can Uteach?

A teacher prep program that really works? This one is successfully minting math and science educators

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede

Mariam Manuel was sitting in calculus class at the University of Houston over a decade ago when a professor mentioned a new program allowing math and science majors could also earn a teaching certification.

Manuel knew she wanted to teach, but she didn’t know how she’d get licensed. “It truly was one of those moments that completely changed the trajectory of my life because prior to that I was not able to find something that made that path so clear,” she said. “I enrolled in classes that weekend.”

Now, new peer-reviewed research on the program, known as UTeach, shows that its teachers performed substantially better in the classroom than other teachers in Texas, as measured by student test scores.

That’s just one limited gauge of a teacher’s performance. But it’s encouraging evidence about a rapidly growing program that now operates in 22 states, suggesting that there are ways to better recruit science and math teachers and prepare them to reach students.

The UTeach program started at the University of Texas at Austin in 1997. The idea was to entice math, science, and engineering students to enter teaching with a streamlined program that allowed them to earn both a degree in their subject and a teaching certificate in four years.

Now, the UTeach program partners with 45 universities; by 2022, its leaders predict it will have graduated nearly 8,000 teachers.

Notably, the program doesn’t have tough entry requirements — students at a given university can simply enroll. But they are quickly exposed to the challenges of teaching, perhaps as way to weed out those for whom it’s not a good fit.

“Students start to write lesson plans and teach small units to elementary school children the very first semester in the program,” its website notes.

Many students don’t continue. The study notes that, depending on the year, between 21 and 38 percent of students who enrolled in the initial teaching course completed the program at the original Austin site.

For those who do go on, the program also requires classes in pedagogy and additional student teaching with master teachers. (Keep in mind that the particulars of the program may vary from campus to campus.)

To gauge the effectiveness of the program, the researchers looked at graduates from the program’s original campus and six other participating schools in Texas, and then looked at their impact on student test scores in high school math (largely algebra), high school science (largely biology), and middle school math from 2010 to 2016.

(These “value-added” measures are highly controversial when used in individual teacher evaluations, but they are more widely accepted for low-stakes research purposes.)

The study finds that teachers trained through UTeach were substantially more effective at raising test scores than other Texas teachers with similar students. The difference between UTeach graduates and non-UTeach teachers was actually larger than the gap between new teachers and teachers with a decade of experience.

That’s striking because other research has shown that teachers improve for their first five years on the job, and possibly beyond that. It’s also surprising because other research on teacher preparation has shown that it’s difficult to tell with any certainty which programs produce more effective teachers.

Looking not statewide but within UTeach teachers’ own schools, UTeach graduates still looked good, but somewhat less so: they were similarly or slightly more effective than their colleagues.

The positive findings highlight an important point about teacher training: It may be possible to move more quickly through a traditional four-year curriculum. “Our results suggest that condensing these courses has not resulted in detrimental performance once teachers enter the classroom,” the study’s authors write.

The study can’t sort out what specifically about the program makes it effective, and it’s unclear if the program can maintain its effectiveness as it grows outside Texas.

But the paper shows that the number of math and science teachers graduating from a given university increased after UTeach was put in place, suggesting that the shorter program drew in people who would not otherwise have become teachers.

That’s consistent with other research and the experience of Manuel, who after several years of teaching in public schools now trains teachers through the UTeach program at the University of Houston.

“We go and we speak to students and we tell them about this option that’s available to them,” she said. “Once they [try student teaching], so many of them for the first time realize that they have the bug.”

dollars and cents

New York City teacher salaries to range from $61,070 to $128,657 in new contract

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
The pay increases included in the new contract are marginal. UFT President Michael Mulgrew (right) and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza (left) announced the new agreement Thursday along with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Starting salaries for a first-year New York City teacher will increase over the next three years to $61,070, up from $56,711 this year, according to a salary schedule released Friday by the United Federation of Teachers.

Unlike the first contract under Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in 2014, the pay increases included in the new contract are marginal. In that contract, starting teacher pay jumped by almost 20 percent — nearly $10,000 — because city teachers had gone without an updated contract for five years.

[Related: More money for New York City teachers in contract deal, but is it a raise? Some are pushing back]

The 2019-2022 contract, announced four months before the current one is due to expire, includes annual raises of 2, 2.5, and 3 percent. Teachers have criticized the increases as insufficient to keep up with rising living costs.

“Furious my beloved @UFT wants me to support a contract that doesn’t even include cost of living increases when I teach in one of most expensive housing markets in USA,” tweeted Samantha Rubin.

