Improving the #STEM Teacher Pipeline in New Jersey

Earlier this month, dear ol’ Eduflack had the honor and privilege of testifying before the New Jersey General Assembly’s Higher Education Committee. The topic? How to improve the recruitment, preparation, and support of STEM teachers for the state’s high-need schools. While I almost never speak with prepared remarks, this time, I did. While I strayed a little (including talking about chasing education unicorns), here is the totality of what I intended to say:
Five years ago, New Jersey committed to becoming a national leader in recruiting, preparing, and supporting exemplary STEM teachers.

Through the New Jersey Teaching Fellows program, innovative teacher preparation efforts are currently underway at The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, Rowan University, Rutgers University-Camden, and William Paterson University. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is working with these institutions of higher education to create a more effective teacher education model focused on a yearlong classroom experience, rigorous academic work, and ongoing mentoring and support.

By focusing on clinical experience and giving prospective teachers as much time in K-12 classrooms as possible, these programs ensure all of their graduates understand the challenges of teaching in a high-need school, and all are prepared to succeed as teachers of record from day one.

New Jersey is one of five states to offer the Teaching Fellows program, including Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Georgia. The New Jersey program has grown from the previous work of these states, learning from their challenges and building on their successes from the start.

Looking at these other programs, we can see the impact the New Jersey Teaching Fellows program can have long term. A future where effective teachers remain in high-need schools as a career, not just for a year or three. A future where colleges and school districts work together to ensure a pipeline of strong STEM teachers prepared to meet the needs of our local schools and the expectations of an ever-changing workforce.

The Teaching Fellows program is not a cookie cutter effort. Far from it. The New Jersey Teaching Fellows program was created specifically to meet the needs and expectations of New Jersey, its schools, and its communities. This program is New Jersey, and its graduates reflect the very best the state has to offer. It should be no surprise that the Woodrow Wilson Foundation calls New Jersey home, with our headquarters located just a few miles up Route 1.

As you all know, New Jersey has 24 traditional teacher education programs, housed in the state’s colleges and universities. In recent years, across all of those programs, the state has produced as few as 9 physics teachers and 16 chemistry teachers annually. These numbers are hardly enough to fill all of the STEM hiring needs in the state’s 600+ school districts. The problems of filling these teaching positions are even greater in high-need districts.

The Woodrow Wilson Foundation partners with colleges and universities to create a more effective teacher education program focused on a yearlong classroom experience, rigorous academic work, and ongoing mentoring. The year-long program includes:

  • Admission to a master’s degree program at a well-established NJ partner university
  • Preparation for teacher certification in science, math, or technology education
  • Extensive clinical experience teaching in a high-need urban or rural secondary school for one full year prior to becoming the teacher-of-record in a high-need science or math classroom
  • Support and mentoring throughout the first three years as teacher of record

In Woodrow Wilson’s past eight years of work, we have been helping states like New Jersey strengthen the pipeline to provide excellent teachers for high-need schools. And we have done it while increasing the number of teachers of color assuming STEM teaching positions in New Jersey classrooms.

Nationally, approximately 16 percent of all teachers are people of color. Those numbers are notably smaller when it comes to individuals teaching science, technology, engineering, and math in our secondary schools. Targeting only those with strong STEM backgrounds, 41 percent of New Jersey Teaching Fellows are people of color.

The value of the New Jersey Teaching Fellowship model can be seen in the teacher preparation regulations adopted by the state a little more than a year ago. In focusing on the value of clinical experience, mentoring, and the overall quality of teacher candidates, the state is now looking to all seeking to become New Jersey educators to follow a preparation path similar to those taken by New Jersey Teaching Fellows.

Later this year, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation will announce its fourth and final class of New Jersey Teaching Fellows. As of last year, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation awarded 180 Fellowships to high-achieving STEM students to become science, technology, engineering and math teachers in the New Jersey schools and districts that need them most.

Let me share a few facts from the New Jersey Teaching Fellows program with you, in addition to the 41 percent statistic offered earlier. In a profession where three-quarters of all educators are female, 43 percent of New Jersey Teaching Fellows are male. Last year alone, 25 percent of all Teaching Fellows already held advanced degrees, including Ph.Ds, law degrees, and M.Ds. They are a mix of recent college graduates, career changers, and former military. All bring real STEM content knowledge to New Jersey classrooms. All are committing to careers, not stints, as New Jersey public school teachers.

