Promising Teamwork in Oregon Aims to Improve Teacher Preparation

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A new program in Oregon offers a hopeful example of how collaboration and teamwork can produce innovative solutions to enhancing teacher effectiveness and student achievement. TeachOregon, launched by the Chalkboard Project in August, was established with grants totaling $180,000 awarded to five partnerships configured among 20 school districts and six universities. The partnerships will work together to design innovative new models for preparing the next generation of Oregon’s K-12 teachers.

Over a period of six to nine months, the TeachOregon partners will use their grants to design “blueprints” that address four core components of teacher preparation: recruitment and selection, classroom experience, hiring and placement, and mentoring and induction of teachers.

Among other aspects of teacher preparation, the partnerships will focus on creating innovative models for clinical experiences that include 30+ weeks of residency. This approach aims to chip away at the dichotomies separating most teacher preparation programs from the real-world needs and experiences of classroom teachers.

TeachOregon also will address some of the systemic disparities between the types of teachers our preparation programs produce and what school districts actually need. Oregon school districts continue to need more math and science teachers as well as bilingual and special education teachers, yet teacher preparation programs graduate mostly elementary generalists. Many school districts — especially those where students of color form the majority — also report difficulty recruiting highly qualified teachers. Raising student achievement is difficult when the teaching staff is not highly skilled.

Another issue TeachOregon aims to pursue is more diversity in the teaching force. In Oregon, only 8 percent of teachers identify as people of color, yet 34 percent of the state’s pupils are students of color. TeachOregon will focus on increasing the share of teacher candidates its partners recruit from underrepresented groups.

Finally, TeachOregon will address the lack of data currently available showing how effective teacher candidates are when they graduate and enter the classroom. The TeachOregon partnerships will prioritize new models for the assessment of teacher candidate performance, including student achievement data. The partnerships also will pursue better alignment between the preparation programs and Oregon’s new K-12 college- and career-ready standards (the Common Core State Standards).

By 2020, there will be at least 15,000 new licensed teachers in Oregon; and across the nation, over the next 10 years, 1.6 million teachers will retire, and at least 1.6 million new teachers will be needed to take their places. However, research shows that as a whole the existing teacher preparation programs across the country will not be able to meet this challenge.

As Oregon and the rest of the country move to ensure all students are prepared for college and careers, preparing educators for the workforce is increasingly important. Partnerships between districts and institutions of higher education are important to ensuring emerging educators are prepared with the skills they need to teach students the tools they’ll need to be successful in life.

— Iris Chavez