Monday, November 20, 2023 - In Part 2 of our conversation with Mallory Dwinal-Palisch, Chancellor of Reach University, we discuss why their model of the apprenticeship teacher is better than the traditional student-teacher model, how public universities that historically educated the bulk of teachers are following the Reach model, and how the idea can be scaled to other public-sector jobs in rural areas. The episode is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group.
In Part 2 of our conversation with Mallory Dwinal-Palisch, Chancellor of Reach University, we discuss why their model of the apprenticeship teacher is better than the traditional student-teacher model, how public universities that historically educated the bulk of teachers are following the Reach model, and how the idea can be scaled to other public-sector jobs in rural areas. The episode is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group.
Links We Mention
(0:00) - Intro
(2:47) - Teacher training and education in rural areas
(6:38) - Apprenticeship-based teacher education model and its potential expansion
(10:08) - Teacher shortages and innovative solutions
(15:58) - Job-embedded learning in various industries
(17:33) - Education model for teacher preparation.
(28:57) - Rural education and apprenticeships
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In the last episode of Future U, we talked with Mallory Dwinal-Palisch about the innovative model the team at Reach University built to address the need for qualified teachers in rural areas. We know from audience feedback, Michael, that many folks have a lot more questions about this model.
And that's why we're super excited to put this episode out as well, Jeff, because the second half of that conversation with Mallory, it really gets to tackle those questions of how does Reach University think about quality, not just cost? How do they think about scale? Can other existing universities do what they're doing to fill this challenge in rural areas? And what other problems in rural areas can this approach address? So we dive into all of that and more on today's episode of Future U.
This episode of Future U is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit organization committed to helping learners from low income backgrounds reach their education and career goals. For more information, visit ascendiumphilanthropy.org.
I'm Michael Horn.
And I'm Jeff Selingo.
Jeff, the folks who listened to the first half of our conversation with Mallory along with the reaction that we had last episode are probably raring to go for the second half of this conversation. So I don't want to do too much buildup except to just point out that this is a major issue. Although rural areas are small, individually population-wise, when you actually aggregate them across the country, they're educating roughly the same number of students that urban areas collectively are. And yet, let's be honest, urban areas get all the headlines about school. So this is an important conversation that all too often gets ignored. With that as backdrop, let's jump right back in with our conversation with Mallory and Reach University with the question that you posed to her about quality.
So Mallory, I want to dig a little bit deeper on the quality piece of that apprenticeship because in many ways the apprenticeship is clearly one of the big innovative pieces here in my opinion. My father was a high school teacher and I recall him telling me frequently about the student teachers he had in class, and I think probably many of our listeners remember having student teachers in their class. And to be honest with you, some of them were not quite fully baked to be teachers even by that point in their educational journey. So some might say some student teachers didn't even deserve credit for that work. And your model of course is a lot more classroom time. How do you ensure quality in the apprenticeship piece of this? How do you ensure that they're actually learning something in those classrooms?
I think about it in three things. The first is who are we bringing in? The second is who is invested in their outcomes? And then the third is how are we measuring those outcomes? So let's take the first two together of who are we bringing in and who's invested in those outcomes. Reach University operates as a B2B model. We are not a direct to consumer university. School districts come to us and say, "I have a problem. I need to fill this teaching position. And I have someone who I think could do it, but they need the training," which means they're already picking ... A lot of times when student teachers come in and they're half-baked teaching might not be the profession for them. And this is actually a somewhat controversial belief I hold. No one says anyone can be an astronaut or an astrophysicist. No one would say anyone can be a neurosurgeon. I don't think anyone can be a teacher. I honestly don't know that I have what it takes to be a great teacher.
So I think it starts out with who are we selecting for these jobs? And there's significant empirical evidence that even before the first round of student assessments come back, school leaders and their fellow teachers are good at identifying which early educators are going to actually get great results for their students. So who we're picking is first these school districts telling us, "I know this person's going to be great, I already know it," and they've got skin in the game. Because the second thing about this is student teaching, the traditional student teaching model is I'm going to go work at school A for my 10 weeks of student teaching and then I'm going to go work somewhere else after that. There's no reason for that school to invest in me and to do the hard work.