The educators produced through the Teaching Fellowship are enough to fill the STEM vacancies in the state’s highest-need school districts. Among the people who received these Fellowships are a Ph.D. cancer researcher who has taught at Princeton University, and a geologist and veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, now teaching in Orange. The Fellowship draws on in-state talent: 82 percent of our Fellows are New Jersey residents.

Each Fellow is committed to teaching for at least three years in New Jersey’s urban and rural schools ̶ in cities and towns such as Bridgeton, Camden, Newark, New Brunswick, Orange, Passaic, Paterson, Trenton, and dozens more. We know from other states where we have been doing this work longer, that roughly 80 percent of Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows remain in teaching after finishing their three-year commitment, far surpassing national trends that show rates of teacher attrition as high as 40–60 percent in the first three years on the job.

A coalition of support for the Woodrow Wilson New Jersey Teaching Fellowship program has also been developed, which includes the Governor, key legislators on both sides of the aisle, the Commissioner of Education, the Secretary of Higher Education, school districts, universities, the NJEA, the business community, and philanthropy.

When the program was invited to New Jersey, our promise to the state was simple. We would work with our partner universities to help transform their STEM teacher preparation efforts. We would work with local school districts to ensure they, and their students, are getting the STEM teachers they need. And we would help prepare three cohorts of teachers for New Jersey schools.

The success on each of our partner campuses, coupled with the new state teacher preparation regs, demonstrate success on point one. The more than 20 high-need districts currently employing New Jersey Teaching Fellows answer point two. And our commitment to now add a fourth cohort of New Jersey Teaching Fellows to ensure ongoing staffing needs are met moves beyond our promise in point three.

In each Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow state, program sustainability is always a non-negotiable. The program is constructed so that outside philanthropy funds the first three years of Teaching Fellows. In New Jersey, we were able to extend that to four. Currently, each of our university partners has identified and committed to a plan to keep the program going on their campuses, whether that be through an increased focus on the clinical experience, a robust mentoring program, or the continuation of a stipended Fellowship program.

It is our hope that the Legislature sees the value this program plays in recruiting and preparing excellent educators, particularly those from disadvantaged groups, who may otherwise have never considered teaching as a profession. It is our hope that we all can see the impact this program is currently having. And it is our hope that the state continues this program, sustaining the New Jersey Teaching Fellows effort and ensuring generations of effective STEM teachers for the state’s high-need schools.

 

Making Colleges Accountable Again

When President Donald Trump took office, many in the higher education community took that to mean that it would again become the “Wild West” when it came to institutions of higher education. We’d return to a world when anyone could do anything, and would likely remain accredited despite their actions.

But a funny thing has happened on the way to all of that perceived doom and gloom. EdSec Betsy DeVos and her U.S. Department of Education continued with plans to eliminate the accreditor responsible for for-profit institutions such as Corinthian Colleges, noting the importance of accountability and oversight when it comes to those colleges entrusted with current and future generations of learners.

This is an important signal, both for the Trump Administration and higher education. Over at BAM! Radio Network, I explore the DeVos decision and what it may signal for the future of higher education accountability. Give it a listen. 

Community Colleges in the Trump Era

Earlier this month, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke on the possibilities of community college and the role these institutions can play in ensuring all students have access to pathways of success. 

Unfirtunately, we often hear politicians talking about community colleges, without taking specific actions. While one can hope that Trump’s focus on jobs and manufacturing and the middle class means good things for community colleges, will the actions ultimately follow the words?

This is the question we pose on the most recent edition of TrumpED on BAM Radio Network. So give it a listen!

Is Free College Really a Good Thing?

Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, joined by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, announced a plan to provide “free” college to all New Yorkers with a family income under $125,000. This isn’t the first time politicians have announced plans for free college, and it likely won’t be the last.

In making the announcement, Governor Cuomo noted that postsecondary education is a necessity in the current global, information economy and that many NYers graduate with “$30,000” in debt to secure a degree. “That is not fair. That is not right,” the New York Post quoted the Empire State governor as saying.

