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Why education colleges need to move out of the ivory tower and into urban schools

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It’s time to move teacher-training programs to where they belong – the schools.

Teachers in training simply don’t spend enough time developing the relationships and skills required to become effective, persisting professionals. Accordingly, teacher-training programs must adjust to give aspiring teachers more time in the actual settings candidates aspire to work in. However, adjusting academic programs to allow teacher candidates to train longer than the traditional 12-week student teaching experience won’t be the challenge. Getting college of education faculty to move their offices from the ivory tower into urban schools will be.

perrymugCollegiate teacher-training programs have come under fire from some credible and not so credible sources. Most notably, the National Council on Teacher Quality solidified the overall critique with its scathing 2013 Teacher Prep Report and subsequent 2014 follow-up. Higher education’s teacher-prep community mainly discredited the report largely for its research methods in spite of coming to many of the same conclusions a few years prior.

The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation accredits collegiate teacher prep programs. Its standards emanate largely from a blue ribbon panel from 2010. Colleges and universities have been trying to move toward clinically based training and have tried to heighten their admissions standards, but college faculty and governance structures are built to last not move.

CAEP’s new emphasis on clinical partnerships and practice will push higher education towards what educators know is good for children. Teaching is a practice that demands deep content knowledge and extended clinical fieldwork.

“To model what they want from their students, faculty must get out of their offices and into the schools. In fact, university faculty offices should be in the schools.”

Without adequate preparation, new teachers leave the profession before they actualize their talent. For instance in Michigan, teachers drop out at a higher rate than their students (40 percent to 26 percent). High-poverty schools are more than twice as likely to have inexperienced teachers than wealthy, suburban schools. One in six students is taught for at least part of the day by a teacher with one year or less experience. Only one in four teachers passed the revised Michigan teacher certification test.

Districts need young teachers to stay employed in schools long enough to reap the fruits of the investments. Communities need young teachers to reside and participate in the communities in which they serve for more than a few years. Communities and schools need professional teachers who are durable neighbors of the school – actual members of the community.

To model what they want from their students, faculty must get out of their offices and into the schools. In fact, university faculty offices should be in the schools. This type of action would move colleges of education closer to the missions of most urban universities.

Urban universities should commit to the growth of their neighborhoods by performing basic activities germane to urban institutions including: Offering advanced instruction which help to insure that area economies have sufficient numbers of trained professionals; conducting campus research initiatives to address local or regional needs; and developing collegiate public service programs to address specific community concerns and to help promote dialogue between the campus and the community.

However, if colleges of education don’t position themselves as part of the larger community, then it becomes easier to exploit schools and forget the basics. There are signs of exploitation. Colleges continuously produce teachers in certification areas that local districts don’t need. Many enroll few candidates from the local area. Low performing schools literally languish in the backyards of resourced universities.

It’s hard to exploit something you’re a part of, and it’s easier to address needs when you’re present.

Schools need experts to help aspiring, new and veteran teachers develop and strengthen their weaknesses. Districts collectively spend billions in one-off professional development seminars, which are supposed to develop professionals. More often than not, schools’ professional development plans lack the necessary structures to see if teachers’ actually learned, changed behaviors and improved students’ performances. In addition, faculty waste valuable time on the road traveling sporadically between various schools to supervise their student-teachers. Also, schools can use professionals who are proficient in collecting and analyzing data.

College of education faculty would be well positioned to address these issues, if their offices were in the schoolhouse.

Schools and teachers can benefit from faculty and apprentices, who can help differentiate instruction, make phone calls to the homes of absent students, grade papers or assist with dance team practice. This is the on-the-job training candidates need. Embedded faculty provides immediate feedback of candidates’ performance on assigned tasks. When courses are taught where students are expected to practice, the theory to practice connection is made. John Dewey said it best. “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

However, none of this is possible if faculty aren’t in the building.

If tenure was granted based on the impact of research on student achievement, who would be promoted? What if we ranked colleges of education by the longevity of its graduates in urban schools? Schools – not university campuses – provide the best training ground for future teachers. Schools keep teacher educators relevant and effective. Most importantly, school bind university faculty to the communities they are supposed to serve. Colleges of education should do what postsecondary institutions are charged by society to do: respond to the needs of the community through innovation and service first and foremost by being there.

Andre Perry, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich., is the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City (2011).

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