White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers
Thank you so much for inviting me to speak today on an issue that is so vital to our nation's future. I would also like to offer a special thank you to First Lady Laura Bush for the invitation, and for your efforts to focus the nation on the importance of recruiting and preparing quality teachers.
In my state alone, we will need to hire roughly 20,000 teachers a year for at least the next decade. Seeking out and nurturing caring people—and providing them with top-quality teacher preparation—is a gift we can and must give to children throughout our country. And as the grandfather of Natalie and Claire—two preschoolers in our district—I have a personal stake in making this happen.
The demands upon teachers in our diverse society are greater today than they have ever been. We must be imaginative in attracting top-quality people who can teach to rigorous standards in reading, mathematics, language arts, social science and science, and assure that all students reach those standards.
These issues are crucial to my district, the Elk Grove Unified School District in Sacramento County, California. We serve 50,000 students today and expect to grow to 80,000 students in eight years. We have a wonderfully diverse population—63 percent are students of color, 37 percent are white, and our students speak more than 80 languages and dialects. Our nine-year-old Teacher Education Institute—the TEI -has helped us carry out the mission of our district: "To provide a learning community that challenges all students to realize their greatest potential." We are determined not just to close—but to eliminate—the achievement gap and work towards President Bush's goal to "leave no child behind."
The TEI has helped attract "second career" teachers who bring confidence, maturity, and a wealth of life experiences with them. These teachers come from a striking array of backgrounds—former jet pilots, flight attendants, news reporters, retail managers, Air Force officers, oil drillers, and wildlife biologists, to name a few.
People like Teresa Bandy, a former newscaster who is a successful high school English teacher, or Michael Arbegast, who brings his background as a geologist for an oil drilling company to his high school science classes, or Linda Cobarruvias, who was raised in a migrant farmworker family and worked as an instructional assistant before becoming a first grade teacher.
One of our graduates, Gil Tisnado, is a former art director for The Los Angeles Times who left journalism to start his own business in Sacramento. When he was looking for a way to expand his volunteer mentoring with young people, a friend suggested he give teaching a try, and he entered our program. He will tell you that he now works "twice as hard for half the money," but he will also tell you that teaching for him is about looking at the payback, not the paycheck. When The Los Angeles Times interviewed him about his new profession, he said, "There wasn't one moment this year that I wanted to go back to my old life."
As one of the fastest growing school districts in the nation, we hire 300 to 500 teachers a year. We are fortunate to receive over 1,200 teacher applications a year. But several years ago we became concerned about the quality of recently-credentialed teachers coming out of the universities. That prompted us to start our own credential program—the Teacher Education Institute, or TEI.
In developing our own program, we searched for a like-minded partner—a university interested in thinking "outside the box." We found that partner in San Francisco State University. These were our goals:
- Train prospective teachers from the outset to our district's high standards, which would help us to cut down on the need for retraining.
- Offer a fast-track program with classes taught in our district, by some of our most capable veteran teachers and administrators. We wanted a program that was both excellent and convenient for those who enrolled.
- Expand the number of teacher applicants who are from traditionally underrepresented groups, and/or seeking second or third careers.
- Increase dramatically the amount of research-based instruction and hands-on training our future teachers receive.
- Provide a far more personal approach to mentoring and support for new teachers.
We're proud of the performance of TEI in all of these areas.
TEI began operating in 1993. To date, more than 400 teachers have earned their credentials through the program, with approximately another 100 enrolled this year. We receive hundreds of applications each year, from both "second career" people and young college graduates. Historically, we have hired about 75 percent of the graduates. While that doesn't completely meet our needs, it does give us a critical mass of new teachers who we know have been trained to our specifications and who will "hit the ground running." TEI has also helped us double the number of teachers of color we hire every year.
The key to our program was a restructuring of time, content, clinical experiences, and mentoring support.
In California, prospective teachers must earn a four-year college degree and then complete a credential training program. While traditional university credential programs can take up to two years to complete, we developed a high quality, fast-track, intensive program that our teacher candidates, or "interns," could complete in 11 months.
