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Dean Suellen Meara Testifies on Improving Teacher Education in the District of Columbia


suellen_meara.jpgDr. Suellen Meara, Dean of Trinity’s School of Education, testified before the D.C. State Board of Education on March 12, 2008, about proposed new requirements for teacher certification in the District. She stressed the importance of providing an initial time of “guided practice” for beginning teachers while they are taking their education classes and pledged Trinity’s support to the D.C. State Board of Education and D.C. Public Schools to enhance teacher education and improve the academic success of the children of the District of Columbia.

Testimony of Dean Suellen Meara

We have seen a plethora of data charts and tables indicating that D.C. Public School students are not achieving at anywhere near a world class level. D.C. CAS data indicate that only 5% of students achieve at an “advanced level” while 20% are “below basic” in reading and 30% are “below basic” in mathematics. Let’s get basic about what causes increases in student achievement: Competent instruction adjusted to the individual needs of students and paced at a rate that allows mastery of the building blocks of skill development.

Institutions of higher education (IHE’s) have been graduating teachers over the last century in record numbers but still portions of the student population they are teaching are failing to achieve. Teacher education programs have been regulated almost to a fault by national accreditation bodies and specialized professional organizations. Trinity, alone, tracks assessment data on our students in eight programs including almost 300 standards. Embedded in each course our students take are a multitude of assessments of their ability to use content knowledge together with appropriate pedagogy to enable their own students to master student learning outcomes. If our students are not successful in their acquisition of these skills, they are required to continue their study and be reassessed on the results. Trinity is certainly not alone in these rigorous requirements for students seeking degrees in teacher education and all of us have endured and been successful in the very complex and demanding rigor of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) assessment indicating that we are requiring teachers to meet all standards prior to recommending them for certification.

Where, then, is the breakdown?

As indicated in the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) report, there is strong research evidence that 3-4 years of quality instruction from accomplished teachers makes a significant difference in student achievement. If the institutions of higher education are producing a large number of teachers well trained in content and pedagogy, student achievement should be on a mighty upswing. However, the statistics show that this is not happening.

All recommendations within the OSSE presentation have merit based on research and common sense. There is, however, one piece I believe is missing. More than 90 % of our teacher candidates are already in the classroom when they come to us for admission into a teacher education program that will take them 2 to 2 ½ years to complete. We need to concentrate the efforts of the IHE’s and the D.C. Schools to provide an initial time of “guided practice” for beginning teachers while they are taking their classes. Currently untrained teachers are placed in a classroom and they are expected to “build the plane while flying it”. This is lunacy. These untrained teachers are in survival mode while they are acquiring the skills they need to be excellent teachers. Many of the untrained teachers choose to leave the DCPS prior to acquiring full certification or they complete certification but leave the service of D.C. schools. Example: Of 22 D.C. Teaching Fellows completing the special education teaching credential program at Trinity in 2007, five were giving up teaching all together, three were considering giving up teaching, eight Fellows would continue to teach but not in DCPS and only six out of the 22 Fellows were going to remain teaching in D.C. The most common reasons for the disillusionment with teaching and teaching in D.C. was no support from other teachers, building administrators and central office administrators. When these teaching fellows began the program, they were highly motivated, outstanding students and committed to giving of themselves to children who were in need of appropriate education. To retain only 6 of these candidates is telling. (See Washington Post magazine article on February 18, 2007 and a blog entry on the subject by Trinity’s President Patricia McGuire.)

Trinity has successfully collaborated for Professional Development for existing DCPS teachers. Reading Across the Curriculum was a collaboration between DCPS and several D.C. IHE’s. I certainly do not have all of the answers about how this new teacher apprentice program would work but it would need resources that provided mentoring and internship for people who wanted to become teachers. There is already a model in DC for administrators. We work closely with New Leaders for New Schools and their students in conjunction with ours receive an MSA degree from Trinity. The New Leaders program includes a full year of internship as an administrator (on paid status) in a school with a strong mentor and a year of follow-up as they take on full responsibility as an administrator. This is a very effective model and, I believe, would work equally as well for beginning teachers as this report indicates that the gap between effective and ineffective teachers is evident by the second year of teaching.

In closing, I wish to restate to the State Board and the OSSE that Trinity has an outstanding faculty of educators and is willing and ready to work closely with OSSE and DCPS in both training of teachers and developing output measures that marry both our IHE and DCPS so that both become immutably accountable to the children of the District of Columbia.

President McGuire’s Blog: Who Will Teach the Children?

Washington Post Article: A Special Challenge

Trinity’s School of Education

D.C. State Board of Education

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