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Kai Ryssdal: We're going to go back to Monroe, La., now and pick up with Amy Scott where we left off yesterday, with one of the toughest questions in education today: How to make good teachers.
There are more than 1,200 college and university departments in this country that churn out new teachers every year, and by a lot of accounts, many of them are not up to the job. Amy told us yesterday how the state of Louisiana has redesigned its teacher training programs by making future teachers spend more time with actual kids before they take charge of the classroom.
Today, she has sort of the opposite approach.
Sound of school bell ringing and students talking in hallway
Amy Scott: Remember high school chemistry class? Think basement lab, no windows. A couple of kids spaced out in the back. The teacher in the front is trying to get across something about density.
Karari Hanks: Someone raise their hand and tell me why the density of that gas would be less than say a solid, like gold?
Student: Do we need to write these down?
Hanks: No. So now that you raised your hand, Bradley, why do think the density of this gas...
Karari Hanks has only been at this a few years, teaching chemistry at Neville High School in Monroe, La. But according to the state, new teachers like Hanks are as effective as experienced teachers, if not more so. Hanks came out of a fast-track teacher training program at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Instead of going to college for four years and majoring in education, students start teaching right away while they earn a master's degree. Many are career changers like Hanks.
Hanks: I was a project manager for an environmental consulting firm in Atlanta, Ga. And my wife and I moved here, 'cause we had a baby and wanted to get closer to family. I could not find a job for six months, and found out they needed a science teacher here. So it was sort of a no-brainer for me.
A decade ago, Louisiana forced its teacher training programs to retool. ULM and others created the fast-track programs. And the state started measuring whether the students of those fast-track teachers made progress on standardized tests.
George Noell of LSU leads the annual study. He says teachers coming out of the University of Louisiana at Monroe's master's program have consistently fared well.
George Noell: Generally across content areas, they produced results that were better than new teachers and more comparable to or more similar to experienced teachers.
The question is why? One theory is the candidates.
Sound of train horn
Monroe sits at the edge of the Mississipi Delta region, a rural area with high poverty and few jobs. ULM has a federal grant to help get more qualified teachers in the area. The grant pays for a recruiter, Dewanna Greer, to hunt for talent.
Dewanna Greer: Generally, we look for recent college graduates, or people who have probably been in other industries -- banking, insurance, engineering, whatever. And now they've decided that they kind of want to teach.
They can't just kind of want to teach. Candidates have to shell out several hundred dollars for testing just to get into the program.
Greer: They've made the choice to come to us. And as a result of that, if you want to do something, then I think it yields a better candidate, and ultimately, a better teacher.
Once they sign up, they get plenty of help.
Sound of drum line playing
Outside Carroll High School in Monroe, the drum line rehearses for competition. Inside, one of the district's newest teachers is doing some practicing of his own.
Mary Rainey: OK, and I loved the video clip of "La Bamba." That was great...
Alberto Sandino gets feedback on his teaching from long-time teacher Mary Rainey. Sandino is a former banker. He's working on his master's at ULM while teaching high school Spanish full-time. Four times a semester, Rainey watches him teach a class, then they discuss.
Alberto Sandino: This allows her to give me feedback on the areas I need to improve, and just to help me become a better educator.
Rainey taught in the public schools for 35 years. She's not surprised that graduates of the program do as well as many experienced teachers.
Rainey: I started teaching in 1973 and there was not all of this process, you know. You pretty much went into the classroom and you just learned to teach on your own. You didn't have anybody to really work with you.
ULM's isn't the only alternative program in the state that's had good results. Luke Thomas is former dean of ULM's College of Education. He says that raises questions about the traditional undergraduate path to teaching, where college students spend hundreds of hours practicing before they take charge of a classroom.
Luke Thomas: If this fast-track program is working that well, I mean, that would change the whole dynamics of a college of education.
And show again that there's more than one way to teach teachers.
In Monroe, La., I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.