Reach University is saying, "Let's have you spend four years working in the classroom where you're already working, where the school has said you're doing a great job" and they're invested in making sure you're going to be a quality educator. Because on the other side of this, you're not becoming someone's second grade teacher, you're becoming their second grade teacher. So those are the first two pieces that I think are really important side by side is who we're picking and how we're making sure that the people that are working with them on the job every day have skin in the game. I mean I'd also just say as a rhetorical point, these are people who are responsible for teaching our children. So they should be pretty good at teaching our teachers too. So we trust their ability to identify those folks and then to do that education.
And then to the third piece of, so how do we actually know as a university because we're the ones that are responsible for conferring the degree based on what we believe is happening there. And this is where it comes back again to craft plus our synchronous classes on nights and weekends. We do not do large lectures, we have our students going out doing this work out in the field, having it tracked and evaluated by their mentor teacher. And then they come into these small group discussions where they're being taught by someone who is also a K12 educator who's looking at that data and using the same dialogic Socratic-based process to adapt their learning in real time before they award a grade. And our belief is that field data, that flipped classroom of field data plus real-time discursive learning in small group settings is the high watermark for good pedagogy at any grade level, including higher education.
I'm just reflecting on the abuse that I showered down on the student teachers that were unfortunate enough to have me in their classes. But let's stay with the problem of rural communities and the scale problem now. So you've built a system that both on a quality perspective and the economics can start to fill this gap, but it's still a large problem. As you said, same number of students roughly that are in our urban schools, roughly one fifth the nation's public school students attend a rural school. So let's get into the scale question, your outcomes and the success you're seeing and can you match the scale of this problem?
By ourselves, no. And let's just do a little snapshot in time here, which is in 2020 was our first year of operating these undergraduate programs in rural areas. Our first cohort, there were 68 students. Today, Reach University 3 years later has about 1,500 students and we're on our way. The only reason we are not bigger is because we cannot grow faster and assure quality. We can't hire enough good educators fast enough, bring them up to speed fast enough and ensure the integrity of our product. And so we've made some decisions that are paradoxical to what typically is happening in higher education, where higher education is seeing a decline in enrollment and they're doing everything they can to try innovative new ways to scale their footprint. We've actually made a decision as a team. We will not be entering any new states. We'll not be taking on anything new because we don't feel like we can do that and maintain our quality as we grow these educators.
So what Reach University is doing instead is we've just launched a national center for the apprenticeship degree where our goal is to collaborate with other universities that are adopting similar models. And there are some great ones out there. Dallas College out in Texas, the University of Colorado Denver system up in Colorado. There are some groups out there doing just remarkable work. And our goal is can we collaborate as a group of institutions to ensure that there's currently about 15 of us, can we get to 50 so that there is at least one of these institutions in all 50 states so that every single district in America has access to at least one apprenticeship degree provider where it can replicate this model as a way of ending teacher shortages, structural teacher shortages in all 50 states.
And the only other thing I'd say to that is we're seeing great progress and promise. What we are realizing is we have to let go of something that I felt very dogmatically about which was being rural only. And we're expanding it now to any community that wants this, can have it. And the reason for that is it's self-sustaining on earned income. So it's not like there's this finite number of seats is the first thing.
And the second thing is talking about only filling rural teacher shortages and then ignoring vacancies in other areas is like talking about which holes in a sinking boat you're going to plug. As long as there are holes in the boat, you've got a problem. And so especially rural areas tend to make less money, they tend to be able to pay teachers more. And so if we are not addressing vacancies statewide, we're just creating a brain drain problem where people will get educated in a rural community and then poached somewhere else.
