By MICHAEL RUKAVINA
OBSERVER Staff Writer
New York has joined seven other states in an alliance that will look to transform teacher education preparation.
The result is a report commissioned by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and prepared by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation entitled "Transforming Teacher Education through Clinical Practice: A National Strategy to Prepare Effective Teachers." Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York was co-chair of this panel.
Much like the way medical schools use intensive infield training, this initiative would put teacher candidates into the classroom earlier in their higher education career and with a more signifigant set of intentions.
"There are more students with greater learning needs than ever before; rigorous new standards for students with higher expectations for student achievement; and the need to turn around low-performing schools, to name just a few of the unsolved challenges present today," explained NCATE president James G. Cibulka. "These unmet needs press education stakeholders at large to make bold, simultaneous systemic changes."
At the moment the report only offers recommendations for teacher preparation programs in states that initially joined the alliance to transform teacher preparation - California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee.
At SUNY Fredonia, the College of Education has had a long-standing track record of producing capable teachers. While every university is different, the state requirement for a student seeking a degree in teaching is required to perform 100 hours of observation prior to student teaching, and then 72 days of student teaching.
At Fredonia education majors complete 16 weeks, 40 hours a week, for student teaching. Childhood Education majors complete eight weeks in an early primary placement (Grades 1-3) and then eight weeks in a 4th - 6th grade classroom. In the Childhood Inclusive Education program, which is a dual certification program in Childhood Education and Special Education, the candidate completes one special education placement either in the early primary or upper elementary and then one general education placement in the other developmental area.
"At SUNY Fredonia we do much more fieldwork than what is required by the state of New York. That is part of the reason why I came here seven years ago - because Fredonia's teacher preparation programs were so field-intensive," noted Dr. Christine Givner, Dean of the College of Education at SUNY Fredonia. "Our students start out freshman year in their first course of education exploring the major topics in public education and what it means to be a teacher, and they also have a field placement for foru hours a week in a classroom."
SUNY Fredonia students have four field placements even before they get to student teaching - freshman seminar in education, foundations in special education, multicultural education in inclusive settings, and in methods classes.
"At SUNY Fredonia we have been doing clinically rich teaching preparation for a long time," Givner added. "We also have a smaller model, the Fredonia-Hamburg model in which junior level students can apply to actually do their student teaching over their entire senior year while they are taking their professional methods courses in the Hamburg schools. This is a pure professional development school model."
Even given the extensive field based approach already taken by SUNY Fredonia, implementing the entire set of the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Panel will still require additional financial resources. With the current financial constraints in the state and the nation, there will need to be a creative solution to finding the required resources to take clinically based teacher preparation to the next level.
The plan highlights five major components - more rigorous accountability; strengthening candidate selection and placement; revamping curricula, incentives, and staffing; supporting partnerships; and expanding the knowledge base to identify what works and support continuous improvement.
Dr. Givner stated that the Blue Ribbon Report calls for a much more intimate relationship between universities and public schools, noting that universities are called to contribute to the improvement of student achievement.
"I really do believe we need a closer relationship, but we need the resources to support that," she said. "The faculty here at SUNY Fredonia are totally committed to a closer relationship with our P-12 schools. Faculty constantly think about how they can be involved everyday through grant writing, volunteering, and partnering with classrooms in schools. The needed partnerships for improving P-12 student learning is going to require a different level of investment of resources."
One of the greatest challenges under the recommendations might be having states and the federal government develop opportunities for teacher candidates to work in hard-to-staff schools through a "matching" program similar to that developed by the American Association for Medical Colleges for placing medical school graduates in teaching hospitals for internships and residencies. Also the notion that higher education must develop and implement alternative reward structures that enhance and legitimize the role of clinical faculty and create dual assignments for faculty with an ongoing role as teachers and mentors in schools will also be a challenge.
"This is one of the challenges. You can see we support clinically rich preparation with our Office of Field Experience. We have at the undergraduate level almost 1,500 students who are out in the field across all of our different teacher preparation programs," Givner said. "It's pretty hard to move that many candidates completely into the schools when the schools are suffering with space constraints and struggling with their own resource issues. Our clinical faculty here at SUNY Fredonia, young mothers who have taken time out to raise their children and who want to teach a course or two or retired faculty from Dunkirk and Fredonia who are teaching two or three courses. Our faculty are involved in schools in a variety of ways, but to go that next step is going to require a lot more money and this is the wrong time to be asking schools or universities."
Givner said she has been in contact with the SUNY Chancellor's office and other deans across the state discussing how they are going to implement these recommendations and how to respond to the Race to the Top request for proposal due in January for the clinically-rich preparation at the graduate level. This initiative is earmarked for urban areas like New York City, Syracuse, and Buffalo. The Blue Panel convened in parallel around the time President Obama took office when America began comparing its students' educational outcomes to those of other countries.
"Part of this Race to the Top money is to be used to improve the teacher pipeline data that we have access to. Our graduates have had to go out of the region in greater numbers to obtain teaching jobs, but they are still getting jobs. A lot of our graduates who decide to stay in the area are doing long-term subbing while trying to make that in-road in schools until there is an opening," Givner said. "I think they are well qualified, we get good feedback from principals and superintendents. The data we do get from the state would indicate that our candidates are highly desirable and do get jobs. A lot of our students are going right into graduate programs after receiving their undergraduate education degrees to get that master's degree done while they are looking for jobs. I think this is a smart strategy."
Race to the Top includes a data system, one of the four components required by the state to even receive the funding. It would track students from kindergarten all the way through a graduate program and into a career.
"The deans of colleges of education are on board," Givner said of the Blue Ribbon report. "As I work with my colleague deans across the state, they are all, in their own unique way, trying to promote these recommendations. They are committed to working with schools. It remains to be seen how we will be able to use this opportunity to leverage seismic change in teacher preparation and significantly improve P-12 student achievement. I don't know how the state will use regulations and policy to encourage this transformation but I hope that they are thoughtful and strategic in these endeavors. There is too much at stake."
Visit www.ncate.org to view a video briefing of the Blue Ribbon Panel and its recommendations.