An Experiment Takes Off

When Karen Symms Gallagher ran into fellow education deans last year, many of them were “politely skeptical,” the University of Southern California dean says (politely), about her institution’s experiment to take its master’s program in teaching online.

Many of them seemed to appreciate Gallagher’s argument that the traditional model of teacher education programs had largely failed to produce the many more top-notch teachers that California (and so many other states) desperately needed. But could a high-quality MAT program be delivered online? And through a partnership with a for-profit entity (2Tor), no less? Really?

Early results about the program known as MAT@USC have greatly pleased Gallagher and USC. One hundred forty-four students enrolled in the Rossier School of Education program’s first full cohort in May, 50 percent more than anticipated and significantly larger than the 100 students who started at that time in the traditional master’s in teaching program on the university’s Los Angeles campus.

And this month, a new group of 302 students started in the second of three planned “starts” per year, meaning that USC has already quadrupled the number of would-be teachers it is educating this year and, depending on how many students enroll in January, is on track to increase it a few times more than that.

It will be a while — years, probably, until outcomes on teacher certification exams are in and the program’s graduates have been successful (or not) in the classroom — before questions about the program’s quality and performance are fully answered (though officials there point out that the technology platform, like much online learning software, provides steady insight into how successfully students are staying on track). But USC officials say that short of quantitative measures such as those, they believe the online program is attracting equally qualified students and is providing an education that is fully equivalent to Rossier’s on-ground master’s program — goals that the institution viewed as essential so as not to “dilute the brand” of USC’s well-regarded program.

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