Addressing the ‘Mis-education of Children’: The Urban Education Initiative at Bank Street
In a front page article in late August, The New York Times described the frantic search many school systems face in finding enough qualified teachers to fill classrooms for the opening day of school. A key factor in this crisis, which seems to be an annual event, is the high turnover of teachers, especially teachers working in schools serving under-resourced schools in America’s cities. In New York, many well-intentioned teachers in high-need schools move through a revolving door—in one year and out the next.
They are trained too quickly, then sent into challenging schools with little more than a pat on the back and no direction in how to work in traditionally underserved urban schools and communities. Discouraged, often enticed by prospects for a better job, they choose to leave, disrupting the continuity of education for children who may need it the most. The students left behind, educators agree, receive sub-par educations as a result of this revolving door.
But Bank Street College is working to change all that. It has a proud history of offering solutions to what Jon Snyder, dean of the Graduate School, calls the “mis-education of children.”
The newest project to address the revolving door of well meaning but ill-prepared and under-supported teachers in hard-to-staff schools is the Graduate School’s Urban Education Initiative.
The initiative, launched by a $2 million grant from the Philip and Lynn Straus Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Communal Fund, moved forward this past summer and early fall with the selection of a team of educators from the Graduate School. They are poised to design a set of learning opportunities geared to teacher candidates who have expressed the desire to teach in hard-to-staff schools. The planning process is “reality-based”—teachers, administrators, and parents and community activists from such schools will work as equal partners in the design process.
Another key element of the initiative is to establish and sustain a visiting scholars program, where experts in the multitude of disciplines needed to educate teachers well will visit Bank Street and help enrich the Graduate School’s capacity to better prepare and support teachers who want to teach in high-need schools—and to stay there.
“The majority of the gift will go to endow this visiting scholars program. The first visiting scholars will be the school-based educators on the design team. They will work with us to create our specially designed learning opportunities for candidates who enter with a desire to work in hard-to-staff, traditionally underserved schools and communities,” Dr. Snyder says.
“After we get these specialized learning opportunities up and running, each year higher ed and school-based scholars will be selected to help us stay current on issues in the field and help us to continually renew our offerings. They will also provide learning opportunities both for our candidates and for our faculty.”
The college is also seeking additional funds to work in partnership with local administrators and teachers in hard-to-staff schools to build a pipeline for placement and support of teacher candidates; document and research the work and its outcomes; and create incentives and support systems—including scholarships—for teacher candidates who pursue the urban pathway.
The current design team from the Graduate School is focusing on professional preparation for teaching in grades one to six. That team includes Graduate School faculty members Bernadette Anand, Lynne Einbender, Diana-Elena Matsoukas, Linda Metnetsky, ’94, Olga Romero, and Barbara Stern, ’73.
Future teams will undertake the same process for early childhood (preschool through second grade) and middle school (grades five through eight).
“This past summer, the current team focused on creating a reading list, in the traditional Bank Street manner, designed to give us information that lays out our core values about educating teachers,” says Dr. Snyder, who is facilitating the initiative.
“Our next step is to identify what teachers in hard-to-staff schools need to know and be able to do, and the kinds of people they need to be—their knowledge, skills, and dispositions,” he adds.
From there, the team will plan the learning opportunities specifically geared to grow and assess those knowledge, skills, and dispositions, using feedback from the graduate division—faculty, student support services’ staff—as well as other divisions within the college, including Continuing Education, Children’s Programs, and the Division of Institutional Advancement. In subsequent years, the visiting scholars will help the graduate school enact, assess, and enrich the work.
The Urban Education Initiative grew out of Bank Street’s Partnership for Quality Program (P4Q), currently under way with three elementary schools in the South Bronx. The aim of the program, funded by a grant from the U. S. Department of Education with additional support from the Charles Evans Hughes Foundation, the Hearst Foundations, and the HWG Fund, is to prepare, support, and retain teachers while enriching the educational opportunities provided to children and teachers in historically underserved schools, and supporting childrens’ development into lives of consequence.
“The P4Q program addresses the need to develop and retain good teachers in schools where well-intentioned but often unprepared teachers have created that endemic revolving door that has been detrimental to children,” says Dr. Snyder, who was instrumental in creating the partnership.
Both the P4Q program and the entire Urban Education Initiative are critical to Bank Street’s mission and strategic priority to educate children in urban areas, he says.
“We believe that in a child’s education, teachers matter most. And we’ve got to do a better job of educating teachers to help kids learn. These initiatives are an attempt to better educate teachers as well as to make a contribution to the field. We can help to resolve an endemic problem in American society, which is the mis-education of far too many of our children.”#