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In the Meantime: Sustaining Schools of Education through Seasons of Uncertainty

As we come into the final months of 2015, unexpected shifts in federal leadership have raised more questions than answers about public education in the U.S. In the midst of such uncertainty, many leaders of schools of education have asked us, “How do we respond?”

What are the changes?

Before we can think about a response, we must understand the changes underway. A few of the most notable shifts include:
  • Paul Ryan replacing John Boehner as Speaker of the House. With the debt limit lifted through March 2017, there is a fresh opportunity to focus on other key concerns, specifically the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently No Child Left Behind). Speaker Ryan’s calls for bipartisanship in his first speech and the ability to increase education spending are hopeful signs that a reauthorization could be near.
  • Arne Duncan’s departure from his position as Secretary of Education in December with John King, Jr. to replace him. Generally, it is expected that little will change under King. However, Obama announced last week that the White House plans to limit testing to 2% of classroom time. At first blush, this is a shift in position for the White House and the Department of Education (ED), but 2% is still 3.6 full days of testing in a 180-day school year.
  • ED’s proposed regulations from early 2015, which would dramatically effect both funding and accountability around teacher preparation for schools of education. We offered our take last winter. According to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), the regulations could be approved in December and take effect in July 2016. Both the House and Senate versions of ESEA limit the authority of the Secretary of Education—and therefore these regulations—if ESEA is reauthorized.
There are also ongoing concerns about teacher shortages, salaries, and working conditions. All of these issues are complex and vary widely by locale; they will not be solved quickly or universally. Leaders of schools of education need to consider short- and long-term strategies to sustain their colleges and to effect change.

What are successful schools doing to sustain and grow?

They are capturing the online market. Overall enrollments and conferrals for schools of education have been declining since 2009. The largest declines have occurred at the master’s level, specifically in teacher preparation, which declined 30% between 2009 and 2013 (Title II, HEA). Despite the overall declines, some schools of education have continued to grow. It’s no surprise that the institutions conferring the largest number of education degrees offer online programs. Many of these schools are among the biggest providers in the market and have vast marketing and operational resources with which the average school of education cannot compete. Does this mean the average school of education is out of luck? Not necessarily. In Eduventures’ initial assessment of schools of education experiencing continued growth over the past five years, at least 30% outsourced their online operations and strategy by partnering with an Online Program Management provider (OPM), and this number is growing. This solution is by no means a silver bullet. Partnerships require carefully choosing the best match as well as setting explicit expectations, which continues to challenge these relationships. However, the evidence is clear that both public and private, non-profit universities are increasing their enrollment numbers through OPM partnerships. We are researching whether or not OPMs increase enrollments in teacher preparation programs specifically. It is also clear that going online is not enough. Schools of education can’t expect to gain enrollments by merely moving existing on-campus courses online. The decline in the student demand for teacher preparation degrees has been too significant, about 5% per year since 2009. Additionally, as we noted in our report, Online Education in 2015, annual growth in online enrollments is slowing thanks to market maturity, increased regulatory concerns, and market consolidation among large-scale providers. In order to be competitive in today’s market, schools of education must develop a strategic plan for delivering online courses that meet market demand and uphold the college’s mission. They are expanding their program portfolios. Developing programs outside of teacher preparation isn’t news to schools of education. In doing so, it’s important to tune in to market demand to focus on the right programs for enrollment growth. For example, you may be surprised to find that “hot” areas such as administration, special education, and educational leadership have stagnated since 2009 as more providers entered the market to meet student demand. Areas of education that have grown over the past several years include:
  • Educational technology. Conferrals grew at an average rate of 3.7% annually between 2009 and 2013. The edtech boom has continued to drive demand for expertise in both education and technology as this rapidly growing industry explores ways to improve the classroom experience for students and teachers alike.
  • Early childhood education. In spite of political debates over the need for universal preschool, early childhood education conferrals grew at an average rate of 7.1% annually between 2009 and 2013 (10.4% when early childhood special education is included). National attention to improving outcomes for traditionally underserved students through preschool education and increased ED funding are certainly influencing the growing demand for highly qualified early childhood educators.
Additional programs with potential for growth that we are watching include:
  • Gifted education. In Eduventures’ 2015 Principal Survey, the 750 school leaders who responded expressed a strong need for educators who have completed advanced study in gifted education.
  • Teacher and administrator prep for P-12 online schools. As online learning in P-12 gains popularity, there is a need for teachers and administrators who are prepared to work specifically in a virtual environment.
Schools of education continue to prepare 90% of U.S. public school teachers who complete teacher preparation programs. Their long-term roles and responsibilities must be addressed, especially in light of each university’s need to enroll college-ready students. The decline in teacher preparation program enrollments is not simply an issue of marketing, delivery mode, or program offering. It is a political issue for local communities to assess carefully. While schools of education leaders participate in the larger issues around education, they must also sustain their programming. Currently, successful programs are online, partnering with OPMs, and prioritizing program offerings based on market and mission. As part of our ongoing research, we are developing case studies of schools of education with increasing enrollments. Please contact Karen Svarczkopf to participate or to recommend a school of education for this work. Also, join us later this month at Eduventures Summit 2015, where we will discuss future trends and current challenges for schools of education and hear from Arthur Levine, President of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

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