The Key to Improving Teacher Prep: Data Sharing and Collaboration

Strong Teachers and Leaders
The Key to Improving Teacher Prep: Data Sharing and Collaboration

This post is by John E. Clark, physics and chemistry teacher at Deltona High School in Florida and 2015–2017 Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow. A second-career educator beginning his 11th year, John also coaches the Science Olympiad, Science Fair, and Physics Olympics teams, and he serves on two national standards-focused workgroups with the American Federation of Teachers. John received the 2014 Governor’s SHINE award for inspirational teaching and was a finalist for the 2013 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.

Are new teachers “learner ready” on day one? I certainly wasn’t.

My alternative certification program provided just two weeks of classroom observation as my total exposure to real-world teaching, meaning that I spent much of my first year in the classroom learning on the job. While the program promised to follow my career for five years, I never heard from them after graduation. Even after I received several awards for teaching excellence, my college showed no interest in learning what they had done right or might have done better.

My experience is not unique. As a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, I spent two years studying teacher preparation programs nationally. I found that teachers across the country felt they graduated ill prepared to meet the needs of under-performing student populations, to teach to emerging standards, or to provide differentiated instruction. We can and must do better, and the Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC) latest report, Using Data to Ensure That Teachers Are Learner Ready on Day One, shows how.

One essential part of improving teacher preparation is making sure that everyone involved in a teacher’s education has access to the data they need. This is easy to say but can be difficult in practice as the data needs of educator preparation programs (EPPs) and school districts are as different as their perspectives. With declining enrollment in many US schools of education, EPPs are justifiably focused on promoting “front-end” opportunities that will attract new students. Local school districts, as future employers, are more concerned about the “back-end” results—how successful are the new graduates once they are in the classroom?

Colleges of teacher education are often reluctant to take responsibility for “back-end” data given they have no control over the students after they graduate. The points of view of both sides have merit and need to be resolved to mutual satisfaction if states are to collect data that is meaningful and actionable. States can address this challenge by convening stakeholders and facilitating discussions across organizations, including practicing teachers, to identify what data is most valuable. Finding this common ground can help spur collaboration at all levels, leading to more effective data sharing and use.

I saw this happen firsthand in Florida, where the University of South Florida’s (USF) Collaborating Fellows program partnered with Hillsborough County. The USF-Hillsborough County program dedicated university resources to the formal preparation of Hillsborough mentor teachers, who oversaw the clinical field experience of USF student teachers. The collaboration was a success, resulting in ongoing conversations and information sharing between the district and USF to better understand what was working and what could be improved to ensure that USF graduates were learner ready on day one. By building a common language through data sharing and collaboration, both organizations were able to develop higher quality programming and provide a stronger start for new teachers in the classroom. States can make more partnerships like this possible by supporting and developing feedback loops between local education agencies, states, and EPPs with the information EPPs most need for continuous improvement.

My conclusions, as a teacher and education researcher, mirror those of DQC: teacher preparation cannot exist in a silo. EPPs need to know how their graduates perform in the classroom, and states have a critical role to play in making that happen. We can do better for new teachers and their students. I know we can and I hope we will.

Also published on Medium.