Educators for years have made it their mission to lure top college graduates to teaching. They've directed students to fellowships and pointed them to programs such as Teach For America that place graduates in some of the most troubled secondary schools.
Those who criticize the efforts typically point to the longevity issue: Many students enter the programs, finish their requisite one or two years and then use the experience as a springboard to another career.
A teaching fellowship program announced Wednesday by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation focuses on identifying students who plan to stay with the profession.
"We're trying to produce teachers who won't view teaching as episodes in their lives but as a career," said Arthur Levine, president of the foundation and former president of Teachers College at Columbia University.
The program, funded initially at $17 million, includes both a state and national component. Students receive stipends to attend master's programs and then are placed in high-need classrooms for a minimum of three years.
That's a year longer than is required from some programs, but who's to say students still won't opt out after their time's up? Levine said it's a matter of training them differently in teacher education programs and giving them a larger support network.
"Education schools aren't strong enough," Levine said. "Students leave afraid of what will happen to them in the classroom. They need to get out of the ivory tower and into schools."
The fellowships are asking a range of institutions to alter or expand on their curriculums in a way that emphasizes clinical training for students. Many of the specifics aren't yet worked out, Levine said, but students will be asked to shadow teachers and themselves teach in public schools from the outset of the program.
Fellows in some cases could work with public school teachers in developing lesson plans. They'll be paired with professors and other secondary school teachers who serve as mentors once the students begin working full time.
The national program, called the Leonore Annenberg Teaching Fellowship, is being funded by the Annenberg Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York. Over three years, 100 recent college graduates or career changers are expected to use the $30,000 stipends to complete a master's program at one of four listed teacher education programs – Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia and University of Washington.
Those institutions were chosen, Levine said, largely because of their commitment to student practicums and their relationships with surrounding high-need schools. The universities nominate their own students (each is expected to receive 25 fellows over the three years) and then eventually feed those who are selected as fellows into the local school districts, both rural and urban.
Levine expects the majority of student learning to come via clinical experiences. And he said he'll measure the program's success based on two outcomes: teacher retention and (secondary school) student learning.
"My hope and expectation is that an overwhelming majority of teachers will stay on," he said. "We don't know; this is being tried."
He said he didn't have in mind a certain number -- say, 50 percent of a cohort staying on past five years at the same school -- that would make the program a success. Nor did he give specifics on what tests would be used to determine what students in a fellow's class had learned. (That information has yet to be decided, according to Levine.)
At the state level, the fellowship program is starting with Indiana. Eighty students will receive the $30,000 stipend each year to complete a master's program at either Ball State University, Purdue University, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis or the University of Indianapolis. Any college senior or person interested in changing careers is eligible to participate, but the requirement is teaching in a high-need Indiana school district after graduating from one of the four institutions.
Unlike the national program, which will send students into any number of teaching fields, the Indiana program will prepare only math and science teachers. The fellowship program is asking schools to hire students in cohorts -- at least two at a time.
“Students shouldn’t be alone in this new experience," Levine said. "This is one way of lending support.”
Ball State University is creating an entirely new program for its expected class of fellows. Roy Weaver, dean of the Teachers College there, said the fellowship program will rely more heavily on field work than does the program offered to the majority of students.
Weaver expects Teachers College faculty to work with math and science professors at Ball State to create course content for the students who will be teaching those fields. A new media module might be taught by the college's instructors and professors from the College of Communication, Information and Media.
Public secondary school faculty will also team with Ball State faculty on the curriculum, Weaver said. “It's not a matter of Ball State faculty and administrators sitting here creating a program and dropping it somewhere."
The Wilson foundation expects Ohio and other states to follow Indiana's mold next year. Both the Indiana and the national fellows will be named in spring 2009, start master’s work later that year and be in the classroom by 2010.