We wanted to make sure that our interns had extensive hands-on experience, so we structured our program to provide 1200 hours of hands-on, in-classroom experience, almost double the amount in traditional programs.
We have found that this intense clinical experience better prepares our candidates who are recent college graduates for their first job, and it certainly makes them more attractive to principals, especially in our high poverty schools that serve disadvantaged youths.
We view our teacher candidates as our customers, and our program is structured with the customer in mind. Classes are held in the late afternoons and evenings to provide more time for interns to observe and student-teach during the day. Interns also have the opportunity to substitute teach and, in some cases, to be hired as full-time teachers while earning their credential.
The ability to earn an income while in training is especially important for people looking at teaching as a second career. That schedule helped Eugene Mehaffy become an elementary teacher. Eugene earned his teaching credential while fulfilling his military commitment and serving as an Air Force pilot.
We knew it was important to support the interns while they are in the program and after they graduate. We pair each intern with a carefully chosen—and well-paid—teacher-coach, and we also organize our overall enrollment into "cohorts" of 25 interns, who take all their classes together and become a support group for one another.
Finally, our program is directed by two skilled and caring teachers that I affectionately call our "hand holders." They complete all the applications and financial aid paperwork for our interns so that they can concentrate on the program. And our two directors are always there to lend a sympathetic ear and offer wise counsel when times get rough for interns during the training period.
We are very proud that TEI has been successful in retaining teachers. Studies have shown that 20 to 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within three years, but more than 96 percent of our graduates in the past nine years are still teaching. I credit that to their preparation in the program and to the on-going support they receive after they graduate. Teacher retention is crucial because every person who stays in the profession is one more person that we do not have to replace, recruit, and prepare.
Because we train interns to our district's high standards, we are able to hire new teachers who are far ahead of those from most traditional university programs. For example, many of our new elementary teachers were not trained to teach reading to our exacting specifications of phonics and phonemic awareness, and I can tell you that teaching reading is absolutely critical for an elementary teacher. By offering our own program, we are able to use the textbooks our district has adopted and explicitly teach to our own standards and benchmarks. That has helped contribute to our academic success in elementary schools. It has also sharply reduced time and money spent on retraining.
We are also able to adjust our teacher preparation curriculum as needed. For example, we now require additional coursework in reading to be sure our graduates are prepared to teach this crucial "gateway" skill. We have also aligned our elementary teacher training curriculum with the state's Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, which all new elementary teachers must pass. As a result, more than 98 percent of our elementary teachers pass this test on their first try, compared to the state average of just over 90 percent.
We have also taken the further step of creating preschool standards and aligning them to our K-3 standards.
I am gratified to report that the graduates of TEI-along with the fine staff throughout our district-are changing young peoples' lives every day. Let's look at the bottom line.
Over the past five years, student performance in our elementary schools has increased dramatically, particularly in our most needy schools. Our college-going rate to University of California and California State University schools, once lagging behind the state average, has nearly doubled from 14.8 percent to 27 percent in four years. And private college-going rates are increasing as well, in part due to a focused effort to recruit students to historically black colleges in the southeast. And we're very proud that over the last 10 years the proportion of children placed in special education has dropped from 16 percent to 9.1 percent.
We have a shortage of quality teachers in America, and I believe that collaborative district-university programs like TEI are a major part of the solution. These programs are very attractive to the many people who come from other professions and who bring so much wisdom and experience with them, because the program is designed with the needs of the customers—the teacher candidates—in mind.
But I also believe that much more can be done to make what is now viewed as an alternative program into a standard practice.
- We can and should make programs "customer friendly."
- We should use many more practicing teachers as university instructors.
- We should use more proven, research-based instructional methods.
- We should tie teacher training much more closely to state academic standards, instructional materials, and district practices.
In closing, I once again want to thank the President and the First Lady for shining the spotlight on the critical issue of teacher quality. Our teachers are at the heart of our program, and TEI has truly been instrumental in helping us advance our district's goal of hiring the best and the brightest. Our students, and students throughout this nation, deserve no less.
Thank you again for the honor of addressing you today. I would be pleased to respond to any questions.