by Sally Logue Post
Innovation: One Promise at a Time
A new federal grant allows the College of Education to put into practice changes it has made in teacher education.
The U.S. Department of Education awarded Texas Tech and the Lubbock Independent School District $24.5 million dollars for a Promise Neighborhood grant. Promise Neighborhoods, first launched in 2010, is a community-focused program that funds local-led efforts to improve educational opportunities and provide comprehensive health, safety, and support services in high-poverty neighborhoods.
How do you measure change? For Scott Ridley, dean of Texas Tech’s College of Education, the answer is one teacher and one student at a time.
When Ridley took over as dean in the summer of 2011, he spent a lot of time listening to area school district principals, superintendents, students and his faculty. The result: major, measurable changes in how teachers are prepared to teach and major federal funding, $32 million, to allow the college to reach out into the region and state to put its new methods to the test.
The early returns on all this change suggest he and his colleagues are on to something. The heart of the college’s strategic plan is simple: produce the measurably best educators in the U.S. Ridley knows that sounds audacious, but he believes his college can do it. Perhaps more audacious is the word “measurably.” It is at the heart of everything the college is doing.
Ridley believes that colleges of education are traditionally seen as “kind of stodgy.” He’s out to change that.
“Education has changed dramatically in just a couple generations,” he said. “My grandfathers, both from West Texas, dropped out of school by the fifth grade. Both bought land, raised cattle and farmed. They were very successful, and that was fine 100 years ago. Now, America, the job market and teaching are quite different.”
Ridley notes studies that project by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in America will require some sort of postsecondary degree. He also points to a disparity of teacher quality and educational resources between affluent neighborhoods and disadvantaged areas where school populations are primarily made up of underrepresented minority children.
“This is really important in Texas, where by 2050 our population will be over 60 percent Hispanic,” he said. “It is critical that we think now about how to better serve all of our children. They are our future leaders, and if we do not educate them well now, we are not doing our part to keep America great.”
The faculty embraced the ideas, and the college began to move forward with measurable changes. The word measurable crops up often when Ridley talks about results at the heart of reform.
“When I got here, I talked with area school officials, and they said our students were smart, but they were not classroom ready,” Ridley explained.
It didn’t take him and his faculty long to address the problem. With major input from area teachers and principals, the college revamped the curriculum, expanded student teaching from one semester to two, and instituted ongoing performance-based observation and feedback for all teacher candidates.
Ridley says there are three phases to the realigned curriculum, called simply P1, P2 and P3.
–Scott Ridley, Dean of the College of Education
In P1, faculty teach knowledge and reasoning, which Ridley says is all that many teacher education programs do. This phase consists of basic courses and an end-of-phase assessment to measure if students really have a strong conceptual foundation.
P2 consists of case studies, video analysis and problem-solving.
“Our faculty and students talk about how they would apply the knowledge gained in P1,” he said. “At the end of this set of courses, there is yet another assessment to measure how well teacher candidates understand complex human learning dynamics in K-12 classrooms and apply hypothetical solutions. It’s a really complex case study that touches on a lot of real world issues.”
In P3, every student in the college does an internship or student teaching.
“It doesn’t matter if the student is an undergrad or a doctoral student, there is some sort of internship where the student is observed by faculty and given feedback in a series of performance reviews,” said Ridley.
One of the most novel approaches implemented is TechTeach. This approach allows teacher candidates to work in a school classroom while capturing video of their experiences on an iPad. The video is uploaded to a password-protected website and faculty observe the candidate and give feedback around a rubric of teaching effectiveness.
“At first, we had to twist some principals’ arms to get them to let us employ our new methods in their classrooms,” Ridley said. “They were skeptical, but now they want to hire every graduate we can send them.”
Joel Castro, associate superintendent, priority schools, of the Lubbock Independent School District (LISD), echoes Ridley.
“We were hesitant at first to host the new TechTeach program at first, but once we saw what the college was trying to do, we changed our minds,” he said. “Now we almost have principals fighting over these graduates.”
One Giant P3
The college made the decision in 2012 to apply for a Promise Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The application involved multiple colleges across Texas Tech and schools in its sister university, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, as well as dozens of community partners and the Lubbock Independent School District.
The coalition building paid off, and in 2013 the college was awarded $24.5 million over five years, with a goal of reforming four target schools, revitalizing a distressed East Lubbock community and fostering significantly improved student learning.
“This is getting out into these schools and being accountable for how the students perform,” said Ridley. “We are testing our expertise in real-world settings. In effect it is a giant P3 for our own faculty and students.”
Called the East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood (ELPN) project, LISD is thrilled to be part of what they see as a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
“It is a rare privilege to have these types of resources brought to bear on our schools,” said Castro.
The four schools are in a disadvantaged section of town known as East Lubbock. There are two elementary schools, a junior high and a high school. The program began in August 2013 at the junior high, Dunbar College Preparatory Academy.
The Three R’s, Version 2
The foundation of ELPN school turnaround involves project-based learning, one-to-one tablets (e.g., iPads) for student exploration and a massive amount of tutoring support for the students. Project-based learning is an interdisciplinary approach of taking a real-world issue and using the course subject matter to solve the problem, said Ridley.
With project-based learning, when teaching fractions in early elementary school, the teacher might ask students to create a budget for feeding 100 people at a school event. Students would have to determine how many slices of pizza adults and children would eat on average. They would then have to determine the number of pizzas needed for 100 people and finally calculate the cost of pizza from several vendors to determine the best value.
“It is a radically different approach to traditional education, and much time has been spent preparing teachers at Dunbar to use project-based learning,” said Ridley. “Project-based learning in some classrooms is already awesome. This is where you can truly see how brilliant these kids are when challenged to apply academic learning.”
