Teacher Preparation

Competency-Based STEM Teacher Ed Program Gains State Pre-Approval

A new initiative to test out competency-based learning for training middle and high school teachers in science and math has shown enough mastery to gain the "informal" approval of the state where it's located. The Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, first announced last year, has received pre-approval from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to offer master's degrees for teachers in biology, chemistry and math.

The project is being pushed by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on developing leadership where it's needed — in this case, STEM teacher training development for low-income communities and high-needs schools.

The program is a joint effort of the foundation and MIT. Currently, content knowledge competencies for biology, chemistry and math are under review by teacher educators, subject-matter experts and K–12 teachers. These competencies form the foundation of an interactive, challenge-based curriculum that encourages the participants to demonstrate what they've learned or mastered and show how it will be used in a classroom setting. MIT played a major role in developing and testing out the challenge model, creating a suite of games and simulations for use by teachers, and building the technology infrastructure for supporting the academy's program.

The academy expects to name its first cohort of "Fellows" to begin class in time for the 2017-2018 academic year. It will be working with five local school districts in the state: Burlington, Cambridge, Natick, Revere and Somerville. Those same school systems have identified "exemplary" STEM teachers whom they would like to have participate in the academy.

The foundation is also accelerating creation of professional development, to launch in parallel with the master's degree program. That will be constructed and tested out through the Walter Buckley Teaching and Learning Lab, an incubator and innovation lab that forms the second component of the academy alongside the graduate school of education.

"A year ago, we announced plans to chart a new course in educator preparation, one focused on what aspiring teachers know and are able to do," said foundation President, Arthur Levine, in a prepared statement. "Working with MIT, our efforts in competency and curriculum development, licensure and accreditation, strategic partnerships, program development and fundraising have made great strides."

Funding for the academy has come from sources that have long supported innovative education projects, including the Bezos Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Amgen Foundation, Simons Foundation and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.