Monday, May 10, 2010

The Degree of Education: Why Georgetown Is and Should Be Expanding its Influence in Education

By: Marc Patterson

When Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, came to the town hall meeting in Gaston Hall on Monday May 3rd, he gave encouraging words on the power of education to transform lives. “We cannot let any child fall through the cracks, regardless of the difficulties they face at home…poverty is never destiny,” Duncan pressed the crowd of teachers, parents and Georgetown students. I cannot help but feel the disconnect however, because despite the thriving network of tutors Georgetown has created, not to mention one of the highest matriculation rates into Teach For America in the country, no Georgetown student has the opportunity to seriously engage education as a field of study through this university. In order to train both informed political advocates for education reform and teachers who will demand the reform they need to be effective, Georgetown needs a program in education. The University’s Jesuit tradition and value of social justice demand it.

I talked with Professor Heather Voke who has been the central proponent of establishing a center for education here at Georgetown. “There is a great body of knowledge about what works in the classroom, what doesn’t work in the classroom,” she says. Subjects would include education theory, development psychology and practical fieldwork. Professor Voke teaches such classes as Civic Engagement & Public Education in the Philosophy department. The center for education would fill a wider need for intellectual debate over education reform.

Despite the NCES results, Washington D.C. has been a shining exception to nationwide data. These gains can be attributed to the concerted efforts being made by trained educators coming to tackle the district’s unique challenges and to after school programs. A major contributor to the efforts, Georgetown University’s DC Reads program has been rapidly expanding over the last couple of years, and has been achieving great results. Students in the low-income schools that are served are not only reading closer to grade level, but their parents are becoming more involved in their education, and third graders are talking about going to college. And Washington DC has been by no means the only place to experience success. Renowned author Dave Eggers’ emerging ‘826 Valencia’ writing centers are stepping up their efforts across the country. On a school level, charter schools like Roxbury Prep in Boston and Harlem Children’s zone in New York have created models that are bringing disadvantaged students up to speed with the nation’s best.[1] What all of these efforts have in common is the recognition of education as a matter of social justice. They attract dedicated and enthusiastic instructors and in turn encourage them to be innovative in their educational techniques. These approaches to education are challenging the bounds of being a teacher.

The recommendations made by the House Committee on Education panel titled “Building on What Works in Charter Schools suggest instead that we need to focus on transforming struggling public schools on the model of what has worked in the successful charter schools. What education methods are being employed at KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools? How does Roxbury Prep motivate its teachers? Charter schools are the “laboratories for innovation” waiting for their findings to be scaled and implemented. A degree in education at Georgetown University would provide the setting for in-depth research about effective and innovative educational techniques.

Teacher retention rates are closely examined in Freedman, et. al’s study “In It for the Long Haul…” in the Journal of Teacher Education.[2] The study takes students from the Multicultural Urban Secondary English (MUSE) credential and MA program at University of California Berkeley, and tracks their careers in schools. Their statistics show that graduates of the MUSE program have higher retention rates than the national average, with results after 5 years of 73% of teachers remaining in classroom teaching compared to a national average of 54%. Well trained teachers remain teaching because they are better equipped to have an impact on their students. Better quality teachers therefore lead to more results in the classroom, encouraging the teacher to remain and in turn the entire American education system benefits.

‘At the end of the day the problem lies in the teachers unions. They demand too much money for their lazy teachers who work only nine months of the year and who couldn’t care less about the achievement of their students.’

This kind of attitude is the single biggest barrier that we face to training and keeping good teachers. The sense of disrespect for the teaching profession played a deciding role in the Georgetown University administration crushing an effort to implement an education minor in the college last year. Professor Voke commented that there was “a resistance to the idea of education because it isn’t a professional field. It doesn’t have the same kind of status as say law or medicine. I think the resistance is that we don’t want to have that sort of stigma associated with Georgetown University.” In many ways, the fact that this stigma exists makes it even more urgent that Georgetown adopt an education program to prove that teachers can break this mold.

The purpose of the book “Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America’s Teachers”[3] by Dave Eggers et. al is to show that in fact teachers do not fit this mold at all. It illustrates through painstaking detail the duties of a teacher to debunk the image that teaching is not actually challenging and anyone can teach with little or no training. The effect is that thousands of great young teachers are leaving the profession early due to the low morale created by the stigma, low pay and lack of recognition.

The best way to tackle this problem is at the source of the nation’s most well respected professions. The top Universities in the United States need to embrace the academic field of education as a rigorous science, worthy of a status as high as the challenges it poses in our society. By giving the most motivated students the opportunity to delve into the complexities of education, the Universities will be at once changing the image of the teaching profession and creating the next generation of Teaching Professionals that will be advocates for further progress in the field.

According to Professor Voke, our next step towards this goal is “creating an academic community of people who are interested in the study of education. To bring together the faculty and students who are interested but don’t know about one another, who want to share knowledge.” The DC Reads advocacy committee is a start. Please join us.

[1] House Committee on Education & Labor “Building on What Works in Charter Schools” June 4, 2009.

[2] Freedman, S. W., et. al., “In It for the Long Haul: How Teacher Education Can Contribute to Teacher Retention in High-Poverty, Urban Schools.” Journal of Teacher Education v. 60 no. 3 (May/June 2009) p. 323-37. Proquest. Web. 14 April 2010.

[3] Clements Calegari, Ninive; Eggers, Dave; Moulthroup, Daniel. “Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers.” New York: The New Press, 2005.

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