Dr. Stephanie J. Hull: Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowships

Dec 18, 2016 by

An Interview with Dr. Stephanie J. Hull: Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowships

Stephanie J. Hull is executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation: About W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship. In this interview she responds to questions regarding the Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship.

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and your involvement with the W.K. Kellogg’s Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship?

I came to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in 2012 to serve as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. I began my academic career as an assistant professor in the Department of French and Italian at Dartmouth College, subsequently becoming Assistant Dean of the College. After six years at Dartmouth, I served as the Assistant to the President and Secretary of the College at Mount Holyoke College, then as Head of the Brearley School, a girls’ K-12 college preparatory school in New York City. I earned my bachelor’s degree in French literature at Wellesley College and my master’s and doctoral degrees at Harvard University in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.

As EVP and COO of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, I oversee the day-to-day operations of all of our programs, including the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship Program is one of five state-based teacher preparation programs the Foundation leads. The other four are in Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, and Georgia.

2) Which universities were involved, and how were these teachers chosen? Were there specific criteria?

The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows program worked with six Michigan universities -Eastern Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and Western Michigan University. The Woodrow Wilson Foundation selected each of these partner universities to transform their STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) teacher preparation programs to meet the needs of Michigan’s high-need schools. These universities possessed the capacity, willingness, and leadership to create model teacher education programs-rigorous, highly selective, clinically based programs integrating disciplinary content and pedagogical instruction.

Teaching Fellows are chosen through a rigorous selection process. Successful applicants are expected to bring a strong STEM content background, either through previous higher education studies or work experience. Once selected, Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows engage in a yearlong master’s degree program at one of the partner universities and concurrent yearlong clinical experience in a high-need Michigan secondary school.

All Teaching Fellows receive a $30,000 stipend to offset the costs of the master’s degree program. In exchange, they agree to serve as teachers of record in a STEM classroom in a high-need Michigan school for at least three years.

Fellows come with a mix of backgrounds, with some coming directly from undergraduate, some from other graduate programs, some from extensive professional experiences in the STEM fields, and others from the military. The Fellowship program is incredibly competitive, with typically only one in 10 applicants for the program selected each year.

3) Why science? And was this focused on high school?

When the Woodrow Wilson Foundation created the Teaching Fellowship program nearly a decade ago, we wanted to focus on where we could have the greatest impact, particularly when it came to closing achievement gaps. Nationally, we hear competing stories, that we have both a glut of prospective teachers graduating from education schools, yet teacher shortages in far too many communities.

A closer look at the statistics show that far too many school districts – particularly rural and urban high-need districts – struggle to find educators to teach science, math, and technology in their secondary schools. So, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation decided to focus on that specific need.
By doing so, we’ve found that reasonably small numbers can have an enormous impact on schools and students in need. In a state like Michigan, producing 75 new high-quality STEM teachers can fill every single STEM vacancy in the state’s eight largest school districts each year.

4) An interesting follow up is the students of these Woodrow Wilson teaching fellows seem to do better on follow up evaluation measures. What were some of the measures and to what do you attribute this success?

One of the non-negotiables for the Teaching Fellowship program is conducting third-party evaluation of the program. For each of our five states, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation works with the American Institutes of Research and its National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. We want to know how our Teaching Fellows do, how they impact student achievement in their classroom, and whether they stay in the profession – and in high-need schools – after their initial obligation.

We are continuing to gather data on the impact Michigan Teaching Fellows have. Initial findings show that Woodrow Wilson Fellows are indeed taking on the challenge of teaching in Michigan’s high-need classrooms, and they are well prepared to work with students in those schools. Michigan students taught by Fellows are four times more likely to be African American, about two times more likely to be eligible for free/reduced price lunch, more mobile in changing schools, three times as likely to be teaching English language learners, and more likely to have special education.

Not only are the Fellows placed in some of the state’s most challenging teaching assignments, they are also bringing more subject matter expertise to Michigan classrooms than do their peers. Fully 100 percent of Woodrow Wilson Fellows held a Michigan STEM license. By contrast, just 87 percent of new Michigan teachers statewide who taught core STEM classes have STEM licenses.

