April 6, 2010

UTEP gets federal grant

The University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP) received an $11.6 million federal grant last week allowing it to quadruple its class size, certify teachers in mathematics and science, and improve its curriculum and recruitment.

The grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to support initiatives that help struggling schools by improving teacher training.

“This is a really promising signal from the federal government about our model and its capacity to train high–quality teachers for urban schools,” Kavita Kapadia Matsko, associate professor and director of UTEP, said in a press release.

The UTEP curriculum focuses on Chicago and public schools in other urban areas in an effort to prepare teachers specifically for those environments, Matsko said in an interview.

The grant will expand the program from its current class size of 15 students to 60 students per year. Because of the postgraduate support program, UTEP will be working with 300 teachers each year after five years.

Ninety percent of UTEP graduates continue to teach after three years, far above Illinois and Chicago averages, a press release said. The program, which grants masters degrees to its graduates, includes one year of preparation prior to a yearlong residency program in the classroom. After being placed in a school, teachers continue to receive support from the program for three years. This “residency model” drew the interest of the Department of Education.

Learning to teach well, Matsko said, takes time, and the UTEP program, longer than many other teacher certification programs, is designed to fully prepare teachers to succeed in the classroom.

The University will reduce program tuition and teachers will receive a $20,000 living stipend funded by the grant duringtheir residency. The stipend is meant to offset some of the costs of the program, which is longer than other teacher certification programs.

Ultimately, UTEP hopes to form a network of graduates to serve as expert teachers mentoring current students— what Director and clinical professor of the Urban Education Institute (UEI) Tim Knowles described as a “human capital pipeline which is vertically integrated.”

Knowles said that the grant would make a significant impact, not just on the UTEP program, but also on the students who will one day learn from graduates of the program. “It’s an extraordinarily important grant in the sense that the most important thing for the improvement of the trajectory of children’s lives is the quality of the teachers.”

According to Knowles, one of the strengths of UTEP’s grant application was its in-depth description of plans to analyze the success of the program.

Some of those metrics include analyzing student test scores, observing teachers in the classroom, and evaluating student work. UTEP, which is part of the UEI, will be working with the Consortium on Chicago School Research to research the effects of the program.

“Ultimately what we really want to do is understand the extent to which our students are learning more,” Knowles said.