UTeach Takes an Innovative Approach to Tracking STEM Teacher Effectiveness

What challenge is UTeach tackling?

UTeach is a national science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teacher preparation program that is being implemented in 46 universities across the United States. Developed at University of Texas at Austin in 1997, UTeach is an innovative approach to helping the nation meet the demands of an increasingly STEM-driven labor market and economy. Specifically, UTeach is a targeted and innovative approach to filling a critical gap in the teacher workforce—a robust pool of well-prepared and diverse STEM teachers who are effective in their practice. Specifically, UTeach students are undergraduate students majoring in STEM, not teacher education per se. But, as part of their degree program, they also take the courses necessary to become certified secondary educators. 

Also unique to the UTeach model compared with most other teacher preparation programs is its focus on program accountability. UTeach does not assume its approach to preparing STEM teachers will work; it actually tracks the effectiveness of its graduates in the classroom to continue to build understanding about what effective STEM teaching looks like and the types of skills teachers need to engage students in STEM learning, and then to refine their model accordingly.

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How is UTeach addressing the need? 

Universities that partner with UTeach recruit prospective students as early as the first course in their STEM major. One key perk that encourages participation is a one-credit, no-cost course that exposes students to creating inquiry-based lessons and teaching those lessons in a local elementary school. 

But, just introducing STEM majors to the teaching profession as a possible and even attractive career option is not sufficient for building an expanded pool of effective STEM teachers. While knowledgeable in the content, being a STEM major does not necessarily make one a good teacher who can engage all students in challenging content. Indeed, a key gap in the overall teacher preparation community is the lack of strong and valid accountability measures for the programs themselves. Teacher preparation programs share a common goal of producing good teachers, but often cannot speak to the success of their programs in producing high-quality teachers. UTeach is bucking this trend. It has made a concerted effort to ensure the program is effective and is using specific accountability measures to track the performance of their graduates who enter the classroom as a reflection of their own effectiveness and success. Specifically, UTeach collects the following types of data on teachers who went through their program:

- Satisfaction with various program components and preparation experiences upon program completion

- Teaching credentials they receive

- Title I status of the school where they are teaching

- Grades and subjects they are teaching

- Hours of induction support they receive from their program

- Nature of the induction support they receive from their program

- Professional development needs

Based on this information, UTeach monitors and reports on entry into and retention in the field, disaggregated by a variety of graduate characteristics. UTeach tracks this information annually for all graduates. UTeach provides this information back to individual programs along with comparative national data across all programs in order to better understand the impact UTeach programs are having. 

Individual UTeach programs are able to make local programmatic changes based on this data and the UTeach Institute is able to modify program implementation guides, materials, and support to strengthen the program based on these data. For example, new initiatives related to recruiting a more diverse population of STEM majors into UTeach programs and strengthening recruitment and preparation of teachers for particular disciplines, including computer science, physics, and chemistry, are currently being developed by many UTeach programs in response to these data.

How does the UTeach program make an impact? 

UTeach is not only dramatically changing the university approach to preparing math and science teachers, but also, by establishing robust measures for tracking program outcomes, establishing a research-practice partnership with independent researchers to rigorously evaluate their model, and publishing data accordingly, they are hoping to influence policies and benchmarks intended to ensure high quality teacher preparation. They are exposing their strengths and weaknesses and then taking action to improve their programming accordingly. Indeed, they are setting a new precedent for teacher preparation program accountability.  

What’s next?

UTeach is already experiencing the benefits of sharing outcome data publicly. One challenge with UTeach’s approach is that it is not a state-specific program model. Therefore, the program has had to negotiate certification policies on a state-by-state basis as they seek to extend the program nationally. The outcome data on UTeach teacher graduates have been key to spreading the program model. As the director of the national expansion initiative, Kimberly Hughes shared, “by communicating the effectiveness of our program with quantifiable evidence, UTeach programs are often able to negotiate exceptions to the state-wide requirements in order to allow the program to operate as designed.” They have also been able to work with universities to successfully replace traditional models of certification and coursework with their STEM-specific model. 

Through its dedication to accountability, UTeach is branding itself as an innovative and effective model for STEM teacher preparation; it is causing the broader community to rethink traditional approaches, policies, and requirements for preparing and encouraging strong students to pursue teaching and excel in the classroom. The UTeach vision is to expand its program to more states and universities with a goal of 8,000 UTeach STEM graduates by 2022 while still adapting to a variety of local contexts, drawing on support from its network and partners, and in particular, advocating for certification requirements to evolve to better address the current STEM teacher shortage.