Improving the education workforce through research

By

Erik Ketcherside

The first of four strategic initiatives undertaken by ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College to carry out its mission asks, “How should we develop and deploy a 21st-century education workforce?”

As the most productive teacher preparation institution in the state and one of the largest in the U.S., the college deploys a new cohort into that workforce every year. Simultaneously, MLFTC’s Educator Workforce Initiatives team collaborates with school districts in and around Phoenix and elsewhere in the state — more than 20 of them have become active members of the workforce network in its first year — to help them redefine the roles of their educators and rethink the way those educators are developed and credentialed.

But developing that workforce effectively requires more than excellent teacher preparation and district-college partnerships. Another of the college’s strategic initiatives affects the first. That initiative asks, “How can we connect our research to schools and other learning environments?”

MLFTC has a distinct perspective on the answer through its dual status as an institution that excels at both educator preparation and world-class scholarly research. Members of the college’s research faculty are looking for answers through several current and recent funded projects. Their findings have the potential to benefit education in Arizona, across the U.S. and even internationally.

Examining education in Arizona

“Teachers’ Career Paths in Arizona: Retention, Mobility and Attrition” (Jeanne Powers and Margarita Pivovarova, principal investigators; 2016–17)

Addressing questions that begin “How do we improve …” requires first answering, “What’s wrong?” And there’s no doubt that, in Arizona’s education system, something’s wrong. Data from the U.S. Department of Education show Arizona’s teacher attrition rate far exceeds the average: 24 percent of Arizona teachers leave the profession after one year, compared to 7.5 percent for all U.S. states.

With this study, funded by the American Educational Research Association through the ASU Foundation, Associate Professor Jeanne Powers and Assistant Professor Margarita Pivovarova created a longitudinal database to analyze Arizona teachers’ career paths and multiple aspects of retention and attrition in the state’s public schools, traditional and charter. Among their preliminary findings:

  • Experience — Teachers in traditional public schools are more experienced than teachers in charter schools. In 2015, 27 percent of traditional public school teachers had fewer than four years of experience compared to 43 percent of charter school teachers.

  • Exit rates — 12 percent of teachers in traditional public schools leave the teacher labor force each year compared to 20 percent of charter school teachers

The authors concluded, “The high rates of teacher attrition we document in Arizona … suggest that efforts to rethink how teachers’ jobs are organized and the reward structures within the profession — including but not limited to teacher pay — are timely.” They recommend that school districts and charters “... consider how to support the least experienced teachers in the profession with induction and mentoring programs as well as other forms of professional development aimed at helping them envision teaching as a long-term career.”

Improving literacy for students with disabilities

“Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability and Reform — CEEDAR (Kathleen Puckett, PI; 2017–20)

Associate Professor Kathleen Puckett represents Arizona in CEEDAR, a network of educators and researchers in 24 states. Based at the University of Florida,  help states and institutions of higher education reform teacher and leader preparation programs, and realign education policy structures and professional learning systems. Other members of the Arizona CEEDAR team include representatives and researchers from Pima Community College, Rio Salado Community College and Northern Arizona University.

Their efforts, funded by the U.S. Department of Education through the Arizona Department of Education, have made Arizona a CEEDAR “intensive technical assistance partner.” Puckett says, “Our main goal is preparing teachers to use data to improve literacy outcomes for students with disabilities,” a goal the team established after determining many of those students lacked literacy proficiency, putting their college and career readiness at risk. Puckett and her co-researchers are seeking ways to develop teachers committed to inclusive practices optimal for all students, including those with disabilities; and working to incorporate technology to improve academic achievement and social development for students with disabilities.

CEEDAR website screenshotPuckett says one of the most promising outcomes of CEEDAR in Arizona is the network it has established between the state’s colleges and universities, including their preparation programs in general education, special education and leadership. “It is the sort of cross-pollination that is doing well for all of us,” she says. “These networks are vital because statewide reform can move forward only through continued collaboration.”

Discover other partners at the national CEEDAR website.

A tiered approach to boosting student success

“Implementing Comprehensive, Integrated, Three-Tiered (Ci3T) Model of Prevention” (Wendy Oakes, ASU PI; 2015–17)

Public school educators accept the responsibility for teaching all students. This complicates both teacher preparation and the school environment, as every teacher must be prepared to meet the needs of each student regardless of current cognitive or behavioral skill sets. And those two spectra are linked. A student’s success in learning is affected by their behavior in the school environment, while behaviors that negatively impact learning may be related to poor achievement or social stresses.

Assistant Professor Wendy Oakes partnered with Kathleen Lane, a professor in the department of special education at the University of Kansas, and Terry McEwen, director of assessment and research for the Lawrence Public Schools, to study schools’ design, implementation and evaluation of a tiered approach addressing students' academic, behavioral and social performance. Ci3T is that tiered approach, addressing all three domains and creating inclusive environments that support all learners.

CI3T tiered modelKey to the Ci3T model are the collaborations it develops between all school personnel and across subject areas. Leadership teams within schools consider students’ multiple needs using data from academic and behavior screening tools, office discipline referrals, and attendance and tardiness records. The data are analyzed to assess the sufficiency of the primary Ci3T plan for each student and to inform the introduction of additional supports, if needed. The model also builds regularly scheduled planning time into the school schedule for leadership, grade-level and department-level meetings to monitor the student’s academic and behavioral progress, as well as implementation fidelity data and feedback from stakeholders.

At one participating middle school, the principal credits Ci3T with providing the smoothest start to a school year in her career. “We are now four weeks into the school year,” she wrote, “and we have not had a single in-school suspension.”

Learn more at the Ci3T website.

An educational bridge between the Americas

“2017 Argentina educators training program” (Ann Nielsen, PI; 2017)

In October 2017, MLFTC partnered with the Osborn Elementary School District and the downtown campus of the ASU Preparatory Academy to host 25 teachers from across Argentina. During their 21-day stay, the visiting educators were each part of a K–12 classroom for a morning field experience which included co-teaching with their hosts. Afternoon professional development sessions for the visiting teachers were led by the host partners.

Ann Nielsen, associate director for the MLFTC Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education, says the professional development seminars “... focused on practical applications of the seminar content so that the Argentinian participants learned new teaching techniques, methodologies and strategies they could immediately use in their own classrooms when they returned home.” She says each seminar was designed and delivered in Spanish by teachers from Osborn’s dual language programs.

All of the visiting educators, representing 17 of Argentina’s 23 provinces, were Spanish speakers, which provided a bilingual interaction opportunity for the Arizona teachers and students.

Project manager Alejandra Enriquez Gates says, “We had teachers from Jujuy in the north, on the border with Bolivia; and one representing Tierra del Fuego, near Antarctica. Some came from rural areas and some from the capital, Buenos Aires, or other urban cities. The Osborn and ASU Prep students learned about geography, language diversity, history and culture, and some of the students connected with the Argentinian teachers’ students through the internet.” The visitors also experienced cultural exchanges provided by their Osborn hosts, visited local cultural exhibits at the Heard Museum and traveled to Sedona.

The visiting teacher program was funded by the Argentina Ministry of Education through the American Councils for International Education.

Visiting teachers from Argentina

Visiting teachers from Argentina with Encanto Elementary School Principal Felipe Carranza