni Skrentner--a 39-year  Edina Public Schools educator and current Edina school board member--  likes the initiative's earlier focus on student teaching and the post-graduation support components.  Although she did not embrace all of  Hutchinson's claims & statistics and has a hard time understanding how any recruitment approach will work given the vast amount of teacher bashing out there, she appreciated Hutchinson's "guts, perseverance, and willingness to get into the weeds" on the subject of teacher effectiveness.

The Bush Foundation's Teacher Effectiveness Initiative is "huge undertaking" that concerns the "futurity" of kids, said Hutchinson.

Let's hope it adds value to the education system going forward.
*The 14 higher education institutions in the NExT Teacher Partnership are: Minnesota State University @ Moorhead and Mankato, St. Cloud State University, University of MN Twin Cities, Winona State University, Augsburg College, Bethel, Concordia, Hamline, St. Catherine, & St. Thomas Universities,  North Dakota State University, Valley City State University (ND), and the University of South Dakota.

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