Free course via state grant

07/15/14

Reading endorsement program includes free course for K-12 teachers

BLUFFTON, Ohio—Teachers can now take Bluffton University’s five online, graduate-level courses that lead to an Ohio reading endorsement for the price of four.

Over the next three years, Bluffton is offering the final, three-credit-hour course for free to 30 teachers—10 per year—of kindergarten through 12th grade. Funding will be from an Ohio Educator Preparation Program Performance Grant awarded to the university this spring.

The grant of $144,441 is funded through Ohio’s Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The Bluffton grant is based on the university’s score of 19.27 in an evaluation of past performance in educator preparation; the average score of all Ohio teacher preparation programs in the evaluation process was 14.39.

The reading endorsement offer is an example of professional development that Bluffton’s education department will provide to current K-12 teachers with grant dollars. Dr. Gayle Trollinger, a professor and chair of education, said Ohio school administrators are looking for teachers who have added the reading endorsement, which allows them to teach reading to students at any grade level.

But Bluffton’s educator preparation program also has other plans for grant funds, which Trollinger described as money “to help high-performing teacher education programs do even better”:

  • Development of a recruitment and retention plan to bring the "best and brightest" future teachers—including diverse candidates—to Bluffton and keep them on campus through graduation.

    "Fewer high school students are considering teaching as a profession due to other opportunities and, in part, to the myriad of challenges facing teachers in the schools," Trollinger said. "One of our department's goals is to meet with prospective students and talk with them about the joys and rewards of teaching."
  • Enhancement of educator preparation through such means as technological innovations for teaching and assessment, and expanded placements for clinical practice (student teaching).

    "The use of technology to support high levels of learning is a constantly changing landscape," Trollinger noted. Pointing out that Bluffton education faculty members have already participated in a technology workshop, she said they "have committed themselves to enhance their use of technology in the classroom as well as in the field during observations."

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The department is also “exploring options for placements that will provide teacher candidates more choices for clinical practice,” she said. The project may take more than a year, she added, but faculty members are optimistic about the potential for “new and exciting placement opportunities.”

A related possibility, said Trollinger, is creation of a professional development school—a partnership with one or more school districts in which teachers in the districts, as well as Bluffton education faculty, would instruct classes for Bluffton teacher candidates.

In a professional development school, she explained, cooperating teachers who host student teachers would be called mentors and be given more latitude and responsibility, maybe helping with a leadership seminar and teaching a methods class to candidates on site. “The school would be much more integrated” in the clinical practice process than it is now, said Trollinger, who worked with the award-winning Penn State Professional Development School during a spring 2013 sabbatical.

Bluffton’s educator preparation program is up for re-accreditation next in 2017, which will be after the grant money has been used to further improve the program. But the grant’s benefits extend beyond that, too, she said.

“This is not just supporting educator preparation; it’s supporting the goals of Bluffton University,” she maintained, citing enhanced diversity and technology as examples. “We’re meeting a need.”

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