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University of Memphis, Shelby County Schools forge new partnership to address teacher shortage

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
The University of Memphis is creating an urban teacher training track in its College of Education in partnership with Shelby County Schools.

The University of Memphis and Shelby County Schools are creating a partnership aimed at training the next generation of teachers to work in the city’s classrooms.

PHOTO: University of Memphis
Kandi Hill-Clarke is the new dean of the College of Education.

The college announced plans on Thursday to launch its Urban Education Teacher Prep program by fall of 2019 under new dean Kandi Hill-Clarke, a Memphis native recruited home this year from Indiana State University, where she was also dean.

Hill-Clarke is designing the track as part of the university’s new River City Partnership with Shelby County Schools. The goal is to work together to strengthen the pipeline of skilled new teachers who are culturally aware of the needs of urban students. As part of the program, teacher candidates will receive classroom experience and mentoring in some of the district’s highest-needs schools.

“The University of Memphis recognizes the challenges facing the Shelby County region can be addressed through a stronger education system and that must be cultivated from the ground up,” said M. David Rudd, the university’s president. “By collaborating with the Shelby County public school system, we can work together to better train and prepare future educators who are eager to continue to invest in the Memphis community and teach the next generation of students.”

With the partnership, the university is stepping up to the plate to fill the chronic need for more teachers in Memphis. At the start of this school year, for instance, Shelby County Schools was short of at least 175 new teachers, especially in subjects like math, science, and special education.

But it also has the potential to energize the university’s College of Education where, mirroring a national trend, the number of graduates has decreased by about half since 2013.

Source: University of Memphis

This isn’t the first time the university has tried to create an urban teaching track. Three years ago, university leaders attempted to partner with New York-based Relay Graduate School of Education to offer an alternative licensure program that would send its candidates into some of the city’s most challenging classrooms. But the deal fell apart when faculty protested that its own College of Education wasn’t part of those negotiations.

Hill-Clarke says the River City Partnership turns the page on that chapter.

“This initiative is personal and professional for me,” said Hill-Clarke, an alumna of the University of Memphis. “I need and want to see the district, community, and university succeed and do well. … We asked the school district what they needed, and this program is an answer. But it’s also a win for us.”

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he hopes the retooled program can produce and equip educators to handle the challenges of a district in which 60 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged.

“When speaking with the new dean, we talked about how the university was not producing a high number of teachers who were going into our high-needs schools,” Hopson said. “We got to a point where we figured out, what if we reorient the training and the experience and cultural competencies necessary for them to be successful?”

University officials said they need $7.5 million more to launch the program and sustain it for five years. Chief development officer Bobby Prince has been in talks with private funders, and he is optimistic the program could launch with at least 25 students.

In the meantime, the partnership includes several other components that will roll out in 2018. This summer, the university will host a week-long Summer Bridge Program for Shelby County high schoolers interested in learning about urban teaching.

And this fall, a recruitment program called High School Teacher Cadets will begin in three Memphis high schools, which are yet to be selected. Hill-Clarke said Teacher Cadets will mirror Future Teachers of America, a national program that mentors high school students interested in the teaching profession.

“We see this as mutually beneficial,” she said. “The hope is to instill an early love and interest in Memphis high schoolers for teaching, and then connect them to us as a place to further their education after they graduate.”

Another goal is to attract students of color to train in the city’s under-resourced high schools in the hopes that they will return to teach in those same schools.

The River City Partnership is launching during a season of increased scrutiny of the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee. Not a single public university in the state scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. The University of Memphis scored a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5. The state is to release new report cards in mid-February.

In recent years, Memphis has seen the birth of several non-traditional teacher prep programs such as Memphis Teacher Residency and Relay, which launched in 2015 without the University of Memphis. But Rudd says only the University of Memphis, with a student body of 22,000, has the resources and scale to make a dent in the local teacher shortage.

“I see this as a recognition of the role that an urban public research university should play in this city,” Rudd said. “Undeniably, education is one of the top challenges …  in Memphis. I don’t think we can address the problem without the university’s involvement.”

Pushback

National head of DFER after Colorado Democrats’ platform vote: ‘We’re not going anywhere’

PHOTO: Newark Trust
DFER President Shavar Jeffries

The national head of Democrats for Education Reform responded to the dramatic rejection of his organization at the Colorado Democratic Party state assembly with a simple message: We’re not going anywhere.

In an email to supporters that he also posted on Medium Thursday, Shavar Jeffries laid out his credentials as a Democrat and said disagreements over education policy should remain a “family fight.”

“We understand that on some issues, some in our party disagree with us,” Jeffries wrote. “We welcome that disagreement, and we welcome the debates that ensue periodically. We stay true to our principles because we believe our vision best reflects the values of the party and the outcomes we seek for young people.

“But we will fight  –  when fights are necessary  –  anchored in the understanding that this is a family fight and thus we will not engage in the politics of personal destruction against those with whom we disagree.”

Jeffries went on to blame the election of President Donald Trump on an unwillingness among Democrats to set aside their differences.

