Deepening Meaning and Learning: How future teachers are putting learning science into action to support all students

Deans for Impact

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"Do you know if what you are doing at Deans for Impact is making a difference in how teachers will teach?" An education journalist asked us this question a few months ago. It’s tough but fair, and in many ways his question gets at the core challenge of education. Learning is the result of cumulative actions, and it’s very hard (though not impossible) to measure. Six years ago, Deans for Impact launched with a vision of bringing scientific insight into teaching practice, but it was just that—a vision. In the time that’s passed, the question remains: is what we’re doing having any impact?

We now have the answer: Yes.

Before providing evidence to support that claim, a quick recap of our organizational journey. Two years ago, we launched the Learning by Scientific Design (LbSD) Network to begin the vital—albeit challenging—work of redesigning how teachers are prepared. This effort is informed by principles of learning science and taking place in what is now a network of 10 educator-preparation programs across the country. More than 70 faculty are working with us to change the arc of experiences that teacher-candidates receive as they prepare to become teachers.

Despite the challenge of a global pandemic, the programs participating in the LbSD Network pressed ahead with changes we designed together. Over the past academic year, these programs—which collectively graduate about 2,100 teachers each year—helped their teacher-candidates to explore and practice the principles of learning science. As far as we know, it’s the largest—and perhaps only—effort of this type to ever occur in schools of education.

Is it working? Let’s start with the empirical data. In Spring 2020, just over 1,000 teacher-candidates enrolled in programs in the LbSD Network took our assessment that covers six key principles of learning science. As we might expect, given that these candidates had received no special instruction in learning science, their scores were modest.