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Dr. Catherine Emihovich

Not Your Mother's College of Education!

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Based on my experience as the dean of education at two public universities in California and Florida, I am firmly convinced that the constant assaults colleges of education (COEs) have faced about their teacher education programs is grounded in a public perception of them more characteristic of the 1950s. It's as if many people's perceptions are frozen in a time warp, and policymakers and state legislators (and their aides) have no idea of the ways many contemporary COEs have completely restructured their practices and programs, or what role they can and should play in the national debate on improving public education.

The most unfortunate aspect of these misguided perceptions is that parents, school district personnel, community leaders, and policymakers do not fully understand how the resources of COEs (and the universities in which they are housed) can be harnessed to build powerful partnerships to improve instruction consistent with the demands of the 21st century.

What do I mean by the phrase "not your mother's college of education"? At the risk of reinforcing stereotypes, I refer to overstated generalizations of colleges of education as stodgy, tradition-bound ivory towers where academically weak students (reflecting a possible gender bias since 76 percent of public school teachers are women, based on 2010-11 U.S. Department of Labor statistics) take endless courses in designing effective bulletin boards instead of more content-rich subject matter courses, or abstract courses strong in theory but devoid of any practical applications and relationship to contemporary school issues.

Education colleges must reverse the impression that our future teachers receive inadequate training in teaching reading, especially to English language learners and special-needs students, and that the only exposure to teaching actual pre-K-through-12 students occurs in a single 8- to 12-week student-teaching internship taking place in schools that do not reflect the rapidly increasing cultural and linguistic diversity now present in even the smallest cities and towns.

While it's possible such colleges still exist somewhere (and if they do, it's an indictment of state departments of education's failure to close them down), these images are contrary to the requirements and practices followed by the majority of reputable, nationally accredited colleges of education.

Ironically, the most frequent criticisms heard about COEs' lack of sufficient clinical preparation and rigorous reading instruction should more often be directed at the many alternative certification programs that have sprung up, since many of them send new teachers into classrooms with as little as six weeks of "boot camp" and no reading instruction at all.

My intent is not to rebut each negative image point by point, since that will only evoke charges of being defensive. Instead, I will sketch out a vision of what your grandchild's college of education will be like in the coming decades.

I envision colleges of education playing a leading role in transforming their campuses and communities. Innovative models of learning, teaching, engaged scholarship, and defined standards for assessment and accountability have long been stressed in education circles, particularly among colleges known for their strong programs and tradition of preparing outstanding educators and researchers. Many colleges have also called for a renewed emphasis on closing the achievement gap by developing partnerships with diverse, high-poverty schools to share knowledge of evidence-based practices and to help teachers and families utilize resources and opportunities more commonly found in higher-achieving schools.

While education schools have long been perceived as only focusing on pre-K-through-12 schools, in reality, their domain of research and practice appropriately includes all forms of "education," as learning occurs from birth throughout the life span.

Building a curriculum on the tenets of engaged scholarship is about identifying concrete actions that will help teachers, school leaders, community members, parents, and even the children themselves create a sustainable learning environment that leads to better educational and social outcomes. We're not just talking about raising test scores, but also about reducing the levels of violence in schools and communities and giving young people a sense of political agency and urgency that translates into stronger civic engagement and commitment to a global community.

In other words, the focus should be on determining success based on the values of inculcating a rich, learning-centered, collaborative culture among students, faculty, and citizens where the purpose of education is to teach people how to live, not just how to earn a living.

Over the last six years, faculty and administrators in the College of Education at the University of Florida have been rethinking long-standing traditions in the academy within a framework of engaged scholarship and the development of a learning community. Features of this new model include:

- Preparing high-quality teachers, administrators, counselors, and school psychologists, as well preparing future faculty at the university level for these same fields;

- Developing innovative online programs for continuing professional development for practicing educators;

- Participating in cross-disciplinary programs with departments and colleges across campus, especially in the life sciences; and

- Establishing strong collaborative partnerships with school districts and community groups, particularly in high-poverty areas.

All of these elements are woven together to link scholarship, teaching, and service for all students, our next generation of leaders.

Too much of the national education discourse is focused on what's wrong with public education and not on conversations about how to accomplish productive and sustainable whole-school reform. As eminent anthropologist Clifford Geertz noted in his last book, "Available Light," "An assessment of the moral implications of the scientific study of human life ... must begin with an inspection of social scientific research as a variety of moral experience" (2001, p. 23).

The appalling conditions that now exist in many public schools across the nation suggest that the moral dimension of the research choices we make and the curricular actions we take can no longer be ignored. Instead of "waiting for Superman," now is the time for colleges of education to partner more effectively with pre-K-through-12 schools, community organizations, businesses, and families to improve learning outcomes and create a more sustainable and equitable future for the next generations to come.

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