“Trump is president to a large degree because progressives and liberals engaged in a civil war over the 10 percent of policies where we might disagree, as opposed to uniting around the 90 percent where we agree,” Jeffries wrote. “Hillary Clinton was booed at the DNC convention in 2016 by the same forces that still seek to sow division within our party. Our unity is our best weapon against the ongoing assault to our democracy visited upon the country each day by Trump.”

Jennifer Walmer, the head of the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, was booed down by delegates at Saturday’s assembly. Those delegates went on to adopt into the official party platform a call for DFER to stop using “Democrats” in its name.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who has the backing of the teachers unions, won 62 percent of the vote at the party assembly. The platform vote happened later in the day, after some of the more than 3,000 delegates had left.

It’s not clear how the platform provision could be enforced. Some members want the party to send a cease-and-desist letter to Democrats for Education Reform, something the Los Angeles Democratic Party tried in 2012, with no apparent effect.

The Colorado vote drew cheers and jeers locally and around the country. In New York City, one blog called it a “ray of sunshine” that could signal cracks in support for reform policies. Meanwhile, conservatives used the vote to cast Democrats as extremists. The editorial board of the Colorado Springs Gazette said it represented “a far-left shift in the Democratic Party.”

Education reform has become an increasingly divisive issue within the Democratic Party. Since the 2016 presidential election, opponents of a suite of reform policies, like charter schools and test-based teacher accountability laws, have increasingly sought to tie Democratic proponents of these policies to the unpopular president and his education secretary.

Jeffries said his organization would not be dissuaded by those tactics.

“If our intra-party opponents would prefer counter-productive family warfare as opposed to unity around shared values, this should be clear too: We stand with the millions of families across our country demanding access to high-quality public schools and the thousands of elected Democrats who fight tirelessly to ensure they get it,” he said. “We are not going anywhere.”

You can read Jeffries’ entire statement here.

get out the vote

Can schools encourage students to be more involved citizens? A new study suggests yes they can.

Democracy Prep charter network superintendent Seth Andrew at a 2012 admissions lottery event.

In a city of roughly 1,800 schools, many have names that have little to do with what students experience.

Not so for Democracy Prep, a network of charter schools that a new study concludes makes students far more likely to vote once they turn 18.

The study, conducted by independent researchers commissioned by Democracy Prep, took advantage of New York City’s charter school admissions rules to examine the impact of applying to, getting accepted to, and enrolling in the network’s schools on later civic participation.

Looking at more than a thousand students who applied between 2007 and 2015 who were old enough to vote in 2016, the researchers found that just being selected in the admissions lottery was correlated with a slight increase in voting rates. Students who were chosen voted 6 percentage points more often than students who were not.

The impact was much greater on students who were chosen and actually enrolled: They voted 24 percentage points more often than students who applied but never got a chance to attend.

The findings suggest that Democracy Prep is achieving its explicit goal of promoting civic participation. They also offer one answer to the question of whether charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, undermine democracy.

“Democracy Prep provides a test case of whether charter schools can successfully serve the foundational purpose of public education—preparation for citizenship—even while operating outside the direct control of elected officials,” the researchers write. “With respect to the critical civic participation measures of registration and voting, the answer is yes.”

Seth Andrew, who started the network with a single middle school in Harlem in 2006, said he was pleased by the findings — and unsurprised, because the network has baked civic participation into its culture and academic program. Students must take on a personal “Change the World” project and pass the U.S. citizenship exam to graduate.

“This idea of ‘change the world’ was very central to what we were trying to get our kids prepared and excited to do,” he said.

Creating more engaged citizens takes more than just adding a civics class, said Katie Duffy, the CEO of Democracy Prep. Schools have to make democracy a part of the daily culture, she said.

“The more you talk about the importance of voting, the importance of elections, the importance of advocacy,” she said, “the more it becomes ingrained in our kids.”

The network has also long used Election Day — when district-run schools are often closed so their buildings can be used as polling stations — as a teachable moment.

In 2008, Democracy Prep students spent the day working to get out the vote in their neighborhoods. Four years later, Democracy Prep schools were among the few housed in city space that got special permission to stay open — and the network sent students out to advance the “Vote for Somebody” campaign it had kicked off in a catchy viral video. The next year, students promoted a different message — “I can’t vote but you can” — in an effort to boost the city’s 11 percent primary election voter participation rate.

The network’s influence extends far beyond its students. In 2012, six years into the network’s existence, officials estimated that students had helped 5,000 New Yorkers register to vote. Now, the network runs 22 schools in five states.

Andrew said the study’s findings about the impact of the network — which he left in 2012 to work on other civic engagement initiatives, including at the White House — offer only a start at a time when the United States lags behind other developed countries in voter turnout.

“I was thrilled with the outcome,” said Andrew. “But the as the guy that founded Democracy Prep I feel like there’s a whole lot of room to grow.”

Correction: A previous version of this story described the increase in voting caused by Democracy Prep as a percent figure, rather than in percentage points.