University of Michigan graduate students go on illegal strike with rally

Opinion: Marygrove, UM partnership will educate both teachers and students

Elizabeth Birr Moje

Each day produces new and more complex tools and technologies that people must learn to use, evaluate, and to improve. At the same time, the U.S. is witnessing rapid and large-scale diversification of the population, paired with increasingly divided views on how society—and democracy—should work.

Happily, schools in this new era are expected to educate a broader range of children and youth than ever before because more students stay in school longer and because schools actively work toward including all students in robust opportunities to learn.

Reflecting this expectation, policy makers and educators have developed new standards for teaching and learning with the expressed goal of ensuring that all students are college and career ready.

In the face of rapid changes and increasing demands for proficiency on complex tasks, one might expect greater attention to the preparation of education professionals. Time spent in professional training has not increased, however, nor have useful new certification standards been demanded. Indeed, one of the most popular policy moves of education reform is to populate schools with well-intentioned and highly educated individuals who are generally unprepared to teach children.

In addition to an increasing number of alternative certification routes the state department of education now allows many options for teachers to achieve additional certification. In this policy environment teachers may be able to cobble together individually useful training experiences, but the training produces little traceable, coherent, or holistic improvement in practice.

The contradiction, then, is that in a time when one might expect the public to demand an increase in professional education opportunities, reforms and policy initiatives are producing just the opposite. That is, we are witnessing a de-professionalization of the teaching force at the very moment that teachers need greater skills and better professional judgment than ever before.

Couple this dis-investment in teacher education with an increasingly negative narrative about teachers and teaching, and it is no surprise that we are finding our society facing a growing teacher shortage. The teacher shortage problem effects communities disproportionally, hitting hardest in under-resourced urban and rural districts like Detroit where it is more challenging to recruit and retain teachers.

To be successful and to remain in the profession teachers must be prepared thoughtfully by evidence-based teacher education programs, and they must receive structured support throughout their crucial early years in the classroom.

Despite these advances, and the lack of access of many children to high-quality teaching across the nation, education policy makers and leaders continue to decrease requirements for learning to teach. We must reverse this trend; teachers must spend more, not less, time in training as they take children’s learning lives into their hands.

The United States must learn from its more proficient global peers, who give serious attention to the continuing professional education of their teachers and school leaders. Without making these changes to professionalize the profession, it is unlikely that large-scale education reform will come to fruition in this country.

Moje writes: "Now, early childhood to primary to secondary, to postsecondary education are joined together in a common goal."

How do we professionalize teaching without adding undue financial burden to teacher candidates and also serve the needs of children?

Enter the P-20 school partnership among the University of Michigan School of Education, the Detroit Public Schools Community District, the Kresge Foundation, Starfish Family Services and the Marygrove Conservancy on the Marygrove campus.

The School of Education will work with Detroit schools to develop three key ingredients to professionalize the profession and staunch the flow of both teachers and children from Detroit neighborhood public schools.

First, we will work collaboratively to develop innovative place-based curriculum and teaching practice that engages children in deep and meaningful learning of basic and advanced skills in a range of fields, including engineering, business, architecture, and urban planning.

Second, we will work together to develop a teaching residency program at the school, where both prospective and practicing teachers are supported to become the best teachers possible. When residents leave their teaching residencies, they will serve other Detroit schools.

Finally, we will work with other campus units (e.g., dentistry, nursing, and social work) to provide wrap-around services that support children, teachers, and families in the neighborhood.

The teaching school aspires to serve as a national model for meeting the professionalization demand, while also providing an exceptional learning experience for Detroit school children and youth that is respectful, sustainable and driven by neighborhood and community needs.

Borrowing from the concept of a teaching hospital, this will be a singular school space in which every adult in the building is focused on primary goals – the education of children and youth in the setting and the education of the teaching professionals in the setting.

What programs will there be for aspiring teachers at this campus?

We will continue to train preservice teachers in multiple pathways, one of which will be the Detroit teaching school on the Marygrove campus. For those who follow the Detroit teaching school path, both undergraduate and graduate students of teaching will participate in one to two years of supported classroom observations and teaching experiences in the preK-12th grade school on the Marygrove campus.

These teaching interns will receive state standard certification upon graduation and will be hired as beginning teachers—teaching residents—who will continue to receive support from U-M faculty and staff, as well as the veteran expert teachers who will be on the permanent staff of the school.

The teaching interns and residents will benefit from near-peer learning, in which they are regularly working side by side with interns and residents who are more senior, but still beginning, teachers. We have learned that such relationships allow learners to benefit the mentoring of those close to their own experience (near peers), while also learning from the far more expert practitioners and teacher educators also in their midst.

The first, second, and third-year teaching residents will also benefit from additional years of scaffolded teaching, rather than being thrown into classrooms to be the independent teacher of record. The fact that we are all working in a single space means that the University of Michigan can provide additional years of support at no cost to the new teacher, who is often paying student loans on a relatively low starting salary.

What are the virtues of a p-20 education?

There are a series of intentional, evidence-based practices that must be present between birth and career in order to create just, equitable, and efficacious educational systems. Current education research, however, does suggest several first steps the nation, state, and local districts could pursue that would move the needle in powerful ways.

First, we know that access to early childhood education is absolutely critical for children in building the skills and knowledge that will serve as a foundation for all future learning. The Early Childhood Education Center on this new P-20 campus promises to close the achievement gap among incoming kindergartners, setting the stage for success in the K-12 system. The Center will also offer supports and professional development opportunities for home-based childcare providers as well, thus encouraging collaborations among childcare centers.

A second important ingredient of excellent education is great curriculum for teachers to work with, together with opportunities for teachers to learn the most cutting-edge teaching practices for enacting the curriculum. Working collaboratively, Detroit schools and the University of Michigan School of Education will build on the newly adopted core curriculum in the district and develop innovative opportunities for children and youth to learn. Meaningful learning opportunities and place-based learning projects will motivate our students to learn literacy, natural science, mathematics, social science, art, and music skills and concepts so that they can be agents for change in their neighborhood, city, and state.

Routine interactions with faculty, staff, and students from both the University of Michigan will provide children and youth with opportunities to envision various pathways and professions. Grow-Your-Own programs in teaching, social work, nursing, dentistry, engineering, business, and architecture and urban planning will offer opportunities for young people to explore and prepare for college and careers. The linkages we are building across the P-20 spectrum are multiple and deep. They are also what children and youth deserve.

First, by extending teacher education to first through third-year teacher residents and then requiring them to move to other schools in the district, we will spread the teacher talent pool throughout the community.

Second, we believe that this model is one other university partners could explore, in Detroit, and beyond. The idea is somewhat simple (although execution will not always be easy): The university has its own education mission, but that education mission can be leveraged to supply educational resources to other settings. We do it all the time, but we have not always done so in a focused and coordinated way.

This is a new era, where education systems, from early childhood to primary to secondary, to postsecondary education are joined together in a common goal: We will all be teaching and learning together. We hope that our collaboration will inspire many more such university-school collaborations through Detroit, Michigan, and the United States.

Elizabeth Birr Moje is Dean and George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Education at the University of Michigan's school of Education