Executive Summary: Partnerships for Reform: Changing Teacher Preparation Through the Title II HEA Partnership Program: Final Report
May 2006

I. Introduction

In 1998, Congress reauthorized and amended the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), creating, under Title II, the Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants Program for States and Partnerships. One initiative under this amendment, the partnership grants program, funded partnerships among colleges of education, schools of arts and sciences, and local school districts.

Congress designed the partnership initiative as one of several pre-No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) efforts to support accountability for teacher preparation and to improve the work of teacher-preparation programs. It was anticipated that the collaboration among the partners would result in the successful implementation of reforms holding teacher-training programs accountable for producing high-quality teachers and providing sustained and quality preservice field experiences and professional development opportunities.

This evaluation report focuses on the 25 grantees of the 1999 cohort of the Title II partnership grants program. A diverse cohort, these grantees, consisting of at least 66 colleges and universities, 28 community colleges, 179 school districts, and 821 elementary schools in more than 25 different states, received a total of more than $171 million over the 1999-2004 period.

A descriptive study conducted over four and a half years (2000-05), the partnership evaluation surveyed nearly 300 representatives from institutions of higher education (IHEs) and district project participants at two points during the grant period (2000-01; 2003-04). More than 500 principals were surveyed once, during the 2002-03 year. The study also included secondary data analyses using publicly available data on school characteristics, school-level achievement data, and pass rates on teacher assessments reported as part of the Title II HEA reporting requirements. Five diverse projects were the subject of case studies that included repeated week-long visits.

The evaluation's goal was to learn about the collaborative activities taking place in partnerships. The study was also designed to examine approaches to preparing new and veteran teachers and to assess the sustainability of project activities after the grant ends.

A full report of the partnership evaluation follows the broad evaluation topics that framed the evaluation data collection and analysis. In this executive summary, we summarize our results concerning core questions related to the HEA Title II partnership program goals:

  1. Did partnerships fulfill the program mandate, encouraging colleges and universities to partner with and address the teacher-preparation needs of high-need districts?
  2. Did partnerships undertake activities designed to improve the academic content knowledge of new or veteran teachers?
  3. Were changes in the student teacher internship component associated with partnership efforts to improve teacher preparation?
  4. Did partnership initiatives address the accountability concerns about teacher preparation?

II. Key Findings

Key findings related to each of the evaluation questions are described below.

 Evaluation Question #1: Did partnerships fulfill the program mandate, encouraging colleges and universities to partner with and address the teacher-preparation needs of high-need districts?

  • Partnerships did encourage and support collaboration between IHEs and schools around teacher-preparation needs. This collaboration was guided through advisory committees with partner representation. As activities were implemented, the partnership involved district-level and school- level staff.

District-level involvement was important in the beginning years of the partnership as activities were planned and arrangements made to facilitate collaboration. Teacher involvement grew as implementation progressed and professional development opportunities were extended to teachers (Exhibit 1). Activities that brought IHEs and school and district staff together included mentoring new teachers, collaborating on professional development, and redesigning methods of instructing and assessing teacher-education students.

  • Helping districts fill vacancies and recruit and retain teachers was a goal of many partnerships, yet over time, a lower proportion of partnership districts reported positively regarding the fulfillment of some of these goals.

One of the central concerns for district partners in the Title II partnerships was recruiting and

retaining high-quality teachers. The evaluation specifically investigated the partnership contributions in this regard. The evaluation surveys asked representatives of the partnerships about addressing recruitment and retention needs, especially for high-poverty schools and high-needs subject areas (see Exhibit 2). Survey responses and site visit interviews indicated that some partnerships set goals related to recruitment that were frustrated by a lack of openings and competition for hiring teachers from neighboring states.

  • Induction support for new teachers was one approach used in many of the 1999 partnerships to address the problem of teacher retention.

