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online teacher credentials
Emily Feistritzer said when she founded TEACH-NOW in 2011, she wanted to train teachers who could work in the digital age. Credit: Photo courtesy of TEACH-NOW

When the global teacher training and credential program TEACH-NOW launched four years ago, Emily Feistritzer wanted to prepare teachers who would be comfortable using technology in classrooms. Nearly 700 graduates later, the feedback from those who finished the nine-month program is so positive, TEACH-NOW’s leaders say, that they are planning a quick expansion.

The TEACH-NOW program, which was founded in 2011 by Feistritzer, an education researcher and former president of the National Center for Education Information, announced earlier this month that it plans to prepare 10,000 new teachers worldwide over the next five years and add a master’s degree track. The program has hired Philip Schmidt, former dean of Western Governors University’s teacher preparation program, to help with expansion efforts.

“The majority of [schools of education] are pretty stale and boring and don’t really prepare teachers to work in 21st century schools,” Schmidt said. “There just is not a program online, or bricks-and-mortar, that combines these key elements that TEACH-NOW does.”

Some supporters of traditional, university-led teacher preparation programs say that although there is room for improvement there, research doesn’t necessarily show that new teacher prep models are any more effective.

In a recent report, Kenneth M. Zeichner of the University of Washington and Hilary G. Conklin of DePaul University said that more information is needed on the new program models.

“Critics of college- and university-based teacher preparation have made many damaging claims about the programs that prepare most U.S. teachers,” their report says, “while touting the new privately-financed and -run entrepreneurial programs that are designed to replace them.” The authors add that supporters for these new programs often cite research selectively, repeat “claims based on non-existent or unvetted research,” or repeatedly cite “a small or unrepresentative sample of research.”

Related: New report reveals that teacher professional development is costly and ineffective

Feistritzer said her program had examined surveys of school leaders who work with TEACH-NOW students and graduates, as well as internal performance rubrics and feedback from current and former students, to determine if the program could successfully scale up. The program started training teachers in 2013, after nearly two years of design and planning, and says it has a 93 percent graduation rate. Graduates earn a teaching license from the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which means graduates can obtain teaching credentials in states that have reciprocity agreements with D.C.

“We really do want to be the game changer in the industry.”

The expansion comes as enrollment is decreasing at many traditional teacher training colleges. Some schools, like the University of Southern California, have ramped up their online presence in recent years to allow students to earn Master’s degrees in teaching.

At the same time, there has been growing scrutiny of teacher preparation programs, many of which have little data to show how candidates fare in classrooms, and also have poor oversight from state and federal agencies. A July 2015 report by the United States Government Accountability Office found that some states do not assess whether teacher preparation programs are low performing, even though that is required by federal law.

Related: Teachers colleges struggle to blend technology into teacher training

online teacher credentials
Philip Schmidt joined TEACH-NOW after helping Western Governors University grow its teacher preparation program. Credit: Photo courtesy of TEACH-NOW

Feistritzer said TEACH-NOW does not have systemic data yet on how graduates perform in the classroom, mainly because graduates are in 50 countries and 42 states.

“If we’re going to be measuring things like student achievement, not all countries care about that the way we do in the U.S.,” Feistritzer said. Even if the data is collected, different measurement methods will make it hard to compare data across states and countries, she said.

“We’re paying attention to that, we’re not obsessed with it,” she added. “How [candidates] do and the feedback they give us is more important to us at this point in time than any outside variable.”

Although TEACH-NOW’s model offers traits similar to traditional preparation programs, like a student teaching experience, the model also differs. Students take online classes with 15 or fewer students and work through a sequence of individual online modules, instead of taking several different classes at the same time. Classroom observations, projects and school-based experiences, like tutoring, are integrated throughout the curriculum, and all aspiring teachers must complete a 12-week module of student teaching at the end of the certification program.

“We really do want to be the game changer in the industry,” Feistritzer said. “We think we’ve built a model for preparing teachers that is adaptable and we’re open to partnerships.”

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