By Sharon P. Robinson
AACTE's recent report The Changing Teacher Preparation Profession: A Report From AACTE's Professional Education Data System (PEDS) tells of the rapidly shifting work of preparing U.S. teachers. The report finds the academic prowess of college students entering teacher preparation is strong, with programs attracting students with GPAs that exceed minimum entry requirements. We also see that preservice programs are designing alternative routes to licensure, integrating technology to meet the needs of distance learners, and working to incorporate capstone performance assessments such as edTPA.
The report's findings also indicate that more work is needed to make extended clinical experiences a central component of preparation. Although virtually all programs incorporate supervised field experiences, only 5 percent have a full-year residency program. One-year residency programs are required for eligibility for the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) Grant Program and they are championed in recent reports, such as those from NCATE's Blue Ribbon Panel and the National Research Council, as well as in AACTE's PEDS report. Further, we know that candidates who engage more regularly in actual classroom activities are more likely to remain in the profession and have a more positive impact on student learning than those prepared in less clinically based programs.
Such rigorous and enriching clinical experiences for preservice teachers are only possible when supported by strong school-university partnerships. Rather than dwelling on common divisions between campuses and classrooms, we might look at partnerships through the lens of what is needed by both parties. Preservice teachers need clinical experiences to hone their skills as classroom teachers. They also need access to expert mentor teachers within supportive and nurturing school environments. Schools, on the other hand, need access to up-to-date professional development, technology, funding, and other services that universities are often well positioned to provide. With both parties facing increased demands from the public regarding standards and accountability, this issue might be most effectively addressed through a collaborative response.
Highlighting Great Partnerships
For inspiring evidence of strong school-university partnerships, I refer you to the examples described in AACTE's PEDS report and in a recent report from FHI 360 in cooperation with the Teachers for a New Era Learning Network, entitled Partnering to Prepare Tomorrow's Teachers: Examples from Practice.
Let me share a few of those here:
In the Midwest, the Indiana State University (ISU) Bayh College of Education partners strategically across campus and community lines to provide early and continual clinical experiences for their candidates. The Professional Development Schools program, established in 1992, is a collaborative between ISU and 10 elementary and secondary schools. Candidates are provided with opportunities to get their feet wet in community organizations and after-school tutoring programs before accepting increasing responsibilities of field placements. Eventually, candidates end the program with rigorous immersion into full-time student teaching. Additionally, through a program called the Teachers of Tomorrow Advancing Learning (TOTAL) that is jointly funded by ISU and the local school district, elementary and special education master teachers receive free professional development, engaging in intensive training to better support candidates and earning a $200 stipend.
Montclair State University (MSU) in New Jersey also stands out for enhancing its programs' clinical preparation component and for its engagement in partnerships with PK-12 schools. Candidates at MSU typically engage in field experiences through the course of their entire program, spanning 70-140 hours at the undergraduate level and 60-120 hours at the graduate level. Through its participation in the National Network for Educational Renewal, the Center of Pedagogy at MSU has formal written agreements with its 30 partner districts. District partners commit to providing quality mentoring in clinical placements, and in exchange, MSU provides schoolwide professional development, summer workshops, and access to its state-of-the-art technology lab.
In addition, MSU and the Newark Public Schools paired up on an initiative called the Partnership for Instructional Excellence and Quality, which produced the Newark-Montclair Urban Teacher Residency. This program works to recruit, support, and employ math, science, and special education teachers across 11 Newark district schools, utilizing funding from a TQP grant.
On the West Coast, California State University at Fresno established a partnership with the Sanger Unified School District to design a teacher residency program that would meet the needs of both the district and the teacher candidates. In this partnership, preservice teachers spend a full year in the schools and practice both co-teaching and solo teaching. They also participate in school-based professional learning communities and take their university coursework at school sites. Over the last eight years, the school district moved from the bottom of the California school index to the top, in part because of this partnership. Teacher attrition has dropped dramatically from 40 percent to 4.6 percent in 2011 and to 4.4 percent in 2012.
These are just a few examples of the outstanding work happening among our member institutions. I encourage readers to learn about other models such as the Arizona State University iTeachAZ program; the partnership work in Oregon among the Salem-Kelzer School District, Corban University, Western Oregon State University, and Willamette University; and Denver's network of professional development schools supported by the University of Colorado Denver School of Education and Human Development. These partnerships clearly show how relationships between school districts and schools, colleges and departments of education can be effective and mutually beneficial.
Colleagues, I ask you to join me in realizing the benefits of such collaboration. Gone are the days when theory is pitted against practice in teacher preparation. Schools need no longer view student teachers as liabilities, and universities need not believe they can meet district workforce needs alone. We must view preservice teachers as resources and as a critical link between the present needs of our classrooms and the future of our profession. Schools and universities need to think more critically, creatively, and collaboratively about how to support the learning outcomes of both PK-12 classroom students and the teachers training to serve those learner's needs. And, above all, we must do this together.