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For years, California has attempted to reform its teacher preparation programs to better prepare new teachers for the classroom. Alternative routes have popped up to offer aspiring teachers, in many cases, a less expensive and faster route to teaching. The state’s extensive performance exams for teacher candidates have served as a model for the rest of the nation.

Now, a teacher preparation program in California is pledging career-long support to its graduates. On Thursday, the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education launched a free helpline for its 25,000 alumni that will connect struggling graduates with a “rapid response team” of nine full-time faculty members. That team will diagnose problems, build individual plans for alumni, and offer solutions that range from site visits, to coaching, to professional development resources.

Karen Gallagher, dean of the Rossier School of Education, said the initiative will help assess the effectiveness of graduates and ensure that the school is producing quality teachers. “We think this is an innovative initiative to address what is a nationwide issue about teacher ed,” Gallagher said.

The announcement comes at a time of increased scrutiny on teacher preparation programs. In June, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a pro-accountability advocacy group, and U.S. News and World Report published contentious ratings of more than 1,200 schools of education across the nation.

Across the board, most schools fared poorly. But California was ranked as one of the three worst states at training teachers, not good news for a state that is among the six biggest producers of teachers overall. Ninety percent of California’s elementary education programs included in the review received the lowest rating possible.

California’s attempts to reform teacher preparation date back to 1998, when the state passed an ambitious law that allowed for alternate routes to the classroom and established a mandatory exit exam, where teacher candidates must demonstrate their readiness to teach. But more than ten years later, there is little data showing that programs are any better.

Gallagher says that the new initiative may provide that data. “This is just another way to get information about our programs,” Gallagher said. “It’s another way of making sure that we continuously improve what we do.”

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