Welcome to The President’s Perspective blog. Here, AACTE President and CEO Dr. Sharon Robinson elaborates and shares her thoughts on important, timely topics in educator preparation.
Have you tried walking around with just one eye open? It’s tough: Your field of vision is limited; your balance suffers; you lack depth perception. Our brains need a variety of signals to bring the world into focus—and of course, this holds true not only for eyesight, but for our comprehension of just about everything.
Educator preparation is no exception. To help us meet the demands of professional practice, we form partnerships that span varying perspectives. One-dimensional views issued from the academy are as unhelpful as those emanating from the state house. But we find meaning and make progress on the tough questions when we tackle them from many angles at once, embracing complexity as an element that is essential to moving forward.
AACTE’s upcoming Annual Meeting—a convening primarily for teacher educators—will bring in these key viewpoints with significant participation from the world of practice and beyond. Beginning with preconference events and running through sessions large and small, this conference will provoke new insights on problems of practice through multidimensional views.
On December 10, after many painful years of wrestling with the heavy-handed No Child Left Behind Act and state waivers that were often more prescriptive than the law itself, educators finally got a new federal law governing PK-12 education. Its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), promises to return power to the states, reduce accountability burdens, and broaden the scope of support for students with the greatest needs. I join my fellow educators around the country in celebrating these improvements.
Nonetheless, there are lemons lurking among the plums in the new ESSA. This law contains more concessions to reformist entrepreneurs and venture philanthropists than many of us would like. For example, one provision in Title II allows states to create charter-like “academies” for preparing teachers and principals for high-need schools—an idea that has been debated for several years and widely opposed by education organizations. Now that it is part of the law, however, we will do well to heed Maya Angelou’s advice: if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. So let’s celebrate the plums and then get busy making lemonade.
Today, USA Today published a special centerfold feature on literacy in America, accompanied by a digital campaign by Mediaplanet. I was pleased to have the opportunity to author a piece for the campaign, published as “Expanding Literacy Beyond Language Arts.” In the article I describe work that colleges of education are doing to boost literacy among America’s PK-12 students. The 275 words available in USA Today scarcely begin to tell this story, but the message is an important one to get out. Here are a few additional words I’d like to share.
Literacy has become a keystone for all other learning, particularly because of our changing expectations around assessment. Beginning with the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act and evolving into today’s college- and career-ready standards such as the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, students now must show competence in all disciplines via writing, speaking, and critical thinking.
It’s sad but true: In October, a veteran teacher in Florida resigned because the conditions under which she was required to work did not support best practice. Despite her love of teaching and her “highly effective” ratings in evaluations, Wendy Bradshaw was trapped in an untenable position because she was required to deploy practices that were developmentally inappropriate for her young students.
Based on her extensive training in human growth and development, this highly credentialed professional with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees would not persist in activities that she knew to be harmful to her students. “Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it,” she writes in her resignation letter. “However, the new reforms not only disregard this research, they are actively forcing teachers to engage in practices which are not only ineffective but actively harmful to child development and the learning process.”
As the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and their kindred iterations continue to gain traction in schools around the country, staff development efforts have been bringing in-service educators up to speed, and colleges of education have been adjusting their curricula to ensure that the field’s newest professionals are also ready for the new standards. Nowhere has this shift seen greater success than in Kentucky, which was the first state to adopt and implement CCSS. A recent AACTE webinar sponsored by the Learning First Alliance’s “Get It Right” campaign highlighted the remarkable progress made by institutions in the state.
Last week, AACTE hosted an annual technology summit for the leaders of 10 teacher educator associations that formed a coalition in 2000 around educational technology and educator preparation. This 2-day event has witnessed or directly led to some amazing developments over the years, ranging from research to tools to entirely new technologies, as coalition members serve as a unique focus group and visionary working network bridging education and industry.
Sometimes the story is as good as the headlines, and sometimes it’s even better. The New York Times op-ed “Teachers Aren’t Dumb” (Sept. 8) by Psychologist Daniel T. Willingham is a case in point. As Willingham notes, contrary to popular belief, new teachers are solid academic performers. And as his article asserts, they can benefit from the research on effective teaching that is being conducted in the schools of education that prepare them. Willingham also points out—with rhetorical hyberbole—that not all preparation programs are using the latest research. While program quality varies, the excellent preparation provided by the universities whose researchers he cites illustrates that teacher education has strong exemplars. Unfortunately, Willingham does not acknowledge the widespread change within the education preparation community.
The direction of today’s preparation programs is truly good news. Willingham accurately identifies two guiding principles for improving teacher preparation and program accountability: evaluate programs based on graduates’ performance on a rigorous, credible culminating assessment, and base that assessment (and programs’ content) on evidence of what works best for student learning.
This post also appears on the Public School Insights blog of the Learning First Alliance.
Educators from PK-12 schools and higher education share the goal of preparing preservice teachers in a way that develops candidates’ skills, contributes positively to student growth, and stimulates mutual renewal of schools and collegiate preparation programs. The conception of clinical experience as a few weeks of student teaching not only is antiquated but runs counter to our professional commitment to quality. Instead, today’s preparation programs are nurturing complex clinical partnerships with yearlong residencies or internships that both produce beginning teachers who are practice-ready and support a process that strengthens the schools’ capacity to deliver high-quality education for their students.
As the first cohort of leaders embarks on their course of study with the new AASA Urban Superintendents Academy at Howard University and the University of Southern California, we are thrilled to see this promising work come to life. Urban districts desperately need forward-thinking leaders, particularly those from underrepresented demographic groups, prepared to be barrier-busting champions for every student in their care.
Following an intensive kick-off conference later this month, participants in the Academy—predominantly from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups—will spend the academic year undertaking internships in the field, focusing on problems of practice under the guidance of experienced mentors, and taking graduate courses at the university before completing culminating projects. These participants, in-service administrators who want to enrich their field experience and training for urban settings or prospective superintendents, will be prepared for certification through the program.
What is so promising about the Academy?
As another ambitious teacher preparation innovation captures national attention, I invite you to join me in taking stock of how widespread creative change has become in this field. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently announced the launch of their brand-new research laboratory and graduate program to prepare teachers and school leaders. The educator preparation field, already rife with innovation, welcomes the new Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning as the latest partner in a robust entrepreneurial environment.
While I do not embrace the negative rhetoric that accompanied the new program’s announcement, I am keenly interested in the work. In fact, the Academy’s goals are quite aligned with those being addressed by many other educator preparation providers and organizations. Foundation President Arthur Levine and his partners at MIT will find themselves in good company as they pursue their particular reform interests and share their findings.