House Committee Member #1: Jon Kaplan is the president of Walden University. As president, he focuses on efforts to attract diverse student population, to provide students an engaging learning environment, and expand global learning opportunities.
Prior to joining Walden University, Mr. Kaplan had a career in government and public policy and law in Washington, D.C., serving as the White House chief of staff for the National Economic Council and special assistant to the President for economic policy under President Clinton. Mr. Kaplan:
Jonathan A. Kaplan, president of Walden University: Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I’m very pleased to speak with you about the work we do at Walden University to advance teacher quality and leadership in the classroom. For 40 years, Walden University has supported working professionals in achieving their academic goals and advancing positive social change. Based in Minnesota, Walden is a primarily online institution currently serving more than 40,000 students from all 50 states. Our School of Education is named for Richard W. Riley, the esteemed former U.S. Secretary of Education and former governor of South Carolina. Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership has more than 28,000 graduates and currently enrolls over 16,000 students. We offer programs ranging from teacher certification through Ph.D.
We are proud of the Riley College’s diversity: 78% of our students are women and 31% are minorities. The average age of our students is 37. The graduation rate for our master’s program in teacher education, our largest program, consistently runs over 80%. Our students currently include 45 State Teachers of the Year. I appreciate this committee’s focus on the importance of quality teachers and leaders. I believe that schools of education play an essential role in educating teachers to be more effective in their classrooms.
I would like to share with you three methods we use to drive better results for our students, and our students’ students: (1) measuring and examining specific outcomes; (2) delivering programs that are relevant and practical; and (3) using technology to enable better learning. We measure Walden’s success as an institution, largely through the success of our graduates.
In addition to more traditional means of assessment, we are increasingly focused on demonstrating our students’ success through outcomes analysis. For example, on an annual basis, we survey our graduates and their employers to understand the impact of our programs. In our most recent data from 2008, each of the 72 school principals or assistant principals who responded to our survey said they would hire another Riley College graduate as a teacher. More than 90% of our Masters of Education graduates who responded said that earning their degrees enhanced their professional performance. Data like this provides important benchmarks for the School of Education to measure our performance. And I want to emphasize that’s our measuring our own performance as a school of education.
Beyond these surveys, we recognize the need to measure the direct impact of our graduates in the classroom. In 2005, Walden commissioned a three year longitudinal study in the Tacoma, Washington, School District. The research demonstrated that students of Tacoma teachers who graduated from our master’s program in elementary reading and literacy made greater gains in reading fluency—more than 14% greater—than students of non-Walden master's educated teachers. We found this longitudinal study quite instructive and are now exploring how we might conduct similar studies in other substantive and geographic areas.
At Walden, we also believe that our programs must have a strong theoretical and content grounding and be highly relevant and practical. Our curriculum is developed by our faculty, but done so in collaboration with national experts, on the ground teachers and instructional designers. This allows us to build stronger programs and to prepare teachers no matter where they teach in the country. We offer practical courses on topics that include classroom management, meeting the needs of diverse learners, and integrating technology in the classroom. 95% of our graduates who responded found the Walden teacher education curriculum relevant to their daily work. We also teach teachers how to be reflective about their own skills and how to utilize research based strategies and data to improve instruction and effectiveness in their classrooms. Our philosophy is that you have to provide the opportunity for teachers to learn and apply 21st century skills so that a teacher’s own learning doesn’t stop when their degree ends.
From our own experience at Walden, we know that interactivity and engagement online is a particularly effective teaching tool in the field of education. For example, in our programs, we supplement our required on-ground field experience with a technology called Virtual Field Experience. In this interactive instructional video, students see and hear first-hand the master teacher’s explanation of what’s working and what isn’t working in the displayed K—12 classroom setting. It also enables our faculty to highlight the best teaching practices from a diverse group of master teachers. Using this technology, our students have the opportunity to observe best practices and diverse teaching styles from classrooms across the country. As a leading online institution, we measure the value of our technology only by the results it delivers. At Walden, we feel privileged and responsible in our role as educators of such a significant number of this nation’s teacher workforce. We feel a real obligation to ensure and demonstrate that our graduates are effective in making an even more positive impact on the children they teach. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today.
House Committee Member #2: I apologize if some of my questions are a little basic, but don’t be restricted by that. I was interested, Mr. Kaplan, in… You’re saying your students are 37 years old on average? Is that a factor,you think, of people coming at a much younger age into the teaching profession? Can you explain why that is or how this affects, if it does, the performance of the people when they do enter your system and then finally get into teaching, I presume, as a second or third career?
