Leaving office as president and CEO of AACTE is truly bittersweet. First, the bitter part: After 12 years, I am acutely aware of many good reasons to retire from this office in spite of my abiding passion for the profession and causes of equity. At this moment, it is clear to me that my passion for the work is far outpaced by the energy required to get it done.
Now, for the sweet part (albeit severely summarized):
The colleges and universities that prepare our nation’s educators are deeply committed to program quality, innovation, and accountability, and important progress is under way in each of these areas at the institutional, state, and national levels. While our priorities are unchanged by the presence or absence of federal regulations, the regulations that were voted down by Congress last week would have impeded this progress by redirecting already-tight resources to create an onerous new reporting and rating system for teacher preparation programs. Now, thanks to the robust advocacy efforts of the field, our professional commitments can proceed unhampered by burdensome mandates and prescriptive-yet-unproven methods.
Absent these regulations, educator preparation providers (EPPs) participate in numerous public reporting and quality assurance systems. Both EPPs and states are required by Title II of the Higher Education Act to submit annual reports to the U.S. Department of Education, and states must report at-risk and low-performing programs. Programs also must meet state review standards, and several states have developed data dashboards that display information for all providers to help the public compare program quality. A plurality of EPPs also undergo national examination through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation – a professional peer-review process using standards that are developed by the field and based on research.
Like many of you, I’ve been dismayed at the recent barrage of executive orders, controversial nominees, and heated discourse on every news feed. At the same time, the amazing display of activism and civic engagement since the inauguration has been heartening. While none of us can go to every demonstration or contact our representatives constantly, the urge to act is strong.
So what do we do? As truly significant issues of democracy are at stake, how do we choose where to direct our energies to make a meaningful difference? When such questions come to mind, I recall the voice of the 11-year-old South African boy Nkosi Johnson, who was born with HIV and became famous for his memorable address at an international conference on AIDS in 2000. This wise young man urged those assembled to get busy – even in the face of scientific unknowns and the social stigma associated with the disease that would take his life less than a year later. He said, “Do all you can with what you have, in the time that you have, in the place you are.”
I am excited to announce AACTE’s plans to enhance the online professional seminars offered through our Quality Support Center. Thanks to a new partnership with FutureLearn, a global leader in online learning, our short courses on quality assurance topics will relaunch in 2017 with clearer presentations, better graphics, and a broader peer community.
AACTE originally developed the series of six courses in 2015 in response to your request for affordable and widely accessible training on how to use data wisely, build evidence for state and national program reviews, and address other quality concerns. Hundreds of you have already taken at least one of these courses, and your enthusiasm and valuable feedback informed our decision to ramp up the offerings. In short, we are engaging in our own continuous improvement!
The New York Times editorial “Help Teachers Before They Get to Class” (October 15) repeats outdated canards about teacher preparation that are as misguided as the new federal regulations celebrated in the editorial. Far from resisting higher expectations, teachers colleges are driving them.
Higher education institutions and states have raised program entry requirements in recent years, and the academic qualifications of admitted students have increased apace. By referencing an outdated and widely discredited report, the editorial misses this fact, reflected in publicly available federal datasets: today’s undergraduates preparing to be teachers have an average GPA of 3.2 on college work required for admission to the program.
You frequently hear AACTE champion the virtues of advocacy—of making your voice heard to help land you a place “at the table” rather than “on the menu.” AACTE staff are practiced at this habit, engaging in regular meetings with key officials at the U.S. Department of Education and elsewhere to share the work of the Association and our membership. I am pleased to share that some of these efforts have paid off with an invitation from the Department to collaborate on an upcoming teacher preparation summit.
The Department invited AACTE and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to be partners on the summit, scheduled for November 3-4 in Washington, DC, as part of the “Teach to Lead” series focused on amplifying teachers’ voice and role in transforming education and related policy. This event will bring teams of educators together to discuss actionable ideas for collaborative, teacher-led improvements to teacher preparation. We are honored to represent you at the table on this critical issue.
As Americans, one of our most important duties is to participate in our democracy. Although it can be challenging to get out the vote on college campuses, engaged citizenship is one of the desired outcomes of postsecondary education, and we certainly want to nurture in our students a sense of responsibility to participate.
To help students navigate residency requirements, absentee ballots and their filing deadlines, and other voting rules and options, I encourage you to consult the resources compiled by the “Your Vote, Your Voice” campaign. This effort is spearheaded by the Washington Higher Education Secretariat, which includes AACTE and nearly 50 other national higher education organizations.
What did you do this summer?
For many of us in education, summer is a time for reflection on the past and planning for the future. We engage in professional learning, and if we’re lucky, we expand our horizons by visiting new places.
I had the great fortune to do all of these things last month during a fascinating trip to China.
At the invitation of China’s National Center for School Curriculum and Textbook Development, several U.S. education leaders and I participated in the China Teacher Leaders Forum and a series of other meetings with Chinese agency heads, educators and teacher educators, and business and philanthropic representatives.*
As this year’s presidential election promises a tumultuous campaign season, the work of policy development goes on. So while the conventions and tweets capture our attention, the U.S. Department of Education is keeping to its tight timeline for the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), including releasing proposed regulations for public comment (see this recent blog for the latest opportunities).
Last month, the Supreme Court upheld the consideration of race in admissions in its Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin decision. In our contemporary policy context of expanded civil rights—and their accompanying backlash—this ruling prompts reflection on the fundamental value of cultivating a diverse community, especially in educational settings, that includes but also extends beyond race.
Why is it important to give college students the opportunity to learn with peers from both similar and different backgrounds? For all students, having at least a “critical mass” of peers with shared characteristics boosts self-efficacy and academic success. Meanwhile, being situated in a heterogeneous learning community, particularly one that supports interaction both within and across groups, builds students’ interdependence, empathy, and fluency with “otherness.”