K-12 Settings Get Chance To Train Future Teachers in Minn.

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Outstanding public schools in Minnesota will have the opportunity to train teachers as they see fit under new legislation.

The pilot initiative essentially will turn traditional teacher education--which has been the province of higher education--upside down and put selected K-12 schools in charge of deciding how best to prepare teachers.

It has become increasingly common for colleges and universities to collaborate in preparing teachers, often in "professional-development schools" designated for that purpose. But such schools aren't necessarily high-achieving.

Approved last month, the Minnesota legislation, however, specifically requires that schools chosen for the pilot program be effective, as measured by student test scores on state reading, writing, and math tests or other valid and reliable assessments.

The participating school districts--to be chosen by the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning--would have to collaborate with teacher-preparation programs. But in a more unusual arrangement, they also would be required to work with organizations representing parents, businesses, and community groups.

"For many years, we've tried to fix colleges of education," said Joe Nathan, the director of the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota, who advocated the program. "But one of the things we've not necessarily asked is what are the most effective ways to involve really excellent public schools in this process."

Classroom Exposure

Practicing teachers and principals want to be much more involved in the preparation of new teachers, Mr. Nathan found in a study of teacher preparation conducted last year for the legislature.

But 60 percent of the 1,110 principals and superintendents who responded to his survey said that they hadn't met in the past three years with college professors.

Similarly, Mr. Nathan noted, parent and community groups have felt shut out of teacher preparation.

The schools are expected to be selected from across the state. The number of teacher-candidates to be trained in them isn't yet known.

Initially, five schools selected by the commissioner were to receive $20,000 planning grants, but Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed the $100,000 that lawmakers set aside for the program. It was part of nearly $160 million in what the Reform Party governor called "pork" spending and trimmed.

The veto isn't likely to affect districts' and schools' interest in the program, according to Mr. Nathan.

State Rep. George W. Cassell, a retired superintendent, was an enthusiastic backer of the bill.

"For years, I have felt that the training of teachers was backwards," the Republican said. "You go through three years of an academic program before you have any exposure to the classroom."

The new programs, while yet to be designed, are expected to plunge teacher education students into schools from the outset.

The legislation says that public school educators may teach courses to prepare future educators, while professors may teach courses in schools or mentor student-teachers.

It also encourages sites to come up with ways of involving nontraditional students, such as those switching careers or returning to school to complete their educations. Proposals that aim to produce teachers to fill identified shortage areas also would have an advantage.

Just as in more traditional programs, students would pay tuition to participating universities and receive degrees upon completion of their studies. Districts also could charge "reasonable fees" for their part of the training.

The mix of classes and hands-on school experiences that prospective teachers would undergo is to be determined by the districts and their partners.

Mary Bents, the president of the Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, urged "a lot of caution" in moving to such site-specific training. The programs should require teachers to meet the same standards and outcomes as those required of colleges and universities, she said.

'On Warning'

James Walker, the superintendent of the North Branch Area schools north of the Twin Cities, is a proponent of such arrangements. Even before the measure passed, his district was working with nearby St. Cloud State University to educate a group of teachers in public schools.

Mr. Walker hopes that by fall, a group of 12 to 15 students will be in his schools, learning about the individualized education plans required for special education students, figuring out the requirements for graduation under the state's complex Profile of Learning, and getting a realistic view of the politics that affect schools.

"Symbolically," he said, "this puts postsecondary institutions on warning that we want more practitioner involvement in the training of staff."

Vol. 18, Issue 38, Page 15

Published in Print: June 2, 1999, as K-12 Settings Get Chance To Train Future Teachers in Minn.
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