When these partnerships began, neither statewide nor districtwide induction programs were well established. Some partnerships reported they filled a distinct need for induction support in districts where teacher retention was identified as a problem. A few partnership induction programs even addressed the needs of new teachers who had not graduated from partnership institutions but were teaching in partner schools. Training for mentors was one additional activity assumed by the partnerships. Participants reported that induction activities were taking place in the partnerships throughout the grant, although at follow-up, lower percentages of district respondents indicated some activities were provided (Exhibit 3).

 Evaluation Question #2: Did partnerships undertake activities designed to improve the academic content knowledge of new or veteran teachers?

  • Partnerships focused course reform and professional development on academic content needs of teachers, which were specified through discussions with partner districts and principals of partner schools and also based on partners' concerns about aligning the course content in teacher preparation with state teacher and content standards.

Partnerships reported extensive activity in revising and aligning education and arts and sciences courses, and involving arts and sciences faculty in planning and supporting teacher-preparation students. Arts and sciences faculty met with education faculty, monitored the progress of teacher-preparation students, and delivered professional development institutes to veteran teachers based on content in their respective disciplines. In some partnership IHEs, arts and sciences faculty reframed courses to meet the needs of education students.

  • Professional development institutes of varying length and features were the chief vehicle partnerships used to meet the subject matter needs of veteran teachers.

Both education and arts and sciences faculty reported designing and delivering professional development summer institutes. These institutes met some standards of high-quality professional development because of their content focus and average length (one to three weeks). However, much variation was noted in the participant selection process and in follow-up. While partnerships reported conducting evaluations of the institutes, they also reported that resources for more intensive follow-up to these activities were not always available. In a few partnerships, follow-up consisted of such activities as arranging Saturday meetings of professional development participants and in a very few partnerships, faculty visited the schools or classrooms of professional development participants to assist in knowledge transfer and reinforcement.

  • District and faculty reported that their judgments about new teacher preparedness were similar over the duration of the partnerships.

When asked how individuals preparing to be teachers measured up with respect to academic knowledge, instructional and management skills, and dispositions essential for successful teaching, faculty and district representatives indicated that teacher-education students seemed fairly well-prepared for many teaching challenges. In follow-up surveys administered as the grantees were well into implementation activities, faculty tended to rate their students a little higher than did their district peers in the partnerships (see Exhibit 4). The respondents making these judgments were individuals who had opportunities to view student interns in schools and participate in hiring processes. They would have seen more than one cohort of program graduates emerge from IHE preparation programs to be teachers of record over the course of the grant.

 Evaluation Question #3: Were changes in the student teacher internship component associated with partnership efforts to improve teacher preparation?

  • Partnerships reported that the practice of forming collaborative preparation sites with partner schools-termed professional development schools (PDS)-offered additional opportunities for gathering input from current teachers about student internships and course contents. In some cases these collaborations were reported to lead to improvements in the traditional student internship that existed prior to the partnership grant.

The PDS approach at 67 percent of the partnerships was thought by faculty to offer the optimum approach to bringing teacher preparation closer to the classroom: placing faculty in partner schools on a regular and frequent (weekly) basis; offering university classes for preservice teachers in schools; and encouraging ongoing involvement by master teachers in preparing new teachers.

  • Field experiences were offered to prospective teachers earlier (during freshman and sophomore years), and more faculty reported there were opportunities to participate in "teacher-like activities" over the duration of the grant period in the Title II partnerships.

Education faculty and principals interviewed at the PDS partners, as well as students participating in internships and those who were new teachers of record, commented often during the site visits that early exposure to the realities of working in schools was essential in helping make a smooth transition to being in charge of the classroom, providing invaluable practical experience.

 Evaluation Question #4: Did partnership initiatives address the accountability concerns about teacher preparation?

  • Partnerships specifically addressed the accountability concerns of the HEA Title II, and external sets of standards were important guideposts in meeting these concerns.

While neither a requirement of the partnership grant nor a focus of partnership resources, accreditation was important to many of the grantees, who worked toward improved pass rates on teacher assessments for their students to meet an accreditation standard. Faculty in the partnerships also reported using not only external standards from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) and the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) but also state content standards to guide program reform.

  • Over the five-year grant period, the extent of requirements at entry and exit for teacher- preparation students grew.

