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Chicago Teachers' Union To Create Graduate School

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After a long battle, the Chicago Teachers Union's Quest Center, which helps teachers restructure schools for better student achievement, has won state permission to create a graduate school.

The Jacqueline B. Vaughn Graduate School for Teachers, named for the late president of the union, will concentrate on developing teachers as leaders who do not have to leave the classroom to grow as professionals.

Unlike traditional education schools, it will not offer coursework leading to certification in administration or expertise in particular curriculum areas. Instead, the graduate school plans to focus on school restructuring and the development of teachers as leaders who can make wise choices about schooling.

Before receiving the go-ahead last month from the Illinois board of higher education, however, the Quest Center had to overcome a number of hurdles.

In addition to facing stiff requirements from the state, the graduate school was opposed by the 13-member Chicago Area Council of Deans of Education. It also ran into criticism from a sister affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, the University Professionals of Illinois.

"It's been a long process," said Allen Bearden, the director of the Quest Center. "We don't think anywhere in this nation is there a graduate school that has been started because of a union."

200 Teachers a Year

The Quest Center itself broke new ground in 1992, when it received a $1 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. Mac-Arthur Foundation to set up shop as a catalyst and resource for improving Chicago schools.

Under the leadership of Deborah Walsh, who resigned as the director to return to a teaching position this fall, the center began offering coursework to help teachers understand education research, contemporary theories about how children learn, and other topics. The proposal for the graduate school grew out of that experience.

The graduate school will feature coursework in teaching mathematics through problem-solving, cooperative learning, and new ways of teaching reading, Mr. Bearden said.

Traditional education schools, he said, focus on preparing preservice teachers or fostering expertise in a narrow subject area. "If they were meeting the needs of teachers," he added, "there would be no need for us to exist as a graduate school."

The Quest Center's school, which will enroll about 200 teachers a year, hopes to offer a master's degree in teacher leadership. It still must receive degree-granting authority, which involves hiring faculty members and a dean, and applying for accreditation through a partnership with Governors State University in University Park, Ill.

The school has formed a board of trustees that includes Patricia A. Graham, the president of the Spencer Foundation and a former dean of Harvard University's graduate school of education, and Anthony S. Bryk, an education researcher and a professor at the University of Chicago.

Larry Braskamp, the dean of the college of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former president of the Chicago deans' group, said local education schools were concerned about whether the Quest Center would have the quality of faculty and library resources to run a top-notch graduate school.

Many Chicago education schools also had worked closely with the Quest Center and would have preferred to continue that arrangement, Mr. Braskamp added.

"Our concerns have been put to rest," he said. "We hope they are effective."

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