So Mallory, let's talk about those vacancies statewide but also in rural areas because we've talked for example on this podcast a lot about the plight of regional public universities and as you know, many of these institutions started as normal schools educating their future teachers and then they became teachers colleges and then they suddenly grew into these regional comprehensive universities and many have been bleeding enrollment, especially in their education schools. So I'm kind of curious about whether the model, this really interesting model that you developed, can traditional universities pivot and perhaps do more things like this? Maybe they become competitors in some ways then, but can they offer apprenticeship degrees or are the hurdles too high? And as you see this from the other side, what are some of those hurdles maybe for traditional higher ed? Because I'm assuming that there are many listeners out there who work in traditional higher education institutions that are probably fascinated by your model and saying, "Hmm, can we do that here?"
The short answer is yes, they absolutely can. Now let's talk about what the challenges are, but first what the challenge is not because I think there's one group out there that gets written off as being the Boogeyman and it's absolutely just ... They're not the problem, but I think it's convenient for us to say who they are. Do you guys have a guess who I'm talking about?
The accreditors. Accreditors are not the problem here. In fact, our accreditor has been one of the biggest sources of support and help in helping us think through this in a way that is still protective of quality for students. I think about accreditors as being like a consumer protection bureau. They're there to make sure that certain criteria are being met around quality of learning, et cetera. But my experience has never once been that when we come to them and say, "This is a problem that needs to be addressed and the traditional systems don't work, how do we do this?" We've never once been told you can't do that. Quite the opposite. They've helped us figure out how to do it while still serving our students well.
I think the much bigger issue, and this is where again I've become a little bit of a heretic, is inside of the institutions themselves. It's the saying of the call is coming from within the house. The problem is that we have created a system where we don't have to be innovative and where it is easy for anyone inside of higher education to block that innovation. There's a book out right now that I'm going to get it wrong. I should have looked the details up beforehand, but it's a title written by a former university president and it's something like Whatever You're Asking For, the Answer Is No or we're opposed, we're against it.
Yeah, it's a great book.
And that is the problem inside of higher ed. It's this idea of ... I think particularly faculty senates are this big challenge. I can't think of any other institution, any other business where this idea for a business to make a decision, every other member of the university or of the company has to agree to it and say this is a good idea. That doesn't exist in any other industry, nor could it because that industry would die, which is what's happening to higher ed right now. So I think that we need to rethink internal controls and commands inside of higher ed, particularly as it relates to when someone wants to do something innovative, what can they do and who do they have to get permission from?
We are actually seeing some large public institutions do this work well. For example, the Missouri State system I have been so impressed with, they are now training hundreds of teachers through this apprenticeship-based model and have overcome all of the things that outside of accreditors will see be a structural problem for these big institutions. They've renegotiated the marginal cost of tuition for these students so that it can be cost neutral to them and they don't have to pay tuition out of pocket. They've rethought the relationship with the employer, in this case school districts. This is a large state institution doing this work and they have blown everybody away with what they've done and Reach University is following their lead on a lot of efforts they're taking. Same is true for groups like Dallas College. Same is true for groups like the University of Colorado system. These are all large public institutions that we're seeing make these leaps and it's because the challenge is not external. The challenge is what they have the buy-in to do internally.
So Mallory, the problem not only is about getting teachers in but keeping them engaged and we're seeing people leave the profession in droves. So is there any way you can solve for that? So it's not just about getting new teachers but keeping them engaged?
Yes. So first of all, this is not a silver bullet and I think that sometimes the zero-sum mindset people will come into that I think is a problem. Saying the ways in which changing teaching training to being more apprenticeship-based, saying the ways in which that can help end teacher shortages is not dismissing the fact that we need to structurally rethink how we compensate teachers. We need to structurally rethink the authority and the quality of work life that they have inside of the classroom. All of that is real and I don't know that Reach University's approach solves that by itself. In fact, I know it doesn't. But setting that aside, this is an ecosystem problem. It's going to require an ecosystem solution and how we train teachers I do think is a part of that ecosystem and I think it helps in two ways, and it goes to two of the reasons we see people burn out.
