STEM advocates call pedagogy out of touch’ with K-12 classrooms

As work begins on the first comprehensive evaluation of the state's teacher preparation system in more than a decade, a widely respected math and science advocacy group is calling for sweeping change in support of STEM instruction.

The California STEM Learning Network - whose donors include Bill and Melinda Gates and S.D. Bechtel Jr. and whose board includes representatives from the University of California - want new teachers to undergo a clinical trial similar to the residency new doctors must complete.

They suggest that school principals be required to demonstrate basic literacy in math and science and recommend teachers be offered a ladder of credentials and career pathways. Preparation programs should beef up math and science content for all candidates, and consideration should be given the creation of an early learning credential specializing in math.

The report is based on interviews with 30 leading experts in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. The authors point out that California is well-positioned to pivot on new teacher training goals as public schools transition to new common core curriculum in both math and science.

We think that because this huge sea-shift is happening with common core implementation and expected adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards we have the opportunity to step back and look at the entire system as a whole and ask, what do we need to do differently," said Chris Roe, chief executive officer of the San Francisco-based non-profit.

The survey comes on the heels of another assessment of California's teacher preparation system - from the National Council on Teacher Quality - which gave a failing grade to nearly half of the state's teacher training programs. While the NCTQ review has drawn some criticism for how its evaluation was conducted, clearly interest is growing both nationally and in California on how educators are trained and how it can be done better.

Earlier this month the Commission on Teacher Credentialing - the state's standards board for educator training and professional conduct - held the first of what will likely be numerous public hearings on a series of recommendations to update the licensing system, program accreditation standards, induction and early learning.

Mary Sandy, PhD., executive director of the commission, said last week that no doubt STEM training will be on the list.

"The commission has just initiated the broadest review of teacher preparation since SB 2042 in 1998," said Sandy, who was also a participant in the STEM Network's evaluation survey. "Preparation of teachers in STEM subjects will certainly be a part of that review, as will some of the structural issues in credentialing raised in the report. We welcome all thoughtful contributions to this review."

She noted that the commission "is increasing its focus on the outcomes of preparation" and is engaged in a variety of strategies to "strengthen our ability to monitor quality in preparation."

Some of the strongest criticism from the STEM Network, however, targets the institutions that oversee teacher training including state colleges and universities where current practices and priorities "get in the way of improving student learning in STEM subjects."

The report noted that "higher education course content in math and science is generally not relevant to the needs of today's teacher-candidates." The report argued that undergraduate math and science courses are typically taught by faculty who are "out of touch" with the latest research as well as the realities of contemporary classrooms.

Too often, the report observed, the university system emphasizes research over clinical practice and a tenure system that values being published as more valuable "even the most prestigious teaching award."

Roe acknowledged the report's plain language was intentional.

"We wanted to be straight forward," he said. "But we are not here to condemn teachers or teacher training programs by any stretch of the imagination. We are here to help everyone understand some of the barriers in a forward looking way."

He noted that officials at the California State University have already embraced parts of the report and based on the feedback he's received, other stakeholders have too.

Beverly Young, vice chancellor of academic affairs for CSU and a member of the CTC board, called the report a "significant asset" for evaluating the next steps in teacher preparation.

Among the recommendations for the CTC:

- Lift restrictions on the separation of content coursework in the undergraduate years and pedagogical coursework in the fifth year to enable blended learning experiences for teacher-candidates. Identify and disseminate high-quality models of such blended learning programs.

- Beef up math and science content and pedagogy for all multi-subject credential candidates. All teachers should acquire basic math and science literacy, and they should understand and experience an inquiry-based approach to learning. The solution is not about adding more course requirements. What is taught in teacher preparation courses â and how it is taught â must change.

- Overhaul the BTSA induction program, and keep it simple. The BTSA program is working well in some districts, but overall it has become a repetitive, paperwork-heavy compliance experience for new teachers. Include math and science in BTSA induction standards.

- Hold out-of-state teacher-candidates to similar standards to those required of California teacher-candidates. It is currently too easy for out-of-state teachers to get credentialed in California.

Recommendations for universities and institutions training teachers include:

- Convene math, science and education faculty to examine the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards and discuss implications for teacher preparation. Use this process to build faculty leadership to transform teacher preparation, induction and ongoing professional learning programs.

- Consider ways to reward faculty for making changes.

- Have outstanding faculty â individuals who are expert in content and pedagogy â teach math and science courses for teacher-candidates, and ensure this role is highly valued within academic departments and in tenure and promotion.

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