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Teacher-Educators Explore the Uncertain Future of Education Schools

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Nearly 2,000 teacher-educators gathered here to talk about diversity, but many of their discussions revealed an underlying concern about the vitality of colleges of education.

In her inaugural speech as the president of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education at its 48th annual meeting last month, Barbara Burch touched on that fundamental issue.

"Today, it's increasingly clear that we are indeed a profession at risk," said Ms. Burch, the dean of the school of education and human development at California State University in Fresno. She acknowledged that colleges of education suffer from a reputation as inflexible and sometimes irrelevant.

Ms. Burch said the member colleges of AACTE need to focus on providing leadership in the education-policy arena, linking "best practices" with school improvement, and creating a supportive environment within universities.

If education schools do not change, "a decade from now there will be fewer of us in this room and fewer of us who identify ourselves as faculty of ed schools," she predicted.

The teacher-educators' concern for their future was perhaps most evident at a session titled "The Ivory Tower Under Siege: The University as Anachronism in Teacher Education?"

Panelist Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, said she is often asked whether university-based teacher education works.

"Substantially yes, and sometimes no," she said. But to the question of whether teacher education should continue at universities, she responded, "Emphatically yes."

Ms. Darling-Hammond pointed out several problems that continue to plague some schools of education, such as a lack of integration between teacher education courses and the rest of the college curriculum, and a lack of connection between teacher education and the experiences of beginning teachers.

The meeting's organizers connected such questions with the theme of the conference, "Conflict, Consensus, Community: Emerging Voices of Diversity," by highlighting efforts to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the teaching force.

In a speech here, Gloria Ladson-Billings, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, urged teacher-educators to take several steps to increase their commitment to diversity and thereby improve instruction.

Teacher-educators should spend more time in schools to be more familiar with classroom teachers and their students, and should engage in ongoing reflection and dialogue on their teaching practices, she said. "That visibility will signal a desire to retool," Ms. Ladson-Billings said.

In an effort to round out the focus on diversity, the meeting featured what panelists called the organization's first-ever symposium on teaching gay and lesbian students and recognizing abuse of those students.

Wiggsy Sivertsen, a counselor at California's San Jose State University, was the panel's moderator. She said that recognition of the particular problems facing homosexual students is "the last ribbon in the fabric of diversity."

In an interview after the session, Ms. Sivertsen added that although organizations like the New York City-based Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network are working to familiarize teachers with issues facing such students, colleges of education are not doing their part to educate future teachers on those issues.

Dolores Escobar, the outgoing AACTE president and the dean of San Jose State's school of education, said many education schools have begun to address such issues but are eager for more information.

"We need to develop a knowledge base for how to relate to one another," she added.

During the course of the conference, lollipops--yes, lollipops--were the snack of choice for many of the participants.

The multicolored candies, freely distributed throughout the meeting, served another purpose besides satisfying a sweet tooth. Printed on the white stick of each lollipop was the new address on the Internet's World Wide Web for AACTE and the ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education.

Conference participants who mistakenly threw away their sticks should take note: The addresses for AACTE and ERIC, respectively, are www.AACTE.org and www.ericsp.org.

--Jeanne Ponessa

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