Philanthropy Roundtable believes every American should have the freedom to reach his or her full, unique potential and achieve economic security. The Roundtable supports organizations that eliminate barriers to upward mobility, expand opportunity and reward hard work and perseverance.
Philanthropic funders working in K-12 education have long known that the nation’s teacher preparation programs are highly varied in quality and outcomes. Best in the World (BIW) Teachers, a nonprofit organization that works with universities, schools and education systems to create learning resources for aspiring teachers and increase access to the top experts and courses in teacher education, is working on one approach to increase the quality of content taught in teacher preparation programs.
Philanthropy Roundtable recently spoke with BIW Teachers Executive Director and CEO Dr. Sally Beatty to discuss challenges and opportunities the organization has identified, including inadequate preparation for future teachers at the undergraduate level, a lack of affordable teaching materials – and a shortage of certified teachers affecting students nationwide.
Q: What is the overarching problem Best in the World Teachers is addressing, and how will your open educational resources help solve it?
A: The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought. In fact, when we examined factors like teacher certification, training and experience, it’s clear many of the teachers currently in our nation’s classrooms are not properly credentialed or prepared for the job. Sadly, high-poverty schools are the ones suffering the most from this shortage of credentialed teachers.
To counter this, our vision is for all aspiring teachers pursuing education in their undergraduate coursework to have access to the highest quality curriculum grounded in evidence-based research and translated to best-in-class practices. Our goal is to maximize and democratize access to these resources by identifying and supporting what is working well.
Beginning with reading courses, we have assembled a team of leading faculty to build open educational resources (OER), freely available to any training program or future teacher. We are starting small with a focus on reading, since it is a foundational skill required for all learning. We know that more than a third of American children cannot read by the fourth grade, and according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, only have adequate reading instruction. Our long-term plan is to bring together top professors in each respective area to build best-in-class courses for an elementary education bachelor’s degree that universities can access to improve the quality of their instruction.
Highly trained and prepared teachers are imperative for our children’s success and the overall health of our nation. If teachers fail to educate children, the results will be costly – and taxpayers will pay for it in the form of unemployment insurance, welfare, lost taxes, health care costs, prisons and more. In our model, we democratize access to the top faculty in the country to improve teacher readiness.
Q: What has been the biggest obstacle in better preparing undergraduate students for a career in education?
A: Change is difficult in any sector, and the effort to transform higher education in general is a challenge. Increasingly we find adjunct professors, who are undercompensated and undertrained, are teaching undergraduate teacher prep programs. We also often see newly hired faculty, who may not have the wealth of experience to teach this coursework, are tasked with teaching in the undergraduate program. Unfortunately, many universities do not take the time or provide incentives to improve the quality of these courses – and education students are the ones to suffer.
An overarching challenge will be getting faculty to adopt these courses instead of using what has been in place at their schools. We believe our programs will provide the highest quality learning experience for students, save them money and improve success, increase pedagogical flexibility and academic freedom for faculty and help colleges and universities deliver effective courses quickly without having to spend the time and money to develop their own.
Q: What is something surprising you have learned along the way?
A: Personally, I’ve done a lot of consulting work across education at all levels, and my aha moment has been in understanding the critical importance of elementary education, specifically reading, in developing students who are lifelong learners and have fundamental skills necessary for success in the workforce. So many workforce development studies cite a need for talent with critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills, but fundamentally, if someone cannot read, then he or she cannot write or build a body of knowledge to think critically.
Another surprising thing is the number of practicing teachers who have reached out with interest in accessing BIW Teachers materials for in-service use. It has been great to get feedback from the field that this is needed and that we are on the right track.
Q: How can those interested in supporting your work help out?
A: Program development support and implementation partners are a priority, in both higher education and K-12. We also need to build strong partnerships with state departments of education and programmatic accreditors. In addition to this, training and marketing support will be instrumental in helping colleges and universities transform their teacher prep programs. Ultimately, our organization’s commitment to open licensing will help low-income students access high quality learning materials in the OER model and will lead to strong relationships with institutions, open-education enthusiasts and grant funders.
If you are interested in helping accelerate this organization’s impact, please reach out to Philanthropy Roundtable Program Director Erica Haines or contact Dr. Sally Beatty, Executive Director and CEO at Best in the World Teachers at firstname.lastname@example.org.