Proposed Reform to Teacher Education

Nov 14, 2011

It's no secret that the United States' public education system is facing an educational crisis as millions of American students fail to receive the academic skills they need to succeed in college and life. A new breakthrough graduate school for teachers is attempting to change that by abandoning course-based training of teachers for more practical and performance-based methods. The school opened its doors this summer, but not everyone is on board.

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By Mercy McKee

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A New School in New York City

This summer New York City saw the opening of Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE). Born out of the urban teacher training program, Teacher U at Hunter College, a partnership with Hunter College's Graduate School of Education at the City University of New York, RGSE has two primary missions. First, to produce quality teachers that will lead students to remarkable achievement gains that can be demonstrated annually. And second, to close the achievement gap in urban communities by changing the traditional methods of teacher preparation from course-driven to hands-on and results-driven.

A Sampling of Pedagogical Techniques

RGSE's approach to teacher education focuses on the practical, not the theoretical - the pedagogy, not the scholarly. The techniques used, however, have been met with mixed reactions. While some teachers feel the program is going in the right direction, other educators have concerns about RGSE's unorthodox approaches to effective teaching.

No Courses, No Campus

Relay will not offer students courses, lectures or a campus to attend. Instead, students will work through 60 modules focused on effective teaching techniques. Rather than lectures, students receive 'direct instruction' for no more than 15-20 minutes at a time, after which, they discuss ideas with each other. Curriculum is delivered both online and in-person. Students attend in-person sessions at or near the schools where they teach two weeknights and one Saturday each month, two weeks during the first summer and one week during the second summer.

No Growth, No Graduation

RGSE's program is the first ever to require students to demonstrate the academic growth of their own students. In order to graduate from the 2-year master's program, students must be able to submit a portfolio that shows at least a year's worth of academic growth in a year's time in the K-12 classes they taught.

Monday Morning Methods

With the program's emphasis on effective and intentional teaching methods, RSGE students receive highly focused training and concrete techniques they can utilize 'Monday morning.' The intention is that students can go from their RGSE classroom today into their K-12 classrooms tomorrow and immediately implement what they learned.

Flip Camera Required

The 'Watch and Analyze' method used at RGSE is results-focused and involves the use of video to help students document their lessons and evaluate their teaching methods and progress with feedback from experience faculty. As an added bonus, some teachers have found that students behave better when they know they are on camera.

Concerns from Educators

Despite its ambition, RGSE's methodologies and tight focus on pedagogical technique have some educators worried about a few key issues. One concern is the extra competition that would be created in an already crowded field in an era of budget cuts and teacher layoffs.

Another concern is the potential loss of intellectual rigor and scholarly activity. The state-appointed group of university educators that reviewed RGSE's charter warned that scholarly work at the new graduate school must be ongoing rather than episodic, prompting RGSE to hire a director of faculty research.

Other critics argue that the answer to the education crisis does not lie in creating a whole new system, as RGSE has done, but rather to monitor and improve existing graduate schools. And finally, some educators worry that, in the long run, alternative education programs that treat teaching as a trade rather than a scholarly art will diminish the quality of the teaching force in America.

While Relay is focused on results-driven education, the U.S. Education Secretary is focused on performance-driven teacher compensation.

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