Startup teacher education:
A fresh take on teacher credentialing


May 19, 2015

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By Thomas Arnett

June 2015


As education reformers across the country are working to improve student outcomes at scale, many are focusing on improving the teaching force. This case study describes how three groups of charter management organizations (CMOs)—High Tech High in San Diego; Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First in New York; and Match Education in Boston—created their own teacher certification and master’s degree programs after concluding that the teachers who graduate from most traditional teacher education programs lack the skills needed to teach successfully.

The greatest common obstacle in creating these programs was navigating state policy and accreditation requirements. These requirements vary by state and accreditor and affect the time and effort required for new teacher education programs to be approved. They also heavily influence the program features an institution must adopt, the start-up costs, and the cost structure of a program once it is fully implemented. Any new program should therefore begin by investigating the requirements specific to its region.

In states and regions where the authorization and accreditation processes are lengthy and demanding, program founders need to develop a clear strategy and timeline. They also need to work early to foster strong relationships with others in the field who can offer guidance and generate support for their work. All programs will likely face some challenges in reconciling innovative program models with complex state regulations, which are typically designed to ensure compliance with traditional approaches.

Another common challenge is creating a sustainable business model. Program founders need to articulate a clear understanding of the teachers and schools they are serving, what value new program offerings are providing, and how to provide this value in a sustainable way. Additionally, new programs need to be thoughtful about how their staffing, facilities, scale, and accreditation status will affect revenues and cost structures. Nontraditional approaches to teacher education—such as sharing resources with K–12 schools and adopting innovations in online competency-based learning—can help lower operational costs. These features, however, can also make program approval and accreditation more challenging.

By tracing the development of these programs, this case study explores the benefits and challenges that schools face when creating their own teacher certification and master’s degree programs. The study also provides recommendations for schools looking to launch similar programs.

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Thomas Arnett

Thomas’ research focuses on the changing roles of teachers in blended-learning environments and other innovative educational models. He also examines how teacher education and professional development are shifting to support the evolving needs of teachers and school systems.

  • Holly Hart

    Having founded three charter schools and simultaneously administered all three for multiple years, having taught in an innovative teacher leader masters degree program and having developed an innovative program to meet administrative certification requirements, I can attest to the difficulty in developing new programs within the old certification frameworks. New certification models are needed.

    However, an even bigger problem for innovators is that if you send staff to traditional education training programs, they learn how to do things “the old way” and their training undermines the innovations your are trying to implement.

  • Sometimes getting to a new place means trying a different path. It doesn’t negate the value of the old path, it just opens a new way to get there. Traditional and innovative preparation programs can co-exist and enhance the outcomes of each other if we see them as an ‘and’ and not an ‘either/or’!!