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Testifying Before Congress, VCU Education Dean Urges ‘Immediate and Innovative Action’

Andrew Daire, Ph.D. testifying at the U.S. House

This article and photo originally appeared in VCU News and are reprinted with permission

Andrew Daire, dean of the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, testified at the U.S. House Wednesday about how VCU is working to prepare high-quality, dedicated classroom teachers and encouraged Congress to support similar initiatives across the country.

“Immediate and innovative action is required to address the challenges in high-needs and low-performing schools with families living in generational poverty and disparities in student learning outcomes,” said Daire, testifying before a joint U.S. House Education and Labor Committee subcommittee hearing on “Educating our Educators: How Federal Policy Can Better Support Teachers and School Leaders.”

“The challenges faced by many of our schoolchildren, and in many of our schools, are not average and will not be met with average efforts,” Daire said in his prepared testimony. “We need to be bold and aspirational in our desires and efforts to address these challenges.”

Daire outlined a number of recommendations to improve teacher preparation, citing new and ongoing efforts at the VCU School of Education to expand pathways to teaching careers; to prepare teachers for the realities of today’s classrooms, particularly high-needs and low-performing schools; and to focus not only on teacher recruitment and preparation, but also retention.

“The research is clear. The quality of the teachers in our schools is the most important school-based factor in student achievement,” Daire said. “With the changing demographics of our nation—Virginia public schools are now over 50% minority—we can no longer ignore the inequities that exist in providing well-prepared, effective teachers for all students, particularly minority students and those living in poverty.”

One of Daire’s recommendations was that teacher preparation programs should provide earlier and extended opportunities for teacher candidates to be in schools.

As an example, he highlighted RTR — formerly known as Richmond Teacher Residency — which is an intensive, school-based teacher prep program at VCU that integrates research with practice to equip teacher residents with the knowledge, skills and experience to be effective in high-needs and hard-to-staff classrooms. The program serves the public school systems in Chesterfield and Henrico counties and the cities of Petersburg and Richmond.

“Learning to teach is a complex task that requires intensive school-based experiences in which individuals have a chance to combine the theory of effective teaching in high-needs schools with extensive opportunities to practice under the tutelage of effective veteran teachers and highly trained mentors,” he said. “RTR provides this in multiple ways.”

Daire also pointed to a program launched at the School of Education last year called Substitute Teaching the VCU Way, which recruits VCU students—education and non-education majors—with at least 60 completed credit hours and provides them a one-day substitute teaching “boot camp” and then deploys them to the surrounding school districts. In its first year, the program deployed 40 substitute teachers to local school districts.

Daire also recommended that programs focus on preparing teachers for the realities of today’s classrooms.

As an example, Daire pointed to VCU’s Innovative Teacher Pipeline, which is slated to start this fall and will recruit, screen and select students who are interested in teaching in urban and high-needs schools. Participating students will take part in Substitute Teaching the VCU Way, and receive additional curricular and co-curricular learning opportunities to better understand poverty and resulting contextual stressors, privilege, racism, diversity, equity and inclusion.

Daire also told lawmakers that programs must emphasize retention.

“America’s public schools are hemorrhaging teachers, especially in urban districts where they often are forced to hire unqualified, unprepared, provisionally licensed teachers,” he said. “Even more disturbing is that there is evidence that the most effective beginning teachers are the first to leave.”

Schools that serve low-income and minority students have been the hardest hit, he said, and cash-strapped school districts are being forced to spend millions on recruitment and retention of teachers.

RTR, he said, has focused on teacher retention, offering two years of support for all RTR graduates from a highly trained career coach. It also provides two years of professional development and support for graduates who teach in high-poverty Title I schools.

Research also has shown that school leadership is an important factor in teacher retention. To that end, Daire said, the School of Education is working with an RTR graduate and his school’s principal to design a residency program for principals who want to serve in high-needs schools.

“We believe that by building a pipeline of highly skilled principals who have the capacity to initiate and sustain improvement for schools serving students in low-performing urban and rural communities, we can positively impact teacher retention and outcomes for students,” Daire said.

Teacher preparation programs must also provide more pathways for people to become teachers to meet the needs of their communities and to address shortages, Daire said.

Daire told the lawmakers that VCU had recently launched its VCU Pathways to Teaching: Career Switcher Program, an accelerated program aimed at second-career professionals interested in teaching in urban and high-needs schools.

He also described how Virginia recently enacted laws to allow colleges and schools of education to offer undergraduate bachelor’s degrees in education toward teacher licensure. In the fall, VCU will launch five new bachelor’s of science in education degree programs: early childhood education and teaching, elementary education and teaching, secondary education and teaching with a concentration in engineering education, health and physical education, and special education and teaching.

“This is critically important, considering the additional cost of obtaining a master’s degree, subpar teacher salaries, and the need for stronger opportunities for colleges and schools of education to more innovatively prepare educators from their freshman year of college,” Daire said.

In addition to Daire, the hearing Wednesday also included Michael Brosnan, a teacher and early leadership institute coach with Bridgeport Public Schools in Connecticut; Tricia McManus, assistant superintendent for leadership, professional development and school transformation at Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Florida; and John White, the Louisiana state superintendent of education.

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Brian McNeill

Virginia Commonwealth University