Available Michigan cohort data demonstrates that the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Program does lead to improved teacher performance in the high-need schools that the program focuses on, as measured by Fellows’ impact on student achievement. Compared to students of non-Fellows, students of Woodrow Wilson Fellows showed more growth in middle school math, middle school science, and high school science. The exception was Fellows teaching high school science, who only outperformed the same-district inexperienced comparison group.

While more robust data are still needed and while recognizing currently available VAM data presents a limited picture of the impact of Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows in the classroom, the Fellowship is showing positive effects in preparing new math and science teachers to succeed in the high-need districts that needs them most.

5) One aspect of teacher training in science is the idea that in person, person to person classes seem to help teachers learn a wide variety of different pedagogical techniques as opposed to online classes. Can you comment on this?

The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows program is rooted in the clinical experience. In transforming teacher education efforts, we work with our university partners to move instruction from college campuses into K-12 school districts. Each prospective teacher works for a year with an experienced, effective educator to better understand the challenges and opportunities of teaching STEM in a high-need school.

As a result, Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows bring a year of rich, classroom-based experience with them when they become teachers of record. There are few surprises as to the learning environment, and they have already experiences many of the speedbumps that can slow a beginning teacher. They are ready for the classroom on the first day because they have already applied their content knowledge and acquired the pedagogical skills in a K-12 classroom.

To further support these teachers, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation provides three years of mentoring and support once Fellows join the teaching profession. This face-to-face mentoring reinforces the lessons learned throughout the clinical experience and helps all educators become better at their jobs. As you can imagine, this can have tremendous impact on teacher retention, particularly in high-need schools.

6) Have efforts been made to close the “app gap” as well as the achievement gap in Michigan?

The Woodrow Wilson Foundation works exclusively in high-need schools in Michigan. Whether our prospective teachers are fresh out of an undergraduate program or are coming from careers in the tech sector, virtually all of them understand the important role technology can play in educating kids today.
Our theory of change is that there is no factor more important to student success than an effective teacher. A plethora of the latest, greatest apps and technologies will not make up for an ineffective or an unqualified teacher. And it certainly won’t make up for a rotating door of teachers entering and exiting the classroom every year or two.

We close the achievement gaps by getting great teachers in the schools and classrooms that need them the most, and we support them so they remain in those classrooms. That support comes in many forms, including PD, mentor teachers, and the technologies to engage and inspire today’s kids.

7) Exactly how many courses were these students involved in and how long was their student teaching experience?

Each Michigan Teaching Fellow completes a yearlong master’s degree program, typically comprised of 35-45 credits. At the same time, they are part of a yearlong clinical experience, spending a full academic year in a K-12 classroom so they are prepared for everything from the first day of finals to state testing to the closing days of the school year.

8) Often it is easy to see growth if most of the students are nice and average and do not have any special needs. Was any of the data disaggregated?

All of the student performance data collected by AIR/CALDER is disaggregated data supplied by the state. Every Michigan Teaching Fellows is teaching in a high-need school. As a result, the students in their classrooms are four times more likely to be African American, two times more likely to be free/reduced price lunch, three times more likely to be English language learners, and more likely to have special education needs than students taught by non-Fellow teachers in Michigan.
It is important to note, though, that seeing growth is also limited by what subjects the state tests and how many students in a given class or school are taking those tests. In some classrooms, the N size continues to be too small to know how strong growth may actually be. And in other subjects taught by Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows, there simply is no state data to determine student success.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

Far too often, in K-12 education, we see changes and transformations that are strong during the life of the grant, but that quickly go away after the last check has been dispersed. With the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship program, we require each state to develop a strong sustainability program that ensures the work continues after the grant program is completed. Indiana has already included in the program as part of its higher education programming. Ohio is currently planning to do the same. Georgia and New Jersey are still early in the process, but have been particularly focused on how to continue the effort.
In Michigan, the program elements are being continued by the partner universities, with all 11 transformation standards set by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation being met by each of the partner universities.

At Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan Universities, they are using the Teaching Fellow model to develop new teacher education programs in non-STEM subjects. At Grand Valley State, they are applying the program to new in-service teacher education efforts. Michigan State and the University of Michigan continue to explore new grant opportunities to fund Teaching Fellowship-based efforts at their education schools.
Ultimately, our goal is to provide a strong pipeline of effective STEM teachers who will remain in the teaching profession. We leave it to each state to determine the most effective path for achieving that.

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