Another key is tracking absences, student behaviors and of course, grades.
“If we see a student is getting off track and their grade has slipped from one day to the next, then we know we need to get them extra help,” he said. “It’s a tough-love philosophy with no excuses for failure. But we are providing the support to make sure no child falls through the cracks.”
It’s a system that Castro is excited about.
“There is a focus on rigor, relevance and relationships, the three R’s that are critical to having a high-performance school,” he said. “We know about rigor and we know about forming relationships with community partners, our parents and our students. But the relevance piece is harder to define, and the ELPN is helping.”
The ELPN is providing both subject matter experts as well as financial support for the programs. One new component is the Opportunity Room, a program for students who have classroom discipline issues.
“We had to have staff for the room to make sure that the students are supervised and are getting academic help,” said Castro. “We want to make sure we are documenting the issues, what’s causing the problem and that the student is not falling behind in their schoolwork.”
The Academic Enrichment Center is another element aimed at instructional support. A student who missed turning in homework or didn’t understand a concept from class that day can spend time with teachers immediately after school, so they do not fall behind.
“Both of these programs require funding for staff,” said Castro. “But maybe more importantly the grant provides funds for a bus to get the kids home afterward. If a student doesn’t have transportation home, they can’t take advantage of these opportunities.”
Reaching into the Community
East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood
The East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood (ELPN) project is serving a section of Lubbock with a population of 33,000. About 49 percent are Hispanic, 28 percent black and 21 percent white. The need is told in statistics provided by Scott Ridley, dean of the College of Education:
- 30 percent live below the poverty line
- 36 percent of students are in single-parent households
- 93 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch
- 14 percent of high school graduates go on to two-year community colleges
- 7 percent go on to four-year universities
The area has a 38 percent teen pregnancy rate, among the highest in Texas. The rate of child abuse cases reported is the highest in Texas, and the area has the sixth-highest city crime rate in the state.
Learn more about ELPN at www.elpngrant.org
The ELPN grant is also providing funds for two health-care clinics in the neighborhood to stay open until 10 p.m. daily. The clinics used to close at 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and were not open on weekends. These hours were definitely not convenient for working parents and non-treated kids missed school.
“We are seeing more students getting health care early and establishing a medical home,” said Ridley. “We hear that these clinics are seeing on average of about 15 people per day between 5 and 10 p.m., both children and parents.”
Castro sees improved health care as a huge boost to student performance.
“If students are healthier, they perform better,” he said. “We are approaching this project from a ‘whole child’ perspective. They cannot be successful without education. Many of our children are struggling with harsh circumstances, and the more support available for them and their families, the more successful they will be in school.”
The program also is offering nutrition education and even a food safety short course for the community. The training provided for East Lubbock residents will help them gain a food safety certification to improve their chances of a job in the restaurant industry. The first class had 24 people graduate, and 18 stayed on for more advanced training.
Baby College is another new program.
“East Lubbock has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state,” said Ridley. “We have about a dozen young women who are students at Estacado High School. This program helps them learn how to be better mothers and how to help them get their babies ready for the education system using some early learning and positive discipline techniques.”
ELPN also is providing myriad after-school enrichment programs, such as art classes, leadership skills courses, dance, theater and a variety of exercise opportunities.
In only its first year, ELPN is showing great success. The program was set to expand to Erwin Elementary next year, but progress was so good at Dunbar, officials moved the schedule up to this spring. By year three, programs will be in Alderson Elementary, and Estacado High School by year four.
What will success look like? There are a set of benchmarks based on Department of Education statistics.
“The bottom line is: Can we measurably impact the educational achievement and quality of life of historically underserved children and families in East Lubbock?” he said.
While the ELPN is showing early success, Ridley is quick to point out the real test will be how successful the students are at the end of the year.
For the college, Ridley also sees early success. New graduates are in demand by area principals. For that he commends his faculty for implementing the college’s reformed programs with fidelity and striving for maximum results.
Ridley wants to see Texas Tech get recognition for the college’s success. And that seems to be happening, as well. Ridley said the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education has called Texas Tech a national model.
Ridley was also invited to attend a meeting of a group from about 10 of the nation’s premier colleges of education, such as Johns Hopkins, the University of Virginia and the University of Southern California.
“These institutions see themselves as national reform leaders, and being invited to join them is a huge honor for Texas Tech University,” he said.
When it comes to winning competitive federal research funding, the college has tremendous momentum.
In addition to the $24.5 million ELPN grant, the U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) has awarded the college a $3.4 million grant to developing original, competency-based models of teacher preparation and school intervention.
With the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, a national nonprofit organization, the College of Education received $4.7 million of a $12 million U.S. Department of Education grant. The program will reach almost 750 teachers and 90 new teacher candidates at Texas Tech to increase the number of effective educations in 18 high-need schools. The college will also provide technology-enabled, competency-based graduate certificates in STEM, literacy and school leadership.
Whatever comes next for the College of Education, it’s sure that the first question Ridley will have is: Can we make this measurably better?
About the College of Education
The College of Education offers a full range of programs, including eight doctoral degrees, 12 master's degrees and two bachelor's degrees with numerous specializations leading to careers in public or private education as teachers, professors, administrators, counselors and diagnosticians.
Programs in the college are housed in two departments. The Department of Curriculum and Instruction offers undergraduate programs leading to initial teaching certificates and graduate programs in bilingual education, curriculum and instruction, elementary education, language literacy and secondary education.
The Department of Educational Psychology and Leadership offers graduate programs in counselor education, educational leadership, educational psychology, higher education, instructional technology and special education.
Sally Logue Post is Director of Research & Academic Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University. Video produced by Scott Irlbeck, Senior Editor of Research & Academic Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University.