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‘Teachers for a New Era’ Work to Strengthen Education
 

Teachers for a New Era

July 23, 2004 -- According to the Carnegie Corporation of New York, research based on a critical examination of thousands of pupil records in different cities and states shows that the quality of the teacher is the single most important reason why pupils achieve in the classroom. Therefore,“it is imperative that this country improve the way we prepare teachers,” said Neil Grabois, Carnegie’s vice president and director for strategic planning and program coordination.

To facilitate that improvement, Carnegie,with support from the Annenberg and Ford Foundations, launched Teachers for a New Era (TNE) to strengthen K-12 teaching through the development of state-of-the-art teacher preparation programs.

In 2002, the University of Virginia was honored as one of the first four schools to receive a TNE grant of up to $5 million over five years. Last year, seven more institutions were funded.

“Teaching reform is central to school reform, and these institutions are pioneers in the movement,” said Carnegie president Vartan Gregorian.“If we really want to improve student achievement,we have no choice but to improve teaching.As the 19th century French philosopher Victor Cousin succinctly put it: ‘As is the teacher, so is the school.’”

Teachers for a New Era at the University of Virginia (TNE@UVA) is an ambitious two-pronged initiative. The first prong involves building a university community that wholeheartedly supports teacher education through mentoring, partnership building, and professional support for novice and master teachers, among other things. The second prong focuses on administration of the grant (including fundraising) and ongoing evidence-based assessment of
teacher education at U.Va.

“The whole point of this initiative, from Carnegie’s perspective, is that we do a credible job on assessment,” Curry dean David Breneman said. “ When all is said and done, they want us to be able to demonstrate to a skeptical public that we have the kind of teacher preparation program that can produce better learning in the classroom.”

“The grant allows us to coalesce around a lot of ideas that we have talked about, but that we didn’t have the resources or the faculty positions to promote
as fully as we would have liked,” said Sandi Cohen, director of Curry’s teacher education program.

“It allows for all sorts of possibilities to occur.”

Key among those possibilities, Cohen said, is the creation of a true partnership between U.Va. and the Charlottesville and Albemarle public school districts: “Up until this point,we’ve been friendly neighbors with the local schools, but TNE really lets us partner to develop our ideas jointly.With real partnering in place, anything can happen: a different mindset for research, a different mindset
for clinical and field placements, a different mindset for pedagogy and content pedagogy practice.”

“Friendly neighbors” could also aptly describe the historical relationship that has existed among faculty at Curry and the College of Arts & Sciences. Through TNE@UVA, these relationships will also be strengthened.

For example, mentoring teams comprised of Curry and College faculty are being formed to improve the advising process for students in the teacher education program.Under the best of circumstances, advisors would continue to work with students through their post-graduation induction period—and potentially throughout their careers.

But long-term mentoring, perceived as an ideal goal,will first require a change in institutional culture.“ Most arts and sciences faculty think the best possible outcome for their best students would be for them to go to graduate school and work in higher education, just like us,” said Victor Luftig, director of TNE@UVA.

“We take for granted that we’ll continue to hear from our former graduate students whenever they run into challenges for support or have questions
related to their research in departments like our own, but it is not natural for us to assume we’ll hear regularly from former students who teach in K-12 classrooms. The priorities of our disciplines represent a kind of barrier to recognizing the value of students who become future K-12 teachers.”

To overcome that barrier, Luftig added, faculty must start to recognize K-12 teachers as “particularly prized graduates” with whom a sustained relationship
is important.

To elevate regard for K-12 teaching among University students and faculty, as well as to support the development of content knowledge and the enhancement of pedagogy at the institution, the College has expanded its curriculum to
include interdisciplinary “common courses.” These courses, taught by faculty from two or more disciplines, attempt to show students how information
can be synthesized across traditional lines.“We are asking ourselves to do what we expect teachers of 8th grade students to do, which is to integrate broad areas of science and the humanities” and to teach with authority across a rapidly expanding body of knowledge, said College dean Ed Ayers.

While currently electives, common courses like this spring’s science-based “Designing Matter” could become requirements if the courses prove effective in addressing interdisciplinary perspectives of the kind modeled by elementary and
middle school teachers.

