For UW, collaboration with Teach for America is a good step

The state legislature has told all teacher-preparation colleges to create alternative, high-quality options for educating aspiring teachers. Working with Teach for America is one way to do that.

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Ashley Cusick was working with Teach for America in a New Orleans school when Hurricane Katrina closed the school system. She was hired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help displaced residents.

The state legislature has told all teacher-preparation colleges to create alternative, high-quality options for educating aspiring teachers. Working with Teach for America is one way to do that.

Note: The University of Washington College of Education, where the author is dean, has submitted a proposal to the state Professional Educator Standards Board to offer certification for Teach For America teachers. The board’s decision is pending.

If we want students to succeed — to learn and have good choices in life — then teachers matter. Immensely.

Effective teachers help students learn; ineffective teachers don’t. At the University of Washington, we want to make sure that there are many more of the former and far fewer of the latter.

As the dean of the College of Education, I take pride in the new teachers we prepare. We are among the best in the nation at providing the right mix of university knowledge and clinical teaching practice to ensure our graduates are ready for classrooms of their own. But whether new teachers are prepared through our program or through an alternative approach, what matters is that they are ready to provide students with excellent teaching.

We care about quality teaching far more than we care about exactly which courses they take, or in which sequence.

These days, there is a lot of interest in alternative ways to prepare new teachers. Policy makers are frustrated by what they feel is the slow pace of school reform, both nationally and here in Washington. Last year, the Legislature required all public colleges and universities that prepare teachers in the state to begin providing alternative programs that take less time while keeping high standards for teacher candidates.

We are attempting to do that. In our case, we’ve entered into an arrangement to provide intensive training to those teachers who will work in Seattle or Federal Way through Teach for America (TFA), a program that recruits outstanding graduates of some of the nation’s best universities into the profession of teaching. These are young people with a sense of social justice and desire to serve the public.

Our program will require that they have more than just personal desire but are also prepared for the classroom. And we will work with them intensely during their first year of teaching to ensure that they continue to develop as teachers. Our commitment to this work is grounded in the idea that a top-flight research university need not commit to one single route that prospective teachers must take, as long as student learning is our focus.

Our work with TFA will be a small sliver of what we are doing to improve the lives of students in the region. We are committed to conducting rigorous research around the most pressing problems in education, to bringing forward solutions to critical problems, and to training education professionals who will address the urgent issues that face us.

Given the number of teachers needed throughout the nation and the challenges we face in educating all students to meet high standards, it is time for university-based teacher education and alternative certification programs to collaborate, to ensure that each student gets the teachers he or she deserves. This will allow a much-needed conversation that moves beyond questions about “which pathway” to more substantive questions about the features and practice which distinguish effective preparation of new teachers in whatever pathway they elect to pursue into the profession.


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