Future of Teaching

This Indianapolis charter school has a solution to its teacher shortage: ‘Grow’ its own educators.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
A teacher at Christel House Academy South works outside with a student.

When new teachers step through the doors of Christel House Academy, they are seldom prepared for the challenges of working in a school dedicated to educating students in poverty.

That’s why leaders at the Indianapolis charter network are trying a new approach: Training their own teachers.

Next year, Christel House is piloting a new teacher training program called IndyTeach. Student teachers will work in the classroom alongside experienced educators at Christel House, with additional teacher training each week. At the end of the year-long apprenticeship, which pays $30,000, students will earn teaching licenses from the state. The program will start with just four students, but it is expected to grow in later years.

In part, Christel House is launching the program to help create a steady stream of teachers for the network’s schools, said Tracy Westerman, who will lead IndyTeach.

“We need more. We need better teachers,” Westerman said. “This crazy idea stemmed from, how do we get more teachers? … Alright, let’s create them and grow them in house.”

The idea of giving new educators more practice in the classroom is gaining interest in Indianapolis and across the country. IndyTeach recently received a grant from the Mind Trust, an Indianapolis nonprofit that supports school reform and charter schools, and it is modeled on a teacher training program at a California charter network.

The program will include a year in the classroom instead of the 16 weeks of student teaching that is typical for many education programs, said head of school Carey Dahncke. Students will work with mentor teachers, and as the program progresses, they will take on more teaching responsibility.

There is “much, much less emphasis on any kind of academic preparation, and a much greater emphasis on doing the work,” Dahncke said. “It is designed to be sort of just in time instruction.”

In the past, Christel House leaders have had a deep pool of applicants to choose from, Dahncke said. The teachers they hired were more experienced, and newly licensed teachers filled support roles where they had a chance to acclimate to the school before taking on their own classrooms.

But as the economy has improved, Christel House has had fewer applicants to choose from, Dahncke said. Now, many of the teachers they hire are not only brand new, but also unfamiliar with the school’s intensive approach to educating students in poverty.

The data offers a hint at the challenges facing teachers at Christel House: Nearly 90 percent of students are poor enough to get meal assistance and more than one in four children at the network’s two schools are learning English. Many parents didn’t complete high schools and hardly any continued on to college, said Dahncke.

Christel House teachers are focused on character education and instilling strong work habits, Dahncke said. Unlike in suburban schools, teachers don’t expect parents to track student progress, and they make home visits so they have a sense of the environments where students live. That approach is unusual, and many new teachers don’t get the right skills when they are studying education in college, he said.

“What tends to happen with traditional programs out there is they prepare teachers to teach sort of in any environment,” Dahncke said. “We are trying to prepare teachers for an urban environment.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Carey Dahncke said teachers typically have about 16 weeks of student teaching.

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.

Gold standard teachers

Tennessee adds nationally certified teachers but continues to trail in the South

PHOTO: Ruma Kumar/Chalkbeat

Twenty Tennessee educators have earned a national certification that’s considered the profession’s highest mark of achievement, although the state continues to lag in the South in growing that community.

The state Department of Education on Tuesday released the list of new educators designated as National Board Certified Teachers.

Their addition brings Tennessee’s number of NBCT educators to more than 700, with another 63 pursuing certification. By comparison, Kentucky has 3,600, Virginia 3,400, and Georgia 2,600.

“We know that teachers are the biggest factor in the success of our students, and it is an honor to celebrate educators who are helping their students grow, while serving as an example of what it means to be a lifelong learner,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Nationally, 5,470 teachers earned the designation in 2016-17, raising the total to more than 118,000 through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The certification takes from one to three years to complete and includes a performance-based peer-review process. Successful candidates must demonstrate a proven impact on student learning and achievement.

In Tennessee, at least 36 school districts offer at least one type of incentive for achieving the certification. The most common is a salary bonus.

North Carolina continues to lead the nation in certification, with 616 more teachers gaining the endorsement last month from the Arlington, Va.-based organization.

Earning their certification in Tennessee were:

  • John Bourn, Franklin Special School District
  • Christy Brawner, Shelby County Schools
  • James Campbell, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Kimberly Coyle, Sumner County Schools
  • Suzanne Edwards, Williamson County Schools
  • Anastasia Fredericksen, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Theresa Fuller, Kingsport City Schools
  • Amber Hartzler, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
  • Jennifer Helm, Williamson County Schools
  • Deborah Higdon, Franklin Special School District
  • Karen Hummer, Franklin Special School District
  • Heather Meston, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Melissa Miller, Franklin Special School District
  • Kelsey Peace, Sumner County Schools
  • Lindsey Pellegrin, Franklin Special School District
  • Andrea Reeder, Williamson County Schools
  • Jordan Sims, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Susanna Singleton, Williamson County Schools
  • Melissa Stugart, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Drew Wilkerson, Franklin Special School District

To learn more, visit the website of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.