Local, national grants to retool teacher prep

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A national push to boost teacher quality is making waves locally. Two recent grants—one local, one federal—have the potential to create big changes in how teachers are trained throughout the state.

In Chicago, three foundations—John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Polk Bros. Foundation and McDougal Family Foundation—have jointly awarded a $1.2 million grant to the University of Illinois at Chicago to overhaul its teacher preparation programs.

College of Education Dean Victoria Chou says UIC, a major supplier of new teachers to CPS, aims to double the number of teachers it sends to CPS, especially those certified in math and science. UIC also plans to strengthen its budding teachers’ knowledge of subject matter and boost the number of education grads working in West and South side CPS schools on probation.

“They gave the greatest evidence of any schools we looked at that they understood what needed to change,” says Peter Martinez, education program officer at MacArthur. “I think the consensus was UIC was more deeply into this institutionally than anyone else at the moment.”

But bringing this vision to life won’t be easy. For example, in the past three years, the university has graduated a mere five students prepared to teach chemistry, and only one prospective physics teacher. By fall 2001, UIC plans to prepare 15 math and science teachers for CPS through an alternative certification route.

Accomplishing this goal will require new levels of cooperation between UIC’s college of education and college of liberal arts and science, notes Chou, who adds that getting teacher candidates up to speed in math and science has been a longstanding problem. “Let’s figure out where they aren’t learning their subject matter” and address it, she says.

On the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education awarded $2.4 million to a group of five universities that formed the Illinois Professional Learning Partnership. The partnership is comprised of Illinois State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Roosevelt University, Loyola University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The grant, which can be renewed for five years, will pay for a variety of improvements in teacher preparation programs, including:

200 hours of pre-student teaching fieldwork—currently, the state requires only 100 hours.

Programs to provide follow-up to new teachers during their first three years in the classroom.

Expanding partnerships between K-12 schools and universities.

Training new teachers to use technology in the classroom.

“The old model is to take a whole bunch of courses at a university and then go teach,” says Paul Vogt, associate dean of the College of Education at Illinois State University. “What we’re trying to do is get out into the schools much earlier.”

Sink or swim

The grant also calls for universities to create teams of university and school personnel to support entering teachers. “This is especially important in high-needs schools. What we want is to help teachers to be good teachers in places where that’s hard,” says Vogt. “The idea is not just to teach them, then let them sink or swim, but to support teachers we’ve put in the field in high-needs schools. And that’ll be everything from web sites to support groups and seminars.”

“This could have a huge impact” on teacher preparation throughout the state, says Jerry Olson, assistant education dean at Northeastern. Over the five years of the grant, programs developed with the funds are projected to affect over 2,000 college students and 1,300 novice teachers.