Yes, Cuomo is absolutely right that a postsecondary education is a must for all these days. And while we can get into the discussion on whether such programs end up throwing shade on community colleges and lead more individuals to pursue four-year degrees that don’t open many doors in that information economy, I’ll leave the fight over what “postsecondary education” means for a future post.

Instead, dear ol’ Eduflack wants to take issue with the notion that it isn’t right or fair that individuals take on student debt obtaining a four-year degree. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the average graduate of a four-year college (excluding the for-profits) leaves school with $30,100 in debt.  That works out to student loan payments of about $300 a month for the average college graduate.

That’s less than the monthly payment on an average car loan the recent graduate is likely paying. It is likely less than the average rent. And unlike the car and the rent, it is an asset that the graduate will carry with them throughout his or her life.

We can often forget that when we make things “free,” particularly things that one used to pay for, we reduce the perceived value of the item. When it is free, we don’t see to care as much about what we received. It was free, after all, so it is no biggie if we lose it, forget about it, or fail to use it.

When we pay for something, we see value. With a college education, we are forced to make choices. What postsecondary path is of most interest to us. What areas do we have the most skill. Where do we see potential careers. Are we willing to do the work necessary to turn our investment into a tangible product (our degree)?

When we take out loans, take on jobs, or even have families who can pay the tuition, we are less likely to seek that degree in underwater basketweaving and instead choose paths that are aligned with our interests, talents, and future goals. And that is a good thing.

Instead of free college, why not instead focus on college affordability? Why not ask if so many of those universities need the ever-growing endowments they have? Why not ask how colleges and universities are reducing costs to their students, and not just their operating costs? Why not ask when a two-year degree may make far more sense than a four-year degree? Why not ask whether it makes sense for that “free” college to essentially go to pay for remediation? Why not ask how we ensure it takes students four years, and not six or seven, to earn a four-year degree? Why not ask how we ensure college focuses on the student, and not the institution? Why not ask how we ensure a college education is about what is learned, and not just what is taught? Why not?

After World War II, about 5 percent of Americans held a college degree. Today, we are up to about 40 percent. Are those millions and millions of Americans chumps for personally sacrificing, taking on debt, and gaining college degrees when they could have just waited around for someone to give it to them for free?

I don’t mean to be the skunk at the garden party, but if we think free college is the answer to all that ails us, we are going to be severely disappointed. Not only does free college diminish the value of a postsecondary degree, but it also begins to draw further distinctions between where one earned that degree. How long before employers begin asking whether that free degree from the state college is as valuable as the paid-for degree from the private college up on the hill?

Efforts to bring equity to postsecondary education through free college could end up bringing a whole new era of inequity to the discussion.

 

#TrumpED: Do Degrees Matter?

The latest installment of BAM Radio Network’s #TrumpED is up. In it, I look at some of the shade Trump nominees are facing because of the academic degrees they have (or haven’t) obtained and where they went to college.

At a time when we encourage all kids to seek a postsecondary education, should we really be disparaging those who didn’t go to Ivy League schools, or insinuate they shouldn’t be holding positions of authority?

Give it a listen here, and then give me an earful. And please send along any thoughts you might have on potential future segments for TrumpED.

Seeking the Teachers to Succeed in Today’s, Tomorrow’s Schools

Over at Forbes magazine, Dr. Arthur Levine – the president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and president emeritus of Teachers College, Columbia University – has a provactive piece on the need to better prepare educators for the challenges of both teaching in schools today and leading the creation of the schools of tomorrow.

In it, Levine looks at five important shifts that need to come to teacher education, including:

  1. A shift from teaching to learning
  2. A shift from classrooms to learning environments
  3. A shift from planning to learning design
  4. A shift from instruction to facilitated learning
  5. A shift from professionalism to leadership

 The full piece is here, and it is definitely worth the read. At some point, the preparation programs of tomorrow will be completely insufficient for the needs of today. Better to prepare for the future than to have it thrust upon us.

 

Is Education Level, Alma Mater the Measures of Ability?

My grandfather was a high school dropout. After ending his formal education, he joined the U.S. Army. The Army taught him how to drive a truck and how to repair them. After his service to our country, he put those skills to work, taking care of my grandmother and their five children. His 10th grade education and the skills he obtained allowed him to pay the mortgage, cloth and feed his family, and generally love the middle class American dream. Sure, money was always tight, but they found a way.

