October 2010 Issue
September 27, 2010

Experts must take the lead to guide teacher prep

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: UUP member Zanna McKay of SUNY Oneonta specializes in elementary education.

Behind every great teacher, there was a college professor who combined inspiration and passion with educational theory and best practices for the classroom.

And behind the teacher preparation curricula in New York's public and private colleges and universities, there is NYSUT's belief that academic experts in education should take the lead in training the state's next generation of great teachers.

That's why NYSUT remains committed to its longstanding position that the certification of teachers "through accredited colleges and universities has strengthened the professional standing of teachers and established clear, consistent and rigorous preparation standards," as NYSUT leaders have told state Education Commissioner David Steiner. And that's also why NYSUT is speaking out about the Regents' plan that would allow non-collegiate providers, such as museums and nonprofits, to pilot teacher preparation models.

"While we support innovation and the call to pilot a new teacher preparation model, we also firmly believe that accredited colleges and universities must retain their leading role in preparing new teachers," says NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. "It's a given in other demanding professions — law, medicine, engineering — that the training of new members is handled in an academic setting, subject to rigorous standards. Why would we accept any less for the training of new teachers, who will be responsible for the education of our most precious resource — our children?"

NYSUT higher education leaders echoed Neira's comments in a letter to Steiner late last year, just after the state Board of Regents issued its proposals for revised teacher preparation requirements.

The letter was signed by Neira, Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York, and Phil Smith, president of United University Professions at the State University of New York.

Now, in the wake of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's recent visit to NYSUT as part of the secretary's "Courage in the Classroom" tour, and following the news that New York has received a $700 million federal "Race to the Top" grant, NYSUT is again taking the lead in discussion about teacher preparation.

Members of NYSUT's new "Teacher Preparation Work Group" will meet with Steiner Oct. 25 to discuss the regulatory changes. The work group consists of NYSUT leaders in higher education and members whose practical experience with teacher preparation makes them a valuable voice in the discussion.

"It's critical that teacher preparation remain in colleges and universities," says Bowen. "We are delighted that several members of the CUNY faculty who teach and publish in the fields of education are part of this work group, because of the years of experience they bring. While we support innovation in teacher preparation, the value of preparing teachers in college or university settings cannot be underestimated."

Along with NYSUT's role in teacher preparation comes the union's reminder to state education officials that when colleges and universities prepare the state's teachers it is supporting the state's public education system as a continuum, from pre-K to graduate school. UUP Vice President for Academics Fred Floss — a member of the Teacher Preparation Work Group — recognizes the many links between K-12 and public college/university systems.

In addition to his union work and his position as an economics professor at SUNY's Buffalo State College, Floss also serves on the Buffalo Control Board, which has oversight of the municipal spending for the City Schools.

"One of the reasons I wanted to serve on the control board was because I had a very good understanding of how K-12 works, from being a UUP member and officer," Floss says. "I think it's important that faculty and staff at SUNY are supportive of K-12 education. A number of our members are on school boards and work closely with our K-12 sisters and brothers."

Given these close collaborative ties across the spectrum of public education, and NYSUT's long involvement in teacher preparation, "we should be part of any discussion where teacher training is reviewed," Floss says.