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Standards Drive Education Schools to Raise the Admissions Bar

New standards such as the Common Core are pushing education schools to focus on teacher effectiveness and classroom preparation.

 Matthew Sforza, a master's candidate in middle childhood education with concentrations in science and social studies at Ohio State University, co-teaches students at Woodward Park Middle School in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday, February 13, 2014. He and his 7th grade partner-teacher, Christine Boyd, who has been in the classroom for more than 15 years, plan lessons together, trade classroom management roles, share grading responsibilities and meet occasionally with an OSU supervisor to reflect on his progress.

Teacher prep providers are rapidly working to strengthen their programs, hoping to attract strong students with the right balance of course work and practice.

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Leighanne Law's journey to the front of the classroom began nearly a decade ago when she hosted a monthly book club for middle schoolers. That spark led her last year to the one-year education master’s program at the University of Washington in Seattle – and, starting Day One, to the teaching life.

Law graduates this year with a wide range of experience under her belt: a spring of intensive observation in a sixth-grade classroom; a summer team-teaching an English class for incoming high school students; and regularly co-teaching – and teaching – seventh-grade English at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle.

Law’s multifaceted training demonstrates the renewed mission of teacher prep programs: recruit candidates with deep content knowledge and arm them with serious practice, along with a strong foundation in teaching methods and the new Common Core State Standards.

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The standards, a set of language arts and math objectives designed to make sure all students graduate college- and career-ready, have been fully adopted by most states and the District of Columbia, with the goal of phasing them in over several years. A key goal of this systemwide reform is to hold education schools – and the teachers they produce – to tougher standards of their own, after years of criticism for everything from lax entrance requirements to weak practice-teaching programs.

Last summer, the newly created Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation revamped the requirements teacher-ed programs will face to be accredited, raising the bar for admission and mandating substantive clinical work and the collection of comprehensive data on program impact.

By 2016, schools will have to report annually on teacher effectiveness – using multiple measures like K-12 student achievement and employer satisfaction, for example – and admit a cohort of students with at least a 3.0 average GPA and test scores in the top 50 percent nationally and in the top third by 2020.

While experts disagree on how best to ensure teacher effectiveness, there is a growing consensus that it must be done.

With help from 34 states and the District of Columbia, Stanford University and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education have developed and field-tested edTPA, a comprehensive subject-specific assessment that would measure teacher candidates based on everything from lesson plans and video clips of them in action to student work samples. A few states are beginning to use it for licensing.

Given the new imperatives, teacher prep providers are rapidly working to strengthen their programs, hoping to attract strong students with the right balance of course work and practice – "the double helix of teacher education," says Rachel Lotan, a professor in and director of the Stanford Teacher Education Program.

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In the program’s yearlong curriculum, for example, candidates take graduate course work on topics like planning, instructing and assessing in their subject areas, including implementing the Common Core; at the same time, they spend about 20 hours a week with mentor teachers in local classrooms immediately, putting all that knowledge to use.

Some ed programs have taken a cue from medical schools, crafting full-fledged residency programs that place students almost immediately in their own teaching positions in high-needs schools. Those who commit to teaching for several more years in similar schools can earn tuition assistance or loan forgiveness.

At CUNY—Hunter College in New York City, "we literally flip the whole structure of teacher preparation and put the clinical at the heart of it," says David Steiner, dean of the school of education.