The little Blue Engine that could

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In the middle of the New York Times profile of Blue Engine, an intensive tutoring program that looks to be getting impressive results for disadvantaged high school kids in New York City, the reporter notes, "it's conceivable that Blue Engine could evolve into an alternative model for teacher preparation, one that provides more ramp-up time than programs like Teach For America." 

Wait a minute, I thought, isn't the real alternative to Teach for America traditional teacher prep? Candidates in many schools of education get something on the order of 100 hours of clinical field work experience even before a stint of student teaching. What more of an on-ramp could one want?

It's telling that it didn't occur to the reporter or his editors to refer to traditional teacher preparation programs. In our research for the Review, we haven't come across instances of schools of education training and deploying their teacher candidates as tutors before student teaching in the same way Blue Engine does. That may be a missed opportunity. Tutors like those from Blue Engine are providing a tangible service to the school -- the principal in the profile pays Blue Engine $150,000 a year for ten tutors -- and the tutors themselves seem to be learning skills crucial for good teaching.

We've been getting word that as teacher evaluation systems are coming on line, classroom teachers are becoming reluctant to take on student teachers. They're understandably concerned about being held accountable for what relatively untested novices might do in their classrooms. But just think: what if prospective mentor teachers knew that student teachers were skillful tutors? 

A mentoring program in Houston public schools based on the highly successful MATCH charter school's tutoring corps got student gains that were off the charts. Teachers might line up to get student teachers if they knew that they could help their students become college-ready.