My grandfather took great pride in not trusting “college boys.” When my mother brought home my dad, a 24-year-old doctoral student, for the first time, my grandfather couldn’t fathom how one could be 24-years old and still in college. My grandfather had obtained his education though his life experiences, and education on the streets (and highways).

Coming out of the 2016 elections, I’ve often thought about my grandfather and what he would have thought about this election. He was a loyal Teamster, and often voted as the union leadership instructed their truckers. In all likelihood, he would have been part of Trump’s America, embracing an outsider, someone who would stick it to the man, and someone would pledged a commitment to hard work and the good ol’ days. He would have pointed to Trump’s successes as a businessman, particularly his ability to get things done, to complete projects on time, and the perception that Trump was always getting the better end of the deals he negotiated.

I also thought about my grandfather in reading Shaun King’s latest for the New York Daily News. In it, King laments how we are likely facing the least-educated presidential administration in recent times. Donald Trump will be the first president in more than two decades to “only hold a bachelor’s degree.” He is nominating potential cabinet members who also hold only lowly bachelor’s degrees as their highest educational attainment. And even worse, some of those attended non-Ivy League colleges!

King longs (channeling a Ta-Nehisi Coates interview on the topic) for a cabinet of Nobel Laureates and Ivy League Ph.Ds. We all have our vision of who makes the best leaders. But when one sees educational attainment (including from which institution obtained) as the ultimate measure of ability and success, aren’t we again projecting a sense of entitlement? And in the process, aren’t we discounting the skills and abilities of some to fit the preferences and prejudices of others?

There is no Ivy League Ph.D. program, law school or MBA coursework, that prepares one to be president (or even a Cabinet secretary). A former Nobel laureate Energy Secretary may go down in history as one of the worst at the position. In fact, one could argue such academic accomplishments (and the Ivy towers that come with them) ensure that individuals are not prepared for effectively leading large bureaucracies or owning the bully pulpits that come with being a politician on the national stage.

Many have taken school choice advocate Betsy DeVos’ nomination as Education Secretary as a sign of what is wrong with the system. As King and many others have noted, DeVos “only” holds a bachelor’s degree from Calvin College. She’s also been attacked for having never worked as a public school teacher or for having never worked in K-12 in general (among other criticisms).

But many of the same people who criticize DeVos for her lack of education pedigree are the same who were uber-critical of Rod Paige when he was named EdSec in 2001. Dr. Paige held a doctorate. He had been a K-12 teacher (though in a subject that many dismissed), a school superintendent, and had worked in higher education. We dismissed those experiences as well, saying he shouldn’t be the EdSec, because we didn’t like the schools he attended or the subjects he taught. He didn’t fit the pre-conceived perceptions that many had for an EdSec.

I’d remind folks that those who think teaching experience is a pre-requisite for being EdSec, such a filter would have denied us EdSec Richard Riley, perhaps the most successful Secretary since the creation of the Department in the Carter Administration. And for those who think an advanced degree is a requirement for becoming president, it would have kept us from Presidents Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan (just to name a few).

What is of even greater concern is the focus on where the degrees of nominees may be from. We discount Trump’s B.A. from a lesser Ivy like UPenn, and folks are having a field day with DeVos’ Calvin College. Here in America, we tell our kids that a college education is the most important investment they can make. Almost as frequently, we tell them where they attend doesn’t matter (as long as it is accredited) as long as they work hard and earn their degree.

But the scorn that is now being displayed for the Trump administration on its attainment levels and alma maters tell a very different story. We are telling our kids that if they only get a bachelor’s degree, they can’t be a true success (I guess we will forget Bill Gates dropping out of school and such). And we’re telling them that that undergraduate degree from an affordable state college isn’t worth as much as one from an elite private school charging $75,000 a year. 

Even worse, we are telling our kids that one’s success is measured by the letters after their name and the public recognition of the college bumper sticker on their car, not by what they have achieved in their lives.

Sure, I know that isn’t what King is intending to say. But it is how it can come across to so many. We should measure our leaders (and everyone else) by what they know and are able to do. It should be about earning success and demonstrating achievement. A graduate degree can be one measure of that. So can military service. So can experience building a non-profit organization or serving as a community leader. So can a whole lot of things that just aren’t measured by a sheepskin.