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More Details Emerge from Teacher Education Program

August 26, 2010 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

The Bush Foundation is on an interesting tack to improve beginning teacher quality. In December, it announced a $40 million commitment to help recruit, prepare, place and support new teachers in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota during the next decade.

When first announced, the foundation released scant details that caused doubts about its effectiveness. However, early work shows signs of a well-thought program with the potential to make a real difference. 

The foundation has spent about a quarter of the $40 million so far, according to Bush Foundation Vice President Susan Heegaard. Expenses flesh out some of the initial plan's vagaries. For example, the foundation has given money to its 14 teaching institutions* to both find K-12 school district partners as well as improve in-classroom student training. The foundation has also hired a public relations firm to develop a marketing campaign attracting new teaching recruits, especially for people studying math and science.

"This is an exciting time," Heegaard said "We've moved from the planning to the implementation stage."

The Minneapolis-based foundation claims about half of the teachers in Minnesota and the Dakotas will retire or quit in the next 10 years. In 2009, the foundation announced its goal to add 25,000 new teachers by 2020. It also said it would attract high-quality teaching students and help retain them once they have their education jobs.

Rebecca Krystyniak, an associate professor of chemistry and program co-director at St. Cloud State University, said she's anxious to see the marketing campaign. "We will be looking at how to recruit and who to recruit. Our highest needs are in special education, English language learners and the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes as well as to find men to teach the primary grades. The plan is that this marketing campaign will help us to identify people to serve in these areas," she said.

SCSU has already identified six central Minnesota school districts that will participate -- St. Cloud, Sartell, Sauk Rapids-Rice, Rocori, Monticello and Holdingford. SCSU will use feedback from these districts to craft its teacher training program and will work with the districts after new teachers are hired, Krystyniak said.

The Bush Foundation also wants to increase the number of hours college students spend with mentors in K-12 classrooms. Teaching students don't usually get inside a live K-12 class until junior year, but this program may help them rethink their goals, getting them in front of classes as early as freshman.

Mentoring new teachers is extremely important. Without it, teachers feel isolated and are more likely to leave the profession. In Minnesota 2020's report "Growing Gap: Minnesota's Teacher Recruitment & Retention Crises," we found an excellent mentor program between Mankato Area Public Schools and the University of Minnesota, Mankato.

In addition, the Bush grant will now help colleges continue relationships with graduates after placement. "Right now, after graduation we have nothing to do with our students," Krystyniak said. "With this program, we will work with the school districts to support our teachers with education and mentorship."

To determine new teachers' effectiveness, the Bush Foundation has sent millions of dollars to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to develop a value-added teacher assessment.  This assessment is meant to use standardized test scores to measure teachers along with a variety of intangibles out of the teacher's control, such as the student's prior performance, poverty, English language status, special education status, race and gender.

"Were still working on how to put the data together and how it will be used," Heegaard said.

While these new details show the foundation has a solid start that includes stakeholder and K-12 educators' opinions, it's imperative to keep a close eye on the Bush program's progress.  How specifically will it attract aspiring science and math teachers to work in rural districts or special education and ELL educators to Minneapolis, St. Paul and first ring suburbs?
Beyond Bush, will Minnesota adequately fund education so these new teachers have the tools and resources they need to be most effective?  Without robust education investment, K-12 students will miss critical opportunities to grow as learners in even the best trained, most resilient teacher's class.

*The 14 institutions working with the Bush Foundation are Augsburg College; Bethel University; Concordia University, St. Paul; Hamline University; Minnesota State University, Mankato; University of Minnesota; Minnesota State University, Moorhead; North Dakota State University; St. Catherine University; St. Cloud State University; University of St. Thomas; University of South Dakota; Valley City State University; Winona State University.
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