Editor’s note: This post was authored by Sarah Butrymowicz with The Hechinger Report.
Somewhere midway through his sophomore year of college at Florida Atlantic University, Christopher Clevenger started to question his aeronautical engineering major. He liked the coursework, and was doing well at it, but when he thought about his job prospects, the future seemed bleak.
“It would be me, a computer screen and a phone,” he said. “I didn’t get that human interaction that I craved.”
John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida
University of Central Florida education professor Lee-Anne Spalding uses an interactive white board to shows students how to connect a drill using coins to both math and history. Critics say education programs, such as the one at UCF, have few standards for entry and do not adequately prepare graduates to lead a classroom.
So Clevenger changed track. He was accepted in Nova Southeastern University’s undergraduate teacher training program. On a campus tour, talking with professors and seeing the level of interest they seemed to have in the teacher candidates, Clevenger was sold. He graduated from Nova in November with a degree in secondary social science and is now teaching world history at a high school near Nova’s Fort Lauderdale campus.
Although he switched from a tough major to one that has a reputation of being easy, he stressed that – despite what some people assume―the decision was not because he wanted to earn easy As.
“A lot of students see going into the education world as a fallback…That’s where you get the bad teachers,” he said. “It’s definitely not easy. It’s not something you wake up and do if you’re not passionate about it.”
A national push to improve the quality of teachers has focused largely on those already in the classroom, with the adoption of new teacher evaluation systems and efforts to help struggling teachers and push out those who don’t improve. But increasingly, reformers who believe better teachers will lead to greater student achievement are eyeing how teachers are trained in the first place—and finding training programs lacking.
University of Central Florida elementary education students discuss how to incorporate books, maps, magazines and other materials into lesson plans.
Editor’s note: This post was authored by Sarah Butrymowicz with The Hechinger Report.
Lee-Anne Spalding’s Elementary School Social Studies class at the University of Central Florida had spread out over the room in small groups.
One group of sophomore college students huddled over a set of poetry books, picking out ones they liked. Others gathered around the white board as Spalding demonstrated how to they could embed sounds in their presentations. Spalding had cut into strips a timeline of the civil rights movement and a third group, sitting on the floor, was putting the events back into chronological order.
In part, Spalding was providing content to her students by introducing them to materials they might use – like National Geographic magazines and the poetry books. But she was also modeling teaching strategies, like small group learning, and introducing activities, like the timeline exercise, that she hoped her students would someday mimic.
“You are more likely to use the instructional strategies I’m proposing to you if you actually do it,” she told her students.
UCF is the largest producers of teachers in the state; the university’s education school enrolls more than 2,000 students. It prides itself on being one of the strongest—if not the strongest—teacher training program in Florida, a position it has gained, school officials say, by nimbly responding to changes in the profession. But there is no real way to test that claim. The university, like many education schools across the country, often must rely on anecdotal evidence from principals and graduates to determine that its programs are working, rather than hard data showing students are performing better.
Conventional wisdom holds that many, if not most, education schools are doing a poor job at training teachers; after all, they have a history of taking in some of the lowest performing students, and student achievement in the United States has stagnated. Nationally, education schools have been criticized for being far too easy and, as a result, pumping ill-equipped teachers into the system and harming student achievement. Schools across the country are trying to mitigate the criticism by changing curriculum or increasing the amount of field experience teachers receive.
Florida and several other states are also creating accountability systems so education schools will develop quantitative ways to measure their programs’ success. But for now, teacher preparation remains over-saturated with options―undergraduate degrees, master’s programs, in-school residencies and online courses―that provide little evidence of their effectiveness. And as thousands of Florida’s baby boomer teachers prepare to retire, there is little consensus about how to best train the next generation of teachers.
For the first time in nearly nine years, and just the second time in half a century, Miami-Dade County’s teachers union has a new president. Fedrick Ingram, 39, was sworn in Thursday during a ceremony at the Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus as the leader of the United Teachers of Dade, which represents more than 34,000 members, most of them teachers.
An A-rated Bradenton magnet school may convert to a charter school due to the Manatee County school district’s financial problems. Twenty district schools have converted to charter schools since 1997, redefinED reports.
Securing pay raises for teacher’s — his top legislative priority — didn’t come easy for Gov. Rick Scott. The Tallahassee Democrat published emails to and from the governor’s staff which shows the behind-the-scenes struggle over whether the raises should be tied to performance.
In the days that followed, Scott’s team worked to get new bill language drafted while FEA members contemplated political “nuclear war” and channeling their unhappiness toward Scott’s 2014 re-election bid.
“Our folk are furious, frustrated and downright pissed,” FEA lobbyist Jeff Wright wrote to Scott adviser Chris Finkbeiner on Monday, April 29. “So I need some help trying to respond.”
Just because a project is labeled as a “turkey,” doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile expenditure.
“What we’re looking for is that they followed the established budget processes, that the things that were funded were subject to public scrutiny,” said TaxWatch’s Robert Weissert. “That’s not a judgement of the value of the project.”
In other words, these turkeys didn’t go through the normal debate process among lawmakers or the public may not have had a chance to review them.
Here is a sampling of this year’s TaxWatch education turkeys:
Teacher's unions around the country are waiting and watching the Florida Education Association's challenge of the state teacher evaluation law.
The Florida Education Association’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s test-based teacher evaluations — if successful — could become a model for teacher’s union across the country, Governing magazine reports.
And over at the Quick and the Ed, labor attorney Danny Rosenthal argues the FEA normally would have a difficult time proving the government violated teachers’ 14th Amendment rights. But one of the teachers filing the Florida case was evaluated using students at a different school — a “striking fact” the union has on its side, Rosenthal writes.
The decision could have national implications by setting off a chain reaction of lawsuits testing other teacher evaluation provisions, he says.
Florida districts have yet to develop end-of-course exams for subjects such as art, music or physical education. So some districts used school-wide averages on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test for those teachers. That meant teachers were being rated for the performance of many students they had never taught.
Next month would have been Saunders’ three-year anniversary as president.
While the university is showcasing her string of accomplishments, there was no way to get around a spate of missteps in recent months.
“There is no doubt the recent controversies have been significant and distracting to all members of the University community,” Saunders said in her resignation letter.
“The issues and the fiercely negative media coverage have forced me to reassess my position as the President of FAU,” Saunders wrote. “I must make choices that are the best for the University, me and my family.”