California has a chronic teacher shortage, made worse by the fact that roughly one in six new teachers leave the field after just a few years.
One of the biggest reasons teachers move on? They don’t feel prepared for the demands of the job.
The University of California has set its sights on solving that problem, and is launching one of the largest research consortiums in the country to begin tracking the effectiveness of different approaches to teacher training.
The California Teacher Education Research and Improvement Network brings together 60 researchers from nine UC campuses. Working in collaboration with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the California State University system and the California Department of Education, they plan to collect data and provide analysis that can answer crucial questions about how to help more teachers succeed in the classroom.
“If we ever needed to understand how to have high-quality teachers in every classroom, it’s now,” said Tine Falk Sloan, director of UC Santa Barbara’s Teacher Education Program, and the leader of the new effort. “It’s a hard job. There’s a lot of expertise required of teachers these days.”
There is surprisingly little data about the effectiveness of different paths to earning a teaching credential, Sloan said. There is no current system for collecting even basic data about what happens with new teachers: which schools they go to, how long they stay, or whether and why they leave.
Test scores provide a narrow – and often controversial – measure of whether a teacher is effective in the classroom. Different kinds of survey and observation methods could help answer questions like whether students stay in school, how to spark a love of learning, and whether the unique and diverse needs of California’s students are being met.
“We hope to develop tools that can get at a broader definition of ‘student success,’ to help us understand the effect that quality teaching has on the whole child, and every child,” Sloan said. “As a research university we are the right place to take this on.”
She and other network partners expect to convene a policy summit later in 2017 with CSU and other state partners to agree on top research priorities, and to begin thinking through the infrastructure for a secure, shared database that could be used by CSU, UC and its other state partners.
UC President Janet Napolitano helped launch the network by tapping it for a coveted President's Research Catalyst Award and providing $1.5 million in seed funding. Napolitano started the Catalyst Awards program in 2014 to advance multicampus, interdisciplinary research in areas of strategic importance to California and the world.
In October, she also created the President’s Educator Fellowship program, another universitywide effort that goes right to the heart of the teacher shortage.
The program provides financial, need-based support to graduate students enrolled in UC’s teaching and education leadership programs.
In its inaugural year, Napolitano has allocated $620,000 to offset costs for 177 students enrolled in one of UC’s seven Teacher Education Programs or two Principal Leadership Institutes.
To qualify for the fellowship, students had to demonstrate “significant financial need” and a commitment to working in public schools that primarily serve students from low-income families.
In all, about 17 percent of students enrolled in UC’s educator preparation programs received financial support, with 45 percent of fellows coming from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
“It’s a very visible way to directly support students with a financial need and to invest in high quality teachers,” Sloan said. “And these programs together send an important signal from UC about its commitment to K-12 education in California.”