Partnership in N.Y.C. to Prepare Teachers

Free tuition, continuing professional support are among features.

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Michael Zitolo will graduate from New York University this year with a major in physics and chemistry. Although friends and family have often told the 21-year-old that he could make a lot of money as a researcher for a pharmaceutical company, he wants to become a teacher.

“Although I do take the sciences, I am not talented in them. But I like to break them down and help other people so that they can understand and do great things with them,” he said.

As he wraps up his undergraduate program with a 3.95 GPA, Mr. Zitolo says he wants to enroll in a teacher-preparation program that will offer not just the opportunity for research—of which he did plenty in his undergraduate courses—but also extensive hands-on experience working inside a New York City public school.

The new Partnership for Teacher Excellence, which joins the city’s schools, the City University of New York, and New York University, offers aspiring teachers like Mr. Zitolo a chance to do just that. The venture takes the professional-development-school model to another level by adding such features as free tuition, continuing support for new teachers, and the cooperation of two universities, all with the goal of producing—and retaining—teachers who are well-qualified, particularly in such shortage areas as math and science.

‘Excellent’ Combination

The idea of combining financial, collegial, and mentoring support with a strong student-teaching component “is an excellent thing,” said Marsha Levine, a senior consultant for professional-development schools for the Washington-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. She also noted that it was gratifying to find a public and a private university focused on solving the problem together.

“I have worked with a number of school districts in trying to develop models that would address these issues using the professional-development model as a centerpiece, and am therefore very encouraged New York is doing a similar thing to what we have been advocating,” Ms. Levine said.

Table: Training and Incentives

New York City universities and public schools are teaming up to train teachers for shortage areas such as math and science and to reduce turnover.

*Click image to see the full table.

Under the arrangement, CUNY will admit 300 applicants for undergraduate programs in math and science. The undergrads will also get a thorough grounding in a general education program and education courses developed by university and district educators. The university will also train 15 master’s-level students each year in special education using the same model.

Meanwhile, NYU’s Steinhardt school of education will recruit 100 candidates for a master’s program for hard-to-staff fields, such as math, science, special education, and English-language learners. The education school will partner with the university’s college of arts and sciences and its school of social work to come up with faculty-devised models of coursework.

The partnership, said Selma Botman, the executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at CUNY, “will help us re-imagine teacher education so that our teachers are effective, well trained, and well supported.”

District administrators are now trying to identify schools that will take on 10 to 15 aspiring teachers each from the program.

Student-teachers will be “teaching children from the very first day in school and becoming part of the fabric,” said Amy McIntosh, the executive director of the partnership. Students will also take university coursework in the public schools.

Added Attractions

Those involved in the partnership hope that its incentives will lure students despite concerns over teacher pay and working conditions that often keep out math and science talent.

“Putting the power and prestige of these fine universities behind these programs with financial incentives and compelling prep can attract students to the teaching profession,” Ms. McIntosh asserted.

Underwritten with a four-year, $15 million grant from the New York City-based Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation, the partnership offers all students who are accepted into the Teacher Academy at CUNY full tuition support for four years and paid summer and after-school internships in schools. After the first year in the Teacher Academy, students must make a two-year commitment to teach in the city’s public schools once they complete the program.

The graduate-level program at NYU to which Mr. Zitolo has applied will offer some of its 100 students partial scholarships, also with the commitment that they teach for two years.

Ms. Botman said that she and other CUNY officials have been visiting high schools in the city to recruit students. In addition, the university has sent letters inviting principals to nominate students for the available slots.

Once the program begins in the fall, she said, students will be placed in math, science, and general education classes in cohorts. The cohorts will stay together through K-12 apprenticeships and function as a support group for the student-teachers themselves.

“We believe our students will be highly effective, and will really understand what the thrill of teaching is about,” Ms. Botman said.

Reducing Attrition

The need to recruit more math and science teachers has taken a high profile lately, as business leaders and politicians sound the alarm that poor math and science achievement among American students could impede the nation’s economy and security.

In New York City, as elsewhere, filling the need for math and science teachers is “a very serious problem,” said Ms. McIntosh, the partnership’s director.

So, too, is the teacher-attrition rate. About 12 percent to 15 percent of first-year teachers left in each of the past several years, said city schools spokesman Andrew Jacob.

To reduce new-teacher dropout rates, the partnership will provide ongoing professional support to new teachers during the first few years they are in the classroom.

The attrition rate could be reduced “if we can approach teacher education as a continuum that doesn’t end when they graduate, but continues into early years of teaching,” said Mary Brabeck, the dean of the education school at NYU.

She said university officials are hoping that the partnership will yield information that can be used by other teacher education programs.

As for Mr. Zitolo, he is keeping his fingers crossed that he’ll get into the program; he could hear from NYU as early as this month.

He has already been meeting with faculty members instrumental in setting up the program, and he said he finds their enthusiasm infectious. What’s more, Mr. Zitolo said, the possibility of getting a scholarship is “a very attractive component.”

Vol. 25, Issue 27, Pages 5, 14

Published in Print: March 15, 2006, as Partnership in N.Y.C. to Prepare Teachers
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