In addition to common courses, the University is also offering “counterpoint seminars.” Co-taught by Curry and College graduate students, the seminars
show students who have taken a survey course in a particular Arts and Sciences subject how to teach the course material themselves.

Selena Cozart, one of four new Curry faculty members hired through TNE@UVA, is overseeing efforts to recruit more students to teaching. She is
particularly interested in drawing people to the profession from traditionally underrepresented groups—a category that includes people of color; men (whose numbers in elementary education are few); and individuals willing to teach science and math, or to teach in rural areas.

To that end, Cozart has developed a seminar for first-year students called Education in Black and White: An Inquiry into K-12 Education. She is also
consulting with undergraduate academic advisors to increase referrals to Curry’s teacher education program. In addition, she is developing a recruitment
and retention program for teacher education at U.Va., and supporting local public schools as they grapple with their recruitment and retention issues.

Erika Pierce, another Curry new hire, is coordinating TNE@UVA’s Students Exploring Teaching initiative, which targets “late deciders”—students who want to become teachers after the deadline for enrollment in Curry’s teacher education program has passed.

Pierce advises late deciders on issues ranging from course selection to teacher licensure. To help them meet their degree requirements, she has developed two new education courses—Teaching in America’s Schools and Managing Classroom Routines.

Like Cozart, Pierce helps recruit potential teacher candidates into Curry programs and is serving as a liaison with local schools. In particular, she is helping with staff development for new teachers in the Charlottesville school district. Curry has long had an interest in supporting new teachers, and through TNE@UVA is now able to develop a formal induction program.As conceived,
the induction program will have two parts: Graduates who leave the region to teach would be invited to summer graduate seminars and weekend workshops in Charlottesville. Graduates who teach locally—as well as all novice teachers in Charlottesville and Albemarle public schools, regardless of where they were educated—would participate in a two-year program modeled on residency
programs for physician education.

The creation of an induction residency program for all novice teachers is an “enormous undertaking,” Sandi Cohen said. The Charlottesville and Albemarle public school districts each hire about 100 new teachers annually.“But we recognized that by including all new teachers in the area, this type of program would allow us to have the most impact in our partnering schools.” Furthermore, the program will provide TNE@UVA with a control group of non-U.Va.-educated teachers for assessment efforts.

While assessment is one of the most critical components of the TNE grant, it is also one of the most difficult to conceptualize and develop.

“Assessment is complicated,” said University provost Gene Block, who hosts monthly assessment seminars at his Pavilion home for Curry and College faculty.“There is no laboratory where you can go to determine whether a particular approach or concept impacts student learning.You need to go into the classrooms.And since there are lots of variables in the classroom, it is hard to determine specifically what value a teacher adds to learning.”

Two of the new faculty members hired to support TNE@UVA—Scott Imig and Patty continued from page 3 Crawford—are involved in assessment activities.

Imig directs TNE@UVA’s Teaching Assessment Initiative.He leads workshops and develops studies aimed at gauging whether teacher preparation at U.Va. is yielding better pupil results and greater teacher satisfaction, among other measures of success. He is also contacting recent Curry graduates to see if they are still teaching and, if not, why they left the profession. If they are still teaching, he is chronicling the leadership roles they have assumed in their schools.“We believe we provide good teachers, and one of the best ways to prove that is
to see what they’re doing,” he said.

Patty Crawford,who works with Imig on assessment, has two primary responsibilities: to infuse formative evaluation techniques into the methods courses currently being offered by Curry and to provide in-service training to teachers in local schools on best-practice techniques in assessment.

Where are these and other TNE-sponsored initiatives leading? At the conclusion of its investment, the Carnegie Corporation hopes that U.Va. and other TNE-funded institutions will “be seen as having established the standards for best practices in educating professional teachers,” said Daniel Fallon, chairman of Carnegie’s education division.

While only in its second year, TNE@UVA is already showing signs of being able to live up to that expectation.“We have made terrific progress in some areas, and are beginning to make progress in others,” Luftig said.

What’s more, Breneman said,“TNE is sinking its roots into the University in the way that Carnegie had hoped it would.”

 

   
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