Developing America's Urban Teachers
The hurdles facing America's urban schools are glaring: impoverished children, underpaid teachers, lack of resources, crime. With federal education laws demanding better performances from schools and teachers, the burden of overcoming these challenges lies in the hands of some of America's greenest educators.
National Louis University's new Master of Education program in the National College of Education is providing specialized training for early career urban educators. The program emphasizes improving literacy, differentiating instruction for diverse learners, and using data to differentiate instruction.
In early 2010, a cross-disciplinary group of faculty from the National College of Education convened to begin designing the new degree program. Led by Dean Alison Hilsabeck, the group analyzed research from partner universities, Chicago Public Schools, the National College of Education Partnership Office, a collaboration with Eduventures and a review of other national studies. A pilot program debuted in summer 2010 in conjunction with the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL).
"It's important to be refining curriculum to meet the needs of teachers in these schools," said associate professor Dr. Diane Salmon, who has led the implementation of the new degree program. "We have some good ideas and skills, and experience behind it, to shape curriculum that really helps teachers in early years to do the best they can for kids."
Understanding students is a key facet towards improved in-class strategies. Salmon says early career teachers need assistance becoming more automatic with classroom routines so they have the time to deepen their knowledge of pedagogical content.
"Classroom management has been widely recognized as an area in which [early career teachers] struggle," Salmon said. "They are still refining their assessment and learning how to use data to make decisions about students."
One of the new courses in the degree is a data-informed instruction course. Students examine aggregated classroom data to make decisions about which students have accomplished a skill, which students are still learning the skills and which students need remedial support. By streamlining grouping, teachers can spend less time determining the level of support individual students need and spend more time providing support.
Degree candidates are encouraged to explore the communities surrounding their schools to better understand what funds of knowledge and resources may be available for in-class implementation.
"Agencies can augment their teaching strategies in the classroom," Salmon said. "This also prepares them to understand where their students are coming from, what their lives are like, and how to adapt what they are teaching to their students' background experiences more effectively."
Assistant professor Dr. Ignacio Lopez is collaborating with faculty at the University of Chicago and Harvard University to create a data-driven process for community collaboration.
"We help community organizations with how to look at this info, and then share it back with the schools," Lopez said. "We say, 'Hey, teachers: the community is now aware of a variety of framekworks that are used in the schools, so you should feel free to communicate back to the community and to parents.' "It's very tricky: how do teachers engage community and parents with this new teaching-learning framework, around these sets of data?"
Joe Matuch, an M.Ed. candidate currently in the third of the program's four quarters, says students in the program benefit from its substantive cohort model.
"I think it is especially valuable with National Louis partnering with the AUSL because it is such a unique experience to be doing your Master's plus teaching Monday through Thursday with the typical workload," Matuch said. "I think it is just a good sense of community-building and a support group through the experience."
The initial committee is convening in February 2011 to assess what elements of the degree program need greater emphasis in the coming months.