Recruitment and Selection of DRI Fellows
The fact that only 15 could ultimately be recruited, while funding was available for 20 Fellows, indicates that more than four alternates could have been designated. The interview process was especially selective, the 24 candidates selected were the only ones that “passed ” the interview according to the interview criteria. The Haberman Interview is designed to screen candidates who are suitable for teaching in an urban setting, and does not claim that those who do not pass the interview would not be successful in other settings.
Scientists, mathematicians, and engineers represent a good pool of potential mathematics and science teachers, especially when the economy is such that a high percentage of these professionals are in danger of losing employment. However, most of this group are accustomed to considerably higher salaries than can be earned by teachers and are reluctant to enter the teaching field. In the DRI project, the majority of the final candidates had another connection to teaching, such as spouses or other relatives who were teachers, and were already prepared for the realities of a lower salary schedule.
Progress of the DRI Fellows
The difficulty the mathematics Fellows had in passing the subject matter examinations had not been anticipated and led DRIAB to consider how this might be overcome in future programs. Often, the timing of funding and getting programs underway does not allow the luxury of admitting only those people who have already passed the requisite examinations. Therefore, choosing individuals who have appropriate broad-based coursework, such as a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, is one approach. Another, more realistic approach, is to require the participants to take the examination early and try to ascertain their weaknesses. Extensive tutoring, targeted toward these weaknesses, can then be provided. Although the DRI provided tutoring, the amount of which varied from Fellow to Fellow, based on self-perceived needs, only late in the process was this tutoring targeted specifically at the Praxis examination. After the first round of failure passing the Praxis, the project should have focused more time on coaching the Fellows for this test, regardless of their self-perceived needs.
It is difficult to believe that engineers would not have a good grasp of high school mathematics, and indeed, the two Fellows who are taking mathematics coursework in lieu of Praxis have received grades of A’s and B’s. In trying to determine the reasons for the difficulties that the mathematics Fellows encountered in passing the mathematics subject matter Praxis, a correlation was attempted between coursework and ease of passing the Praxis and undergraduate grade point average and passing the Praxis. No correlation was found in either case. Nor was there any correlation between college major and passing.
The Praxis examination that the Fellows took was a newly developed version and nationally the pass rate was very low. As noted earlier, the overall cumulative pass rate for all participants taking the mathematics Praxis examination is 15.1 percent. Because mathematics majors are waived from taking the Praxis due to their extensive coursework in the subject matter, this statistic is for non-majors. The Fellows related that the Praxis examination tended to present open-ended problems that were not particularly similar to the ones in a practice examination supplied by the developer. They were also administered in a timed environment.
The CSULB Program
Working with schools in a large urban school district presented significant challenges. In most schools, the administration preferred to take the responsibility of recruiting the teachers to be involved, and, although the principals and assistant principals understood the program and were cooperative and enthusiastic, the message was not well translated to the potential Cooperating Teachers. Although the site coordinators were helpful, some did not seem to understand, or chose to ignore, the goals of the program. Although the DRI and CSULB staff tried to stress that the Fellows should be placed only with those teachers who had an understanding of standards-based teaching and curriculum, too often the placement was only with teachers who volunteered or were selected by the Fellow. Many of the Fellows were most comfortable with a traditional style of teaching and therefore would request a more traditional type of Cooperating Teacher with whom to work. The program leadership stressed from the beginning that that comfort zone needed to be stretched. In retrospect, more extensive and earlier groundwork should have been laid, in the form of workshops or meetings, for which the Cooperating Teachers or their substitute teachers were paid. A staff person from the university to serve as a liaison to the schools for frequent contact with the schools would have also been desirable. This is especially desirable for a program in which several schools are involved. The liaison could monitor and help correct inconsistencies from school to school, as well as monitor and correct misunderstandings about the program in individual schools. The liaison also could make suggestions about the choices of Cooperating Teachers.
A related challenge was that some of the Cooperating Teachers, who had been identified as innovative teachers who understood standards-based education, did not hold a full professional credential for their subject matter. Therefore, according to policies of CSULB, they could not serve as supervising teachers for student teaching. This disrupted the continuity of the program, and necessitated recruiting teachers who were not familiar with the program. Many of these newly recruited teachers did not understand that the Fellows had already had considerable classroom experience and started them out as if they were new to the classroom.
There was ongoing debate within the DRIAB about whether the Fellows should have been placed immediately into inner city schools. It is possible that placing them in schools with well-established reform efforts early in their program would have allowed them a more consistent experience. Whether or not they saw teaching that actively engaged the students through hands-on, inquiry-based pedagogy was sporadic at best. Many of the teachers, and indeed many of the university professors, did not exhibit this type of teaching. Although the schools recommended by LAUSD were supposed to have teachers who were engaged in the effort of the district to reform mathematics and science teaching in fact, at many schools, there were only one or two teachers who modeled active learning. These teachers were not always available to serve as Cooperating Teachers. Moreover, according to the DRI Fellows and the external evaluator, even some of the teachers who were highly recommended by the district did not always apply the principles of inquiry-based pedagogy. On the other hand, placing the Fellows in inner city schools early allowed them to overcome fears and reservations they had about teaching in such schools.
In evaluations of the program, the Fellows expressed that one of the most valuable parts of the design of the program was the early entry into ethnically diverse inner city classrooms. This made subsequent student teaching and employment easier and encouraged them to seek teaching positions in similar schools.
Cooperating Teachers appeared to have gained benefits from participation in the program. Not only were their leadership skills enhanced, but they grew professionally from learning about industry applications and technology from the Fellows. Had they been involved more in the development in the design of this phase of the program, their insights could have proved useful.
Professional Development Activities
During the first year of full-time teaching, the DRI Fellows were concerned primarily with classroom management and just getting lessons planned and presented, an attitude that is reportedly similar to most first year teachers. Therefore, the participation in most of the professional development opportunities, except for the Saturday Seminars, was low. The attendance at the Saturday Seminars appeared to be higher mainly because of their desire to talk to one another.
Fellows were not active in recruiting other teachers from their schools to participate in the Saturday Seminars or other activities, despite repeated urging by DRI staff. When queried about this, they reported that other teachers did not want to give up their Saturdays. Moreover, the Fellows did not work hard at getting other teachers to attend because they did not want to disturb the closeness of the cohort.
The intent of the professional development activities, besides promoting a good attitude about life-long learning for teachers, was to encourage the DRI Fellows to remain in the teaching profession, in spite of overwhelming disincentives to do so. As first-year teachers, DRI Fellows reported on the overcrowded conditions of their classrooms, with over 50 students per class in some cases; lack of mentor teachers in their school or in their discipline; unfeeling and unhelpful performance reviews by administrators; lack of textbooks and other materials; and classrooms in poor condition. As new teachers, they were generally given the lowest level classes with the most unruly students and were frequently required to teach outside their field of expertise.