November 2012 Issue
October 26, 2012

Union leaders focus on teacher prep

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Jamie Dangler, vice president of academics for United University Professions, speaks to faculty and other attendees during an event at SUNY Fredonia. Photo by Steve Jacobs.

NYSUT's higher education faculty and staff are playing an active role on their campuses to make sure the best possible curricula are in place, that campuses compete for grant money, and that faculty have a say in how students are prepared for their careers, especially those in the classroom.

Among recent efforts by NYSUT members: Teacher education faculty and staff at NYSUT's two largest higher education locals — United University Professions at the State University of New York, and the Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York — are providing the State Education Department feedback on its new teacher certification requirements.

Higher education faculty are also helping their campuses obtain grant funds that will benefit students. The Monroe Community College Faculty Association was deeply involved in a grant application that has resulted in the award of $14.6 million in federal funds for job training at community colleges throughout the state.

Using Race to the Top grants, NYSUT members are helping shape curricula at pilot teacher preparation programs being developed at several SUNY and CUNY colleges and universities.

SUNY Albany will be working with Amsterdam High School in nearby Montgomery County. Two central New York SUNY campuses will use a combined total of nearly $1 million in grant funds: SUNY Cortland is partnering with Binghamton High School and SUNY Oswego is partnering with the Syracuse City School District to develop the new programs.

At CUNY, Queens College and Lehman College will each partner with five New York City high schools.

"Our members have spoken up passionately about their desire to have a say in shaping the many different ways higher education helps in professional development, and most especially, in the area of teacher preparation," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, who oversees higher education policy for the union.

"The state has acknowledged that they have much to contribute, and we expect to continue this dialogue with State Education Commissioner John King and his staff," Neira said. King met with the NYSUT Teacher and School Leader Preparation Workgroup in September.

UUP and PSC members are taking action to offer ground-level input about the forthcoming changes in how new teachers will be certified. A new UUP task force is headed by Jamie Dangler, the union's vice president for academics, who is also a member of the NYSUT workgroup. Priya Parmar, an education professor at Brooklyn College, chaired the first meeting of a PSC committee also examining these changes.

Dangler recently met with NYSUT members at SUNY Fredonia about participating in the task force. The gathering included members from K-12 NYSUT locals in the Fredonia region, as well as professionals and several department chairs at the university.

"This really needs to be a joint endeavor with our K-12 colleagues, and many of our faculty members are on the front lines in teacher education areas," Dangler told the group. "My goal is to encourage participation by representatives of every SUNY chapter that has a teacher preparation program, so that we can assess the impact of these changes on our members. ... I hope that every UUP chapter with a teacher preparation program will form a chapter-based teacher education committee."

The decision by the state to rewrite the certification process for new teachers with little input by expert faculty "is an issue of academic freedom," said PSC First Vice President Steve London, who is also a member of the NYSUT workgroup.

"It's also an example of the corporatization of the university, with a centralized, top-down model of accountability," he said.

PSC faculty are also monitoring the changes being imposed by SED. Brooklyn College Education Professor Peter Taubman, who has been very vocal about the changes, said that his colleagues have several areas of concern. They include: the effects of an imposed curriculum and a growing emphasis on performance outcomes determined by exams; the potential infringement on teacher autonomy and academic freedom; and "the impoverishment of a well-rounded education at all levels" because of an over-reliance on rigid testing.

In his written comments to SED that were shared with the NYSUT workgroup, Taubman was critical of the state's plan for assessing teacher preparation programs through reports known as "program profiles."

"The profound problem with such a vision is its implicit and, at times, explicit dependence on standardized tests and standards that ignore differences among the various schools and departments being evaluated," said Taubman, expressing concerns shared by many.

NYSUT's higher education leaders are voicing those concerns to state education officials to drive home the point that teacher educators need to have a say in how their students are prepared for their careers.

"Our higher education faculty are true experts at preparing students for their careers," Neira said. "We intend to continue working with the state, but we will not relinquish our role as advocates for our students."