Under the contract agreement, which still needs to be ratified by the UFT’s members, the maximum salary for teachers will rise from $119,565 to $128,657. The proposed salary schedule details how much teachers earn based on how many years they’ve been working and how many education credits they’ve accrued.

The union posted the schedule as part of a massive document dump aimed at explaining the new contract. Those documents include an outline of the proposed changes and the agreement signed by UFT President Michael Mulgrew and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, which also made several policy changes that will affect schools and classrooms.

Friday afternoon, the UFT’s 3,400-member delegate assembly will meet and vote to recommend the proposed contract to all 129,000 members.

Some members have complained that the vote feels rushed. The agreement was announced Thursday afternoon and the memorandum was still being finalized in the hours before the delegate vote.

“It strikes me as sort of Republican Senate power play to just ram something through before anyone has a chance to read the contract,” said Will Ehrenfeld, an American history teacher at P-Tech and a union delegate. “I think it’s really unacceptable to not get details.”

Mulgrew defended the process, saying “everyone is going to have a couple of weeks to read the entire memorandum.”

You can read the full memorandum below.



Christina Veiga and Alex Zimmerman contributed.

Teacher quality

Teachers getting better under Tennessee’s controversial evaluation system, says new analysis

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick/Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s overhaul of its system for evaluating teachers has coincided with real and measurable benefits for students and teachers alike, says an analysis released Thursday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The controversial changes — which since 2011 have required more frequent and rigorous evaluations aligned to student outcomes — have rankled teachers but also made a difference when it comes to teacher retention and students’ academic growth, according to the research and policy group, which backs extensive reforms to teacher preparation and evaluation.

Teachers earning highly effective ratings are generally being retained at a higher rate than less effective teachers across Tennessee. An increasing number of districts logged the highest levels of student growth on state assessments during three school years ending in the spring of 2017. And a recent survey found that 72 percent of educators believe the evaluation process has improved their teaching, up from 38 percent in 2012.

However, other research paints a much less encouraging picture of evaluation reforms, particularly a recent study commissioned by the Gates Foundation that showed few gains in student achievement under the extensive changes, including in Tennessee’s largest district in Shelby County.

The newest analysis spotlights Tennessee as one of six places that are pioneering evaluation systems aimed at improving the quality of teaching. The others are New Mexico and districts in Dallas, Denver, the District of Columbia, and Newark, New Jersey.

All six use both student test scores and classroom observations to evaluate all of their teachers every year, giving significant weight to student learning. They also feature at least three rating categories, a big change from the days when teachers were assessed as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory, with almost all earning the former rating.

Perhaps most significantly, each of the systems highlighted in the analysis link evaluation results to opportunities to earn higher pay. In Tennessee, districts are now required to differentiate compensation based on educator ratings or one of two other criteria: additional roles and responsibilities, or serving in hard-to-staff schools or subject areas.

The changes have happened in the decade since the National Council on Teacher Quality analyzed state and local regulations affecting teachers and called out evaluation policies across America as broken, counterproductive, and badly in need of an overhaul.

Not surprisingly, the switch to new systems has been hard.

In Tennessee, educators found the revamped evaluation model cumbersome, confusing, and opaque after its launch was rushed to help the state win a $500 million federal award in 2010. That feedback contributed to ongoing tweaks to teacher training and evaluation systems, outlined in another new report from FutureEd, a second policy think tank favoring evaluation reforms.

“None of these systems were perfect out of the gate,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, the group behind this week’s analysis. “System leaders recognized this and worked continuously to enhance system design, implementation, and use.”

But the backlash continues to bubble up in Tennessee, especially as the state’s messy transition to a computerized assessment has undermined the credibility of student test scores and prompted a recent legislative order to mostly disregard this year’s results in evaluations.

Last April, the testing problems overshadowed another study by Brown University researchers who reported that Tennessee teachers are showing substantial, career-long improvement under the state’s reforms. The finding was important because of some previous research that teacher improvement is relatively fixed, with most development coming in the first three to five years of a teacher’s career and then plateauing.

Despite the upbeat assessments in the NCTQ, Brown, and FutureEd reports, the future of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system — which is now fully integrated into other systems for teacher preparation, licensure, support, and dismissal — is uncertain due to testing headaches that call into question the evaluation’s accuracy and fairness. The Gates study, which also found that low-income Memphis students didn’t necessarily get more access to effective teachers under evaluation reforms, hasn’t helped.

Outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has championed the reforms started by his Democratic predecessor and is urging the next administration to stay the course. His education chief says the latest analysis is a testament to the importance of incorporating student achievement into teacher ratings.

“Our evaluation model has developed the capacity of teachers to improve, put student growth at the center of our work, and established an expectation of continuous improvement,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement. “Even better, it’s working.”