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Tisch's dissertation gives clues into teacher training overhaul

Not long before Merryl Tisch became head of the state’s public schools, she was a student herself, at Teachers College. There she wrote a doctoral dissertation on what would become her pet issue, teacher training.

The dissertation offers a window into Tisch’s oft-cited critique of teacher preparation — one that is far more robust and detailed than the stock line she uses in speeches.

Publicly, Tisch and education commissioner David Steiner have offered a barebones roadmap for changing how teachers are prepared. Last month, the Board of Regents approved an expansion of the number of alternative teacher certification programs in the state, opening the door for non-university programs to certify teachers.

Steiner has often spoken of increasing classroom-based training, and Tisch told me in an interview that the Board would seek programs “with a track record of success.” But the Board hasn’t been more specific about what they will look for in these programs, or how many they seek to approve, or what exactly a training program completed without the aid of a college or university will look like.

Tisch’s paper, published in 2005, provides a case study of one model of an alternative certification program: the partnership between the city, the New York City Teaching Fellows and Mercy College.

In an interview, Tisch downplayed the importance of her study, though she noted that it marked an early stage of her concern with how to bring more science and math teachers, trained in real-world fields, into classrooms.

But Tisch’s analysis of the the pros and cons — mostly the cons — of having outside organizations partner with universities to certify teachers may give clues to what elements of alternative certification Tisch could replicate, and which elements she may want to jettison altogether.

Currently, alternatively certified teachers enter the classroom immediately while simultaneously studying in a more traditional academic setting. The cohort Tisch followed would teach all day and then travel to Mercy College’s Bronx campus on Saturdays and at night.

In Tisch’s study, tensions grew between the fellows and the teachers college. Fellows told Tisch that when they arrived on Mercy College’s campus for the first time, they didn’t know where to go and went to the main office of the education graduate school for help. There, they were told that they were not students in the Graduate School of Education and were sent away.

The fellows also said they were not well integrated into the staffs of the schools where they taught. And teachers told Tisch that what they learned in class didn’t match with what they were doing in classroom.

Likewise, the program seemed to be a mixed blessing for Mercy College. The college welcomed the program as a way to boost the struggling quality and reputation of their teacher education program, Tisch reports, and it saw an influx of students.

But the Department of Education assigned students to Mercy without the college’s input, and Mercy was told little about each student beyond their names before they arrived on campus. Mercy administrators also decided to set up the Teaching Fellows program separately from the School of Education, and education faculty members told Tisch they resented being excluded from the process of developing curriculum. The college also resented that their contract with the DOE was not as lucrative as the department originally promised.

Despite the problems, Tisch argues the program was largely successful because of the staff’s ability to rebound from their stumbles. Ironically, Tisch says Mercy’s status as a small and struggling teachers college helped the Teaching Fellows program succeed there. Mercy had less leverage with the DOE and the school district than more well-established teachers colleges and so accommodated the department’s vision for what teacher training should look like.

“Mercy became the place where the Department of Ed could take charge of the Fellows program,” one former DOE official told Tisch. At Mercy, the official said, “the department could just about re-establish their right to certify teachers which they have not had since the Board of Examiners was disbanded.”

Partly for that reason, the DOE quadrupled the number of fellows enrolled in the Mercy College arm of the Teaching Fellows program after its first year.

In recent years, the number of fellows sent to Mercy has dwindled, as the Teaching Fellows program has sent more new teachers to programs at Pace University, Hunter College and the City University of New York, said DOE spokeswoman Ann Forte. This school year, Mercy College did not begin training any fellows, though Forte noted that the overall Teaching Fellows cohort is significantly smaller now than it was when Tisch published her dissertation in 2005.

Tisch completed her dissertation working with Arthur Levine, the former dean of Teachers College and a well-known critic of traditional teacher education. She concludes her study with a list of recommendations for policy-makers, including, presumably, herself (she was on the Board of Regents at the time of the study, although she had not yet been elected Vice Chancellor or Chancellor).

Some of her recommendations now sound familiar in the context of the Regents’ current proposals — for example, promoting competition among certification programs and increasing the number of certification programs that are targeted to bring in teachers from the science, math and engineering programs. Other proposals, like rethinking the practice of immediately placing alternatively trained teachers in the most challenging school districts, sound more radical.

Steiner said last month that a request for proposals outlining the specific qualities the state wants in training programs will be released before the end of the year.

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”