Louisiana education officials are considering changing teacher licensing requirements, two years after the state implemented an experimental program aimed at shoring up new teachers’ classroom skills.
The program, dubbed Believe and Prepare, was launched in 2014 with five school districts, two charter school organizations and five “preparation providers,” which may be universities or alternative certification programs.
Today, 41 districts, 17 charter school organizations and two dozen preparation providers all are working to bolster aspiring teachers’ skills through mentorship programs, residencies and other professional development opportunities.
Overall, the state Education Department has spent more than $4.8 million to fund the program.
After receiving input from educators, the department this summer will ask the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to require would-be teachers to do a yearlong residency before they can obtain their licenses. BESE will also be asked to require that preparation programs focus more on essential teaching skills and less on course topics, and also to more stringently gauge those programs’ success.
BESE will be asked to authorize the state to conduct on-site reviews and to look at how often such programs produce prepared teachers in high-need certification areas, for example. It also would examine their recruitment and their graduates’ impact on student achievement.
“What we were able to learn … is that there’s a lot of opportunity to improve teacher preparation so that when teachers did get their initial certificate, they were fully ready for their first day in the classroom,” said Hannah Dietsch, assistant state superintendent for talent.
Though the new requirements would apply to both traditional and non-traditional training programs, they come amid long-standing criticisms of alternative models such as the national Teach For America organization and its spinoff, TNTP — formerly The New Teacher Project — which don’t require recruits to have prior education training.
Critics say those programs send ill-equipped, short-term teachers to try to serve students most in need of stable, experienced instructors, while supporters say they funnel enthusiastic and capable minds to one of society’s most important professions.
Despite the conflicting views, the two organizations have had a huge presence in New Orleans, where independently governed charter schools dominate the educational landscape and many school leaders are TFA alumni.
Aspiring teachers from traditional and non-traditional programs alike report unease upon entering the classroom for the first time, said Liz Suarez, the TNTP site manager.
“I think that a common theme is that the more time a teacher has in front of kids before they earn their certification, the better,” she said.
Such has been the case for Yakira Levy, a TFA corps member who graduated from Northeastern University in Boston last year. She said she feels extremely supported through TNTP’s residency program with Collegiate Academies, the charter network she works with.
After attending a summer training camp, Levy started in August as a full-time geometry teacher at G.W. Carver Preparatory Academy. She’s been assigned a teaching coach whom she sees as often as four times a week, and who enters the classroom frequently to co-teach with her. That’s on top of twice-weekly professional development.
“The more supported I feel, the more my kids are going to be supported,” Levy said.
BESE is expected to consider the changes at either its June or August meeting.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.