Academics and Research / News

Education college gets $987,000 grant to study teacher competencies

When new teachers venture into their first classrooms, they rely on a set of core competencies to help them educate their students.

If these novice teachers are deficient in any of these competencies — classroom management, say, or using assessments to shape instruction — their students may stumble and fall behind, missing key concepts and failing to develop critical skills.

With that heavy toll in mind, the Institute of Education Services (IES) has awarded Associate Professor Kent Seidel and Professor Kathy Green of DU’s Morgridge College of Education a $987,152 grant to study the relationship between new teachers’ proficiency in the core competencies and student achievement.

The grant is one of only 26 awarded for 2012 by the IES, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. The IES is part of the National Center for Educational Statistics, responsible for conducting the National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as the nation’s report card.

“An IES award represents the gold standard of education research grants,” says Morgridge College Assistant Dean Bill McGreevy. “The IES only funds research they expect to have a high impact.”

Seidel, the lead researcher on the three-year project, expects the study will help teacher preparation programs determine how they can improve their curricula and instruction so that teachers, in turn, can be more effective. After all, Seidel explains, “It’s only good teaching if it’s working for the kids involved.”

Through the IES grant, Seidel, Green and their team will work with about 1,500 novice teachers and their students in grades 3 through 8 in public schools across Colorado. Limiting their study to teachers instructing in mathematics and reading/writing, the researchers will assess how well new teachers deploy the core competencies and how their skills affect the academic growth of their students.

By project’s end, Seidel hopes to have the quantitative data and case studies necessary to help teacher education programs fine-tune their curricula. For example, the study should reveal whether any of the core competencies require greater emphasis within teacher education programs, or even whether curricula should be restructured so that a particular concept is introduced earlier, later or alongside a related competency.

Numerous teaching programs in the state are active partners in the research, Seidel says, noting that while these programs won’t be compared, each will receive an analysis indicating how the work of their graduates is affecting the students they teach.

Seidel hopes the research is also tapped by administrators within school districts, who should be able to use the data to refine professional development programs, ensuring that beginning teachers are ready for the varied settings and realities that confront them.

The IES award is the latest in a series of grants, totaling more than $1.5 million, the Morgridge College has secured related to improving teacher effectiveness. In fall 2011, Seidel and Assistant Professor Nicole Russell received a $307,299 federal grant through the Colorado Department of Higher Education to create innovative professional development for math and science teachers. A $289,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — awarded to Associate Professor Karen Riley with Assistant Professor Lyndsay Agans, Seidel and others — supports the development of a “learning ecosystem,” or Web-based resources to provide teachers “just-in-time” access to classroom resources and professional development.


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