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Advocate file photo of State Superintendent of Education John White talking at the annual meeting in Jump Start in January of 2018.

Despite concerns from state Superintendent of Education John White and others, Louisiana's top school board has approved a plan by LSU to overhaul the way teachers are trained for the classroom.

The new rules stem from a policy change approved two years ago by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on a 6-5 vote.

The result is that future teachers have to spend roughly one school year in a classroom — called a residency — working with a veteran teacher before graduation rather than just part of their final semester of college.

The overhaul sparked heavy controversy in 2016, and it is not over.

Much of the debate focuses on one issue: What is the right balance between real-world experience for aspiring teachers versus content knowledge and pedagogy — the art and science of teaching?

BESE spent over three hours last month wrestling with a plan by LSU, and a similar one by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

In both cases, the panel ignored the recommendations of the state Department of Education to delay action on key parts of the proposals.

White repeatedly urged BESE to put off a decision on the LSU plan, largely because he said it is woefully short of meeting the one-year teaching mandate.

LSU officials envision students spending one of five days teaching in the fall semester of their senior years, and about five days per week during the spring term.

"It is a question of whether 20 percent, one day per week, embodies what was passed," White said of the fall regimen and BESE's policy.

But school leaders said the already intensive program — called Geaux Teach — is so crammed with math, physics and other rigor that forcing students to spend more time in front of students could kill the entire enterprise.

"The issue is a very simple one," said LSU math professor Frank Neubrander, who is director of the Gordon A. Cain Center, which promotes STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math.

"At LSU you cannot, you cannot, put a one-year residency in a content major on math, physics, chemistry or biology," he told White and BESE. "As simple as that."

The overhaul, which White led in 2016, stemmed from what backers called a major problem that surfaced in a 2014 survey of new teachers.

Roughly half said they were not prepared to run a classroom when they began their careers.

After a lengthy debate, BESE endorsed the one-year requirement, starting with the freshman class of 2018 for most of the 18 schools that offer teacher training.

However, the panel also said LSU and other schools could offer innovative models that would get to the same goals — better preparing rising teachers for their first classroom jobs.

Geaux Teach, which is modeled after a program at the University of Texas, offers undergraduate degrees in biology, chemistry, math and physics to teach in grades 6-12.

It also includes a concentration in secondary education, and full certification when students graduate.

Churning out more STEM teachers is a key state priority and the subject of an ongoing task force.

James Madden, who is the P.H. Bodin Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at LSU and oversees the Geaux Teach secondary teacher program, said while students would only spend 20 percent of their final fall semester with teaching duties, it is part of up to 200 hours of clinical and field experience.

"We are quadrupling the amount of time they are spending at the school site," Madden told BESE. "That is a substantial change."

Madden said last week, "We feel that not every single hour of every single day is critical for teachers to understand."

BESE President Gary Jones, an educator for nearly half a century, echoed White's concerns.

"I am sorry," Jones said. "I am just having a hard time seeing how 20 percent is a sufficient number that first (fall) semester that looks toward the model we are trying to do."

He added later, "Just because you know the subject doesn't mean you know how to teach."

BESE member Doris Voitier, veteran superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District, urged colleagues to approve the LSU proposal, not delay it in favor of more talks as White favored.

Voiter said Geaux Teach graduates are highly regarded by school districts, bring a wealth of knowledge to colleagues. She also said the program is precisely what panel members had in mind when they offered colleges a chance to craft innovative models.

"They are offering a rich and robust experience for these candidates, who are probably going to be the best prepared candidates that we are going to get in the state of Louisiana," she said.

BESE eventually approved both the Geaux Teach plan and another one by ULL that White and the department wanted delayed.

How to train a wide range of teachers, including secondary English and social studies, was initially set for delay.

White and the department said aspiring teachers at ULL would not be in front of students enough during the fall semester of their senior year.

The key sticking point was that students would spend considerable time learning the profession firsthand at the start and end of the semester but only two or three days per week in the middle.

Nathan Roberts, dean of the College of Education at ULL, said the school's methods were successful in trial runs.

"We think it meets all the conditions of a residency," Roberts told BESE. "And we think it is going to produce very good teachers for Louisiana."

The impasse was resolved when White and others were convinced that the two to four weeks ULL students spend watching how schools start their year — before college classes begin — offset concerns about the drop in student teaching during the middle of the semester.

"They are there all the time, seeing all the inner workings and the first couple of weeks on how this mentor teacher that are working with planned a class," Roberts said last week.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.