Local colleges and universities are using millions of federal dollars to revamp training for future CPS teachers.

Local colleges and universities are using millions of federal dollars to revamp training for future CPS teachers.

Many are taking a page from alternative certification programs like Teach for America and the Academy for Urban School Leadership, which focus heavily on immersing prospective teachers in urban classrooms.

“The idea of urban teacher residencies is causing people to reflect about how much clinical experience their programs have,” says Vicki Chou, dean of the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “And everyone in the country is thinking about how to use data to drive instruction.”

The most recent local recipient of U.S. Department of Education funds is the University of Chicago’s Urban Teacher Education Program, known as Chicago UTEP. Its candidates take a year of foundational coursework – which includes academic classes, school visits, and work as tutors – followed by a year-long residency.

With its new $11.6 million grant, Chicago UTEP will:

  • Expand its current enrollment – 15 elementary teachers – to 25 elementary teachers and 35 high school math and science teachers.
  • Provide $20,000 living stipends during students’ second year.
  • Pay for students to receive personalized coaching for three years after their residencies.
  • Try to attract a more diverse student body. “There will be targeted recruitment efforts toward historically black colleges and other local and national organizations representing students of color,” says Kavita Kapadia Matsko, UTEP’s director.
  • Collaborate with the Consortium on Chicago School Research to produce an evaluation of the program’s work.

Some of the program’s emphases line up with areas identified as weaknesses in the survey “Hiring Preferences of Chicago Public School Principals,” which was released in early April.

The survey found that new teachers are weakest at individualizing instruction. It also noted a high demand for endorsements in literacy, bilingual education, English as a second language, special education, science, and math.

Principals also said that first-year teachers, especially those in predominantly black schools, lack classroom management skills. New teachers who don’t have urban field experience may go through a culture shock, contributing to attrition, says Chou, who helped design the survey.

“The vast majority of the teaching force is white women who don’t know the (African-American) communities, so there’s a cultural mismatch or a misreading (of students’ behavior) that happens early on and it unravels from there,” Chou says.

In Chicago UTEP, students meet several times a quarter to reflect on their own cultural identities and “experiences they have had crossing cultural, racial and class boundaries,” to prepare them for working in Chicago’s schools.

                                                                                                                                                                           “Our students are entering a system where the children are segregated along racial, ethnic, linguistic, and even class lines,” Matsko says. “We believe that our teachers have to be really aware of their own perceptions of these issues in order to reach and teach students of color effectively.”

A group of four universities–UIC, Loyola, National-Louis and Northeastern Illinois—have banded together to revamp their programs in several ways. The effort began with a 2009 federal grant.

To improve teachers’ content knowledge, the schools are adopting common standards for math and science education. They are looking for ways to teach prospective teachers how to incorporate literacy instruction into their classes and differentiate instruction. They want to attract more minority teacher candidates. And the schools want to steer more undergraduates into earning middle-grades math, science, or reading endorsements—which are in high demand in many CPS schools.

“We’re going to have to share (with students) that it’s going to be almost impossible for them to find jobs without these endorsements,” says Chou. She also points out that about 15 of roughly 75 incoming education program freshmen are African-American—“a complete sea change,” Chou says. The program has typically enrolled only a couple African-American education students a year.

Teacher candidates at the schools will also go through a battery of extra testing:

  • Freshmen will take a modified Haberman scale, a questionnaire on personal qualities and life experience that aims to predict future teachers’ success before they hit the classroom.
  • Students will take tests before and after their math and science general education classes so the schools can evaluate how much content they are learning. The schools will use either PRAXIS-2 subject tests (a nationally administered test that is a requirement for teacher licensing in some state) or questions adapted from Illinois state subject endorsement tests, Chou says.
  • Student teachers will be assessed with Charlotte Danielson’s “Framework for Teaching,” currently being piloted in 100 Chicago schools, which rates factors like flexibility and responsiveness, effective use of classroom space, parent communication, and reflective teaching.

At Illinois State University, more teacher candidates will get the opportunity to student-teach in Chicago schools with money from another 2009 federal grant.

The school offers semester-long student teaching placements in Little Village and surrounding communities. Elementary teacher candidates also have the option of participating in a “professional development school”, in which they will spend their entire senior year teaching at one of seven Little Village elementary schools, living in the neighborhood and attending their final classes part-time. A similar program for high school teacher candidates is in the works.

Later this month, the school will begin an optional summer program in Little Village, called STEP-UP. In the mornings, students will help out at CPS summer schools. In the afternoons, they will tutor students and work with violence prevention programs. Evenings will be filled with seminars on local education topics. Students will stay in the homes of local residents, in order to learn more about Little Village’s culture and people.

ISU is also planning to build a dorm in Little Village for up to 100 students and professors, possibly as part of a mixed-use building and community center. The project’s first phase would provide housing for 50.

ISU programs are moving into the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. The university’s first batch of student teachers will land there this fall. A year-long professional development school, and a program similar to STEP-UP, will be launched down the road; in 2012, the university will expand its programs into a third community.

Robert Lee, director of programs and partnerships for the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline™, says that ISU’s ties with Enlace Chicago and other neighborhood organizations make the school stand out.

Candidates learn how they fit within the neighborhood’s “social, cultural, and educational landscape,” he says, and gain a better understanding of students’ experiences.

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