The first is we see about 40% of teachers wash out in their first 5 years of teaching because they weren't ready. They were that student teacher who came in half-baked with 10 weeks of student teaching. I would count that as having the oven not even on. So they came in half-baked and we did not get them any further along. And so having it be that someone is entering this program, having already worked in a school building and in fact worked in the school building that they're going to become a teacher in, and then spending four years where we're taking that experience and reflecting on it and refining it so that when they enter the classroom their first day as a first year teacher, they look a lot more like a fifth year teacher or a veteran than our traditional new teachers. I think that's the first thing is preparing these teachers better by giving them more real world experience so that they know what to expect.
The second thing is we see a lot of teachers drop out of the pipeline at around the 10-year mark, and that's because it starts to feel like Groundhog's Day. They've peaked as an educator, they're not close to retirement, and there's really no opportunity for them to continue to learn and grow without leaving their classroom. By the way, the people that currently self-select into teaching demonstrate a lot more responsiveness to these sort of learning and growing and mentorship opportunities than they do to financial incentives. Not to say that we don't need financial incentives as well, but just to say that this is something that really matters too. And so giving classroom educators this chance to become university professors, to get paid an additional stipend for the work they're doing teaching classes or mentoring teachers, and to have that chance to grow into their next level of their career without leaving the classroom is another way in which I think we patch one of the leaks in the pipe.
Makes a lot of sense. So I want to expand beyond just teacher education to other public sector jobs in rural areas. Obviously as you noticed, there are shortages throughout the country, so not just rural, but let's focus on rural for a moment. I'm thinking about running local governments for example, and you obviously said that Reach will only do teacher education. But for other universities working with Craft perhaps, can this idea of job embedded learning be infused more through the curriculum beyond just education?
Yes, and we're already seeing that. So Craft is starting to work with a few institutions that are in their early pilot stages, but on doing the same thing with nursing pathways and creating apprenticeship-based pathways to go from being a medical assistant to an LVN to an associate degree registered nurse all the way up to a bachelor's of science in nursing. We see the same pathway and opportunity in social work. We see the same pathway basically in any profession where we think a college degree is still necessary to have that job, to be a teacher, to be a nurse, I still need to have a college degree. That doesn't mean that it can't be job embedded, nor does it mean that it shouldn't be because experience makes you a better nurse, it makes you a better teacher or social worker. And so we are starting to see other universities using Craft to do that same apprenticeship based degree pathway in other industries as well.
Very, very cool. Mallory, thank you so much for joining us on Future U. It's good to see you and appreciate all that you are doing.
Always a pleasure. Thank you both.
And we'll be right back.
This episode of Future You is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit organization committed to helping learners from low-income backgrounds reach their education and career goals. Ascendium believes that system level change and a student-centric approach are important for our nation's efforts to boost post-secondary education and workforce training opportunities. That's why their philanthropy aims to remove systemic barriers faced by these learners, specifically first-generation students, incarcerated adults, veterans, students of color, adult learners and rural community members. For more information, visit ascendiumphilanthropy.org.
Welcome back to Future U, off a terrific conversation with Mallory and I confess Jeff, I get really excited listening to just what she's built and the thinking behind it. And I believe Reach has now educated over 950 teachers across 148 school and district partners. There's a lot of transparent information on the website about quality that I love that they post there. They've got retention numbers and the like, so folks can get a real sense for the program, but it seems to me that when I reflect about it, that a key element in their quality education is just what Mallory said, that they are a B2B institution, business to business. So that means they're working with districts directly and it is the districts where these teachers will ultimately work. So it's different from those traditional student teacher partnerships because they have real skin in the game.
And as further evidence, I think to Reach's commitment to quality, that was her response I think around scale when we asked about scale and she said, "We are intentionally not scaling as an institution. We don't want execution to suffer." How many places say that? And instead they've turned their focus to saying, "How do we help others do this so that we can scale the approach that we're taking, not us ourselves?" And so it does seem to me that a critical ingredient for other colleges and universities to do this well, they're going to need to make sure that they're taking that B2B approach with the school districts or else this model might not work. And that's obviously very different from a traditional DNA of an ed school.
Now Jeff, before you jump in off that, I want to say it's probably appropriate at this point for me just to apologize here to all the student teachers that I was awful to in middle and high school. But since you asked the question, I'd love to know what you took of her answer on quality.
