Just yesterday I had a discussion with my good friend Dr. James Williams, former Superintedent of Buffalo Schools. In addition to reminding me how much I miss him, our conversation focused on a topic that has dominated a great deal of our individual and collective attention- teacher preparation. Back in 2007 when I worked with Dr. Williams through my then role as Liaison for Higher Education Partnerships, and shortly after as Director of the UB- Buffalo Public Schools Partnership, he was very concerned about the (perceived) lack of alignment between area teacher education programs and the needs and realities of the Buffalo Schools. I, on the other hand, was continuing my early experiences co-leading the accreditation of the UB Teacher Education Program by serving on the Accreditation Panel for the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC), which has since become CAEP. My own interests focused on PK-16 collaboration and ways to ensure a stronger and more functional alignment between systems.
Despite our differences in specific focus, however, we have both continued our efforts and thinking related to this important topic. Dr. Williams has become actively involved in the process of researching the quality of teacher education programs through the lens of urban education and providing a publically shared rating system, in hopes that this will help drive reform and strengthen higher education programs. While I have maintained my engagement with the accreditation process, I continue to think about structural levers and mechanisms that could potentially support greater alignment if used appropriately. This is of course where my brain always goes- trying to “map out” systems and identify drivers that can help catalyze significant change.
In the world of teacher preparation I continue to see two prominent vehicles for major urban school districts to catalyze change. Although from the viewpoint of higher education these could be extremely scary if leveraged, I feel compelled to point them out if only as a “thought exercise”. The first involves hiring of teachers and the possibility of exercising (and publicizing) preferential hiring or endorsement of specific programs or specialized training. In major cities in which the public districts represent the main employers of new teachers, such public endorsement could have a significant impact on students’ choices for enrollment. And by partnering with districts to develop specialized programs that are deemed to be especially well-aligned, colleges could gain a competitive edge in a time when enrollments are becoming increasingly precious. Since the market of teacher education programs is not highly differentiated with regard to obvious curricular, quality, or placement related distinctions, it is theoretically sensitive to changes in the external market.
A second area that has significant implications is the placement of student teachers. Although higher education programs are required to place candidates in high needs schools/settings, there is no specific mandate for districts to accept and place student teachers. Accordingly, as a point of leverage, if urban superintendents were to limit the acceptance of student teachers based on endorsement of specific teacher education programs and their curricula, higher education programs could theoretically be impacted with regard to their own continued viability.
It should be noted that I am certainly not trying to put institutions of higher education and their programs at risk, nor am I passing any judgment on the quality of their specific programs. I am, however, pointing out some significant points of leverage that have implications for interests in strengthening the alignment between preparation programs and the realities of the districts they serve.