The most frequently reported changes to program entry and exit requirements were the added stipulations that teacher-preparation students assemble portfolios of their work and that they pass Praxis II in specific subject areas. Overall pass rates of program completers in the Title II partnership teacher-education programs changed little over the grant period, consistent with national data reported in the Title II state reports. In at least one partnership, the funds made available from the Title II grant were used specifically to prepare program participants for the Praxis test. This preparation led to increased pass rates and contributed to improved program accreditation status.

  • As the grants ended, the prospects for long-term joint accountability assumed by arts and sciences and education faculty for teacher preparation were not promising across all partnerships.

Arts and sciences and education faculty in most of the partnerships initiated collaborative work that transcended traditional roles and responsibilities regarding teacher preparation. However, faculty follow-up surveys and site visit interviews indicated that many of the initiatives were "one-shot" activities, and others were abandoned when faced with negative response from students or academic departments. Still, faculty were somewhat optimistic when asked about the likelihood of sustaining some of the mechanisms for joint accountability and especially about improved communication between IHEs and school district partners.

III. Challenges and Lessons Learned

Partnerships among educational entities have long been touted as a means of accomplishing goals that seem out of reach for individual organizations to achieve. While there is little evidence-based research about the effectiveness of partnerships, descriptive studies reviewed for this evaluation provided information about features that are thought to facilitate the organization of partnerships and the implementation of partnership activities, such as: sharing a mission and goals; developing and expanding partner roles and strengthening relationships over the duration; developing and expanding leadership roles; assuming shared accountability; and recognizing and working to eliminate barriers.

Generally, leaders in the Title II partnerships were quite experienced. A number of the project directors were faculty members and deans who had prior experience with reform networks and teacher-education policy initiatives. Many of the leading IHEs had a history of winning grants, and some partnerships were benefiting from multiple funding sources for the same group of reform and professional development efforts. This experience served the partnerships well in getting activities started, creating an atmosphere of collaboration among partners, working on complex arrangements with schools and with arts and sciences departments, and arranging additional funds for continuation of some activities. However it was not sufficient, as reported by the partnerships, to see all activities through to fruition or to sustain partnership-sponsored activities after the grant ended.

Title II partnerships reported they could not remove some of the powerful institutional barriers that remain in the way of sustaining partnership program goals. Challenges highlighted by partnership participants include: a lack of time and recognition of faculty who take part in partnership activities; insufficient funding in K-12 schools; high turnover of school and district leaders; and a generalized feeling of fatigue regarding reform in many districts.

Through interviews and surveys, Title II partnership representatives articulated some important lessons learned regarding sustaining their Title II partnership grant activities. These are:

Minimize geographical spread. Over the course of the study, large and geographically scattered partners reported difficulty in arranging meetings, placing preservice teachers in schools for internships, or providing professional development over substantial distances. In future undertakings, policymakers may wish to emphasize the strength that comes from forming cohesive partnerships that are purposefully limited in their geographic scope.

Provide adequate support to partnerships in high-need areas. Outside of project and partner leadership, the economic condition of partner school districts was one of the most important elements cited in the ability to sustain partnership activities, according to project directors and school district participants. Partnership districts repeatedly and consistently cited a lack of funds within their partner districts as a challenge to implementing their reforms.

Encourage partners to plan realistically for easily foreseeable contingencies. It is not surprising to anyone familiar with school districts or university culture to note frequent turnover of K-12 teachers, university faculty and school administrators. The loss of principals, faculty members and department administrators, as well as turnover of project directors, led to loss of partnership memory and ground gained in promoting and supporting collaborative activities. Policy leaders should underscore the obstacles presented by this turnover phenomenon in structuring new initiatives and encourage partnerships and other reform agents to build back-up contingencies into their blueprints.

Enhance evaluation resources to monitor objectives. Very few partnerships implemented the kind of continuous evaluation that would yield data on the effectiveness of faculty collaboration, professional development activities or teacher mentoring. When the evaluators were an integral part of the project management, decision making was data driven and all partners tended to be included in the process.

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Last Modified: 05/25/2006