As another school year begins, we have an opportunity to reflect on the importance of good teachers. Research supports what parents and students have long known: the vast majority of a school’s total impact on student achievement is the result of teacher effectiveness. The Patrick-Murray Administration, in response to this evidence, has established the Educator Preparation Advisory Group (EPAG), a group of education, business and advocacy organization leaders tasked with developing a 21st century educator preparation system in Massachusetts that is more aligned and coherent to support teachers and better meet the needs of all students.
Why focus on educator preparation?
As a parent of a child who is just beginning his educational career, there’s nothing more important to me than the quality of my son’s teacher. While my son (like most 3 year olds) loves learning, it’s his teachers who will determine whether he loves school - or not. So it is essential to ensure teachers are well prepared before they enter the classroom and supported once they get there. In Massachusetts, well over 2,000 K-12 teaching positions are open each year. High turnover among new teachers and the steep increase in retirement rates are exacerbating the challenge and urgency to recruit, prepare and retain a sufficient number of teachers. While the exact number of vacant teaching positions in the Commonwealth is difficult to predict, there is general consensus that the number of qualified teachers does not match the number of children to be taught.
The challenge to fill vacancies is made even more difficult because today’s teachers are required to have higher levels of preparation in their content areas and are being held to higher standards than ever before – they must ensure all students achieve at high levels. Teacher preparation programs’ coursework and field experience requirements must then be aligned to these new realities. Some new Massachusetts teachers have reported that their coursework focused too much on content and not enough on how to teach that content to real students in real classrooms. New teachers have also reported wanting more coursework in topics such as diversity and addressing the needs of all students with a wide range of needs in the same classroom setting. Teachers also need additional support in the classroom. In a 2007 survey, new Massachusetts educators reported that they felt left “out there” in their first three years of teaching - their energy and focus torn between classroom preparation work and the demands of advancing their license to the professional level.
What will the Educator Preparation Advisory Group’s focus on?
EPAG members will examine these challenges, research best practices from other leading states and develop recommendations for a more robust and aligned preparation system in the Commonwealth. Members will focus their initial work on building a stronger statewide induction system that will better integrate educator preparation with the first three years of service; improving the content and quality of courses in educator preparation programs to better align these programs with local, regional, and statewide priorities; creating more robust classroom- and school-based learning opportunities for aspiring educators; and improving pathways to certification and licensure.
The EPAG will also consider things like the specific challenges facing educators in urban areas and other higher-need communities; enrollment, admission, and retention policies at preparation programs; principal preparation and its relationship to teacher preparation; and collaboration with other sectors to increase awareness about and support for all educators and the teaching profession.
Educators at every level of the public education system are central to the Administration’s ongoing efforts to close those achievement and attainment gaps. In order to ensure that they are well prepared to meet the needs of a diverse student population, successfully implement the Commonwealth’s reform strategies, and embrace new professional opportunities, Massachusetts must develop a new and improved educator preparation system.
The EPAG is expected to present its final recommendations to Secretary Reville in Spring 2013, so check back for updates on the EPAG's work and recommendations.