Michael, I'm starting to think we might need some of your classmates back on from your middle and high school years because you seem to have really been quite a different student than I imagined you to be back then. But I think the shortcoming of the student teacher model is because once those student teachers leave, you may never see them again. So there's really no incentive on their part to do well besides they need to get credit and there's really little incentive on the school or the teacher sponsoring them in the classroom because they probably will never have them as an employee or a colleague. They just kind of go off and go to another school usually if they're going to get a full-time job. Now, when you think of the traditional internship or co-op model with colleges in other industries, companies feel some obligation to train the next generation of their employees.
Now obviously it's for incredibly selfish reasons. They have jobs to fill, but right now K through 12 schools essentially outsource the training model to colleges and universities, but they don't feel compelled to ensure they have a robust pipeline filled with high quality talent into those colleges and universities. To follow the B2B model, in my opinion, you're going to need education schools working with districts to sell them on this model to open up essentially what are fellowship slots in the schools and neither side really works like that. And I think the big question right now is, well, where is the source of this going to be?
As we know, colleges are struggling to recruit students into their teacher education programs and schools are having trouble attracting teachers, so neither of them seems to have good experience now in selling their programs at least to traditional 18 and 19 year olds. So maybe the model can work for more non-traditional career switchers who I think, it's an enormous market for schools who maybe they've been downsized from their job or maybe they don't want to learn a new skill in their career, and so they wanted to switch careers. I really think that group of people, and we know there are millions and tens of millions of them, could be potentially a good prospect for colleges to develop a Reach like program for these would-be teachers.
Yeah, that's a great set of points, Jeff. You can go beyond sort of the school bus drivers or people working in the cafeterias or teacher aides and parapros and you can actually enlarge the scope of who you can look for. I think that's a great point. You also, Jeff must have loved her line that accreditors are not the problem, that they're often this excuse that colleges or universities hide behind for why they won't innovate. But Mallory, I thought it was really instructive that she said she has not found them to be intransigent at all. Frankly, they've been helpful.
Yeah, Michael, I think I want to take that clip everywhere I go and speak because I was just in Arkansas recently speaking to the state's community colleges and inevitably like I do at almost every talk I get the question about accreditors and the federal government. Well, we can't do any of this because of the accreditors and federal government, so I really want to take that clip because what's clear here is that Mallory was proactive and worked with the accreditors, and we know that from talking to a lot of innovators out there, whether it's ASU or Scott Pulsifer or WGU or Paul Leblanc at Southern New Hampshire, all of them will tell you when you ask them, "Well, how did you do X, Y, or Z when the accreditors don't traditionally allow that?" Is, "We went to talk to the accreditors."
Otherwise, I think we really are treating accreditors in some ways like the DMV, as something we have to go to every couple of years, and it has this reputation, well-earned or not of being the sloths that run the DMV, which you probably remember from the movie, Zootopia. It's like my image of how we think of accreditors, that are these sloths that just work there. We have these stereotypes of the accreditors, but I just don't think we test them enough to say, "You know what? We want to try something different. Here's how we're going to ensure quality and here's why we think the outcomes of this are going to be working. And by the way, we're willing to try a pilot." Nobody ever does that. They just throw up their hands and they say, "We can't do it."
Sorry. I love that image of the sloths at the DMV [inaudible 00:24:04].
It's my favorite part of that movie.
Oh, that's amazing. But I also really appreciated your question about whether Reach's approach can help not only find and educate new high quality teachers, but also whether it can help keep them engaged in the profession longer term. And I will also say I appreciated sticking with her sort of DNA of we do one and only one thing. I appreciated her measured response that Reach is not a silver bullet and we shouldn't make it out to be one.
