July-August 2012
June 27, 2012

Union tackles college, career readiness

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: From left, NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira listens as Gretchen Johnson, a member of the Professional Staff Congress' City College Chapter, discusses the union's work on career and college readiness. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

What does it mean for a student to be ready for college and a career? What is a teacher's role in helping students develop not just academic ability and critical thinking skills, but also curiosity about the world, an appreciation for art and abstract ideas, empathy and problem-solving, and communication skills across the content areas?

Members of NYSUT's Teacher/School Leader Preparation Workgroup are asking these questions as they seek to expand the definition of "college- and career-ready," a term that has gained greater usage in recent years but which also may vary in meaning depending on how it's used.

To the members of NYSUT's workgroup, that term should speak to rigorous academic preparation for college, but also to personal and intellectual achievements that do not always lend themselves to easy quantification. This comprehensive definition is an important issue for practitioners in the field, as well as for future teachers at the undergraduate level and the education faculty helping them prepare for their careers.

"When our members speak of career- and college-ready, they certainly are speaking of strong academic standards and a challenging, rich K-12 experience that prepares students for college," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, who heads the union's workgroup. But education also means helping a child develop into a young adult with a wide range of abilities and interests, not all of which can be assessed through standardized testing or measured solely by a critical achievement such as timely graduation from high school.

Experienced teachers already know this, and future teachers should be discussing this concept with faculty and mentors in the field as part of developing a comprehensive approach to teaching.

Workgroup members plan to offer their expanded definition of this term to the state Board of Regents in the fall. The workgroup seeks to allow for a balance between the easily quantifiable achievements of an education and the more abstract outcomes that speak to self-awareness, community engagement and a concern for others. Regents spoke recently of the college and career readiness of high school graduates and emphasized the importance of timely graduation from high school; higher overall graduation rates throughout the state; and a curriculum that both challenges students and helps prepare them for college and careers.

The Teacher/School Leader Preparation Workgroup members are not the only educators tackling this issue. Programs such as art, music and the humanities are facing relentless budget cuts. In reaction to these pressures, a national discussion about the development of the whole child through public education has also evolved.

The discussion about "college- and career-ready" also comes as NYSUT demands that United University Professions, representing academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York, and the Professional Staff Congress, representing members at the City University of New York, have a voice in the development of State Education Department initiatives about teacher and school leader preparation. In response to concerns expressed by NYSUT and other stakeholders, SED recently moved the implementation date for the new teacher certification exams from May 2013 to May 2014.

"While we are pleased that SED heard our members' concerns and responded by changing the date, we still argue that enough time is not being given for the implementation of the required changes," Neira said. "We will continue to monitor the new initiatives in teacher preparation."

"NYSUT is committed to continuous improvement in teacher preparation, and we intend to work with SED as these initiatives are introduced. We also demand that faculty members in teacher preparation have a say in significant changes that affect their profession."