Startup teacher education:
A fresh take on teacher credentialing

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May 19, 2015

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By Thomas Arnett

June 2015

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

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 is a senior research fellow in education for the Clayton Christensen Institute. His work focuses on studying innovations that amplify educator capacity, documenting barriers to K-12 innovation, and identifying disruptive innovations in education. Thomas previously served as a trustee and board president for the Morgan Hill Unified School District in Morgan Hill, California, worked as an Education Pioneers fellow with the Achievement First Public Charter Schools, and taught middle school math as a Teach For America teacher in Kansas City Public Schools. Thomas received a BS in Economics from Brigham Young University and an MBA from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.