At the same time, I thought her point that veteran teachers are far more motivated for opportunities for professional growth over financial incentives is completely consistent with what I've long argued like in my recent book From Reopen to Reinvent. And I think the research supports that. And so it's not that financial incentives are irrelevant. More money can help address teacher dissatisfaction. But if the question is engagement, then opportunities for growth, Jeff, without leaving the classroom are vital. And by Reach hiring teachers as faculty members, but allowing them to stay in the classroom as they work, it strikes me that's a really cool way to give teachers opportunities for growth. Who doesn't want to say I'm a university professor in addition to being a teacher? I mean that's badass. Or I don't know if we're allowed to say that on this podcast, but I did. I mean, it is.
We're not on broadcast television. I think it's [inaudible 00:25:25]
Exactly right. Yeah, no, but I think it's really cool. And so there's this question of course of how these individuals have the time for all that, but it strikes me as a big deal to be able to have that status, earn more money, particularly if you're a teacher in a rural area. Now, Jeff, as we wrap up here, I'd love you to speak to two other elements because I was caught by surprise that Reach has expanded beyond just addressing rural needs in states. I appreciated Mallory's point that her prior belief on this was wrong because if you're not addressing pipelines and teacher shortages throughout a state, you could create the conditions for brain drain. But I'm just curious what you think about that because that does seem it might impact what they do. And second, I would just love your thoughts about other human capital challenges this model can address in rural areas.
Yeah, Michael, I think what Mallory said about the brain drain is really critical because in some ways it's like a giant game of trading. I think about in-state and out of state students. We're sending students from Wisconsin to go to the University of Michigan when they could be just as well served at the University of Wisconsin. And as she said, if we just train the teachers in these rural areas and they are recruited to the urban areas, well then we just lost the people that we trained, which is great for the urban areas, but it doesn't really help solve the problem on a statewide level. So it's a really important point because I think we are encouraging institutions and institutional leaders to think locally. But in many ways, they also have to think more globally, and globally in this context is statewide, and maybe even regionally so that they are not just making the problems worse for people downstream.
And then in terms of whether this model could be replicated, I hope so because I'm thinking of county executives, social workers, police. And within a university, we really should allow innovations between schools so that the school of education or social work, for example, doesn't have to operate the same as the school of business. There's so much around our universities where there's a top down management where they're saying, "Well, the deans are going to be all assessed on similar things," and as a result, the School of Education Dean is looking over at the School of Business Dean and say, "Well, they're doing X, Y, and Z. I have to do X, Y, and Z." And why can't they be more different? And why can't we encourage that?
I was really struck by ... I recently spoke to deans at the University of Michigan and I was really struck by the fact that they looked to each other for ideas because they want to see what works in another school and how they can replicate it in their school. But they're also incredibly competitive with each other. And so how can we now create this replication in higher ed in terms of education, social work, training, county executives? I think there's so much we can do with this Reach model, but I think Mallory's right. Let's not try to do this at the university level. Let's try to do this at the school level where the education school can focus on educators and the school of social work can focus on social workers and the school of management can focus on, or public administration could focus on county executives. Let's not try to do this at the enterprise level, but do it much more at the school level within universities, and I really hope this can work.
Now, what may happen if it doesn't is that I think you're going to have other Reach Universities come up out there. You you're going to have more competitors to traditional colleges and universities if they don't start to replicate this model in some way.
Well, provocative thought there, Jeff, to end it and a thought that we will leave there for now. I'm looking forward to diving more into the apprenticeship question of how it works in higher education this season as well as hopefully being able to revisit the question of educating individuals in rural areas. But for now, as always, you can weigh in on the conversation that we've had today and on other episodes on social media, on X, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook, where we are at Future U. I'm at variations of Michael B. Horn on social media of course, and Jeff is at JSelingo and Jeff Selingo on the various platforms. You can always jump on our Future U website and drop us a line, subscribe to our newsletter or follow me and Jeff through our own newsletters. Next, which you can reach through Jeff's website and mine, The Future of Education is at Substack.
A thanks again to Mallory for joining us on Future U and spending time with us delving into Reach's model and the solution that they are offering for rural communities. It's a question I know that we've thought a lot about Jeff over the years and wondered how do you build a sustainable university for the rural areas? And I love just how she's tailor built something for this context. So thank you to all of you for listening and we'll see you next time on Future U.