Jonathan A. Kaplan,president of Walden University: Sure. Thank you. The main reason that the average age of our students at Walden is 37 is the fact that our focus, predominantly, from program standpoint, has been in graduate education. And, as a result, our largest program in the Riley College of Education is our Master of Science in Education—where teachers are coming back to get their master’s degree as mid-career professionals and teachers. And, because we’re online, there’s an opportunity for them to do it without much difficulty in terms of their own careers. So, from our standpoint, ensuring that we’re meeting the needs of working adults and doing so in a way that’s very relevant and providing programs that are very practical to them, we know is critical. On average, our master's students at Walden have between 10 and 15 years teaching experience. So, we know the value we can add is supplementing their education. Their education is continuing; they’re life-long learners. Providing them with very relevant and practical programs and courses at that level is essential.
House Committee Member #2: Thanks. My impression—and it may be wrong—there’s a fairly high drop-out rate in the first couple years of people actually entering the classroom. And there are efforts to try to deal with that through—as people segue from education schools to practice teaching and so on and so forth. Nonetheless, many teachers do get overwhelmed, especially going to inner-city schools, which are challenging environments. And the second part of that is there’s been a criticism that many schools of education focus a lot more on theory and not too much on preparing people to lead in the classroom and actually work on content and that sort of thing. I wonder if any of you would be… As consumers of teacher school-trained people, is there room for improvement? Is there anything the federal government could do, if that is the case? In improving the preparation for people moving into the field of public school teaching. And, maybe having a two-tier system if people are dropping out anyway of apprentice teaching. I don’t know. I’m just curious if there’s any way we could tighten up somehow on the profession of teaching and have teachers be better prepared to teach.
We’ll start at that end and go that way.
Jonathan A. Kaplan, president of Walden University: Sure, I think your point about schools of education needing to focus on practical and relevant lessons for teachers—and professional development that they can apply immediately in the classroom, in terms of how to apply research in the classroom and learn from the data that they’re looking at. There are a lot of assessments out there. Are teachers gaining the skills and the development they need to be able assess that data and apply it immediately to improve individual student performance? Those kinds of practical elements are absolutely critical we think, in terms of what schools of education can offer.
House Committee Member #3: Mr. Kaplan, I think using the feedback from teachers is so important. That’s something that I’ve been trying to do, as we look at this reauthorization of meeting with faculty members all around my congressional district to get their feedback. I was disappointed, actually, to find with the core standards, it doesn’t seem like—it really wasn’t good feedback from the teacher level. Through your testimony, you talked about using feedback received from local school districts that receive your teachers. And I was wondering if you would provide some specific examples about that feedback that you received.
Jonathan A. Kaplan, president of Walden University: Sure. I would say at the outset—and it’s, again, a theme that has come up previously—there’s no silver bullet in terms of a particular metric that we look at to assess how our programs are doing. Whether it’s feedback from principals in school districts on our teachers, or any other. Further, we’re very respectful of our graduates’ privacy and ask their permission in order to talk with their supervisors—the principals, the assistant principals, the school districts, and what have you. The feedback we’ve gotten about our graduates, though, has been informative to us about what’s working and what we can improve programmatically. One point I would make is that we’ve heard a consistent theme from different districts and principals that our teachers are helping to create a bit of a professional learning community within their schools, and that the program that they were enrolled in at Walden were helpful in that regard. So, from our standpoint, it’s been helpful, as we look at our programs, what to improve, what to focus more on. Because this is an on-going effort, because teachers continue to learn during their careers, cultivating that on-going learning environment is essential and something we’ll continue to focus on.
House Committee Member #4: Mr. Kaplan, I’m curious to know how, logistically, your teaching process works. You’re an online institution. So, do people have to come to the classroom at any point in time? Is it all online? How are they evaluated in their performance on that basis?
Jonathan A. Kaplan, president of Walden University: Sure. Well, there’s an online classroom, congressman, where students virtually “sit,” if you will, in a section with 18, 19 other students, and with a faculty member. In our case, all doctorally-prepared. Who will then engage with the students. They’ll have writing assignments back and forth. There’s chat and discussion that’s required as a part of the course. One of the things we know, to prospective students who are interested in our programs, is that online learning isn’t for everyone. There’s no hiding in the back row of an online classroom in the sense that discussion and contribution is required as a part of every section. And obviously, writing requirements, other assessments, are required as part of that process as well. One of the things we’ve found is the high level of satisfaction that our students have with engagement. They didn’t think they would be as engaged with faculty and other students as they are. Again, that kind of points back to our theory about technology, which is—not using anything to be cutting edge—but really ensuring it’s about the learning and it’s about the student experience.
House Committee Member #4: Thank you.