Teacher Preparation

Harvard University To Ground Teacher Education in Urban Experience

By Jeff Archer — April 18, 2001 3 min read

Harvard University’s graduate school of education is cutting back enrollment in its teacher-preparation program for one year, while faculty members attempt to ground it better in the practicalities of working in urban schools.

Though details of the retooling still are being hammered out, the small but influential program intends to give its students much more work experience in public school classrooms. What’s more, the school wants to strengthen the training it offers to teachers in the middle of their careers. And it even plans to consider preparing candidates for alternative licensure.

“We are taking a look at our environment and saying, ‘We need to step back and have a look at what we’re doing,’” said Katherine K. Merseth, the faculty member who is leading the redesign. “Not to say that what we’re doing is bad, but how can we do it better?”

Education school leaders saw several reasons for the overhaul, including the trend toward new state requirements for teachers that stress academic-content knowledge and classroom skills over coursework, the nationwide move to set higher standards for student performance, and the lagging achievement of many poor children.

Katherine K. Merseth

Emblematic of the changes to come will be a new Cambridge-Harvard Summer Academy, which the graduate school faculty recently approved, to begin this June.

Even before they start their fall coursework, Harvard students beginning their teacher-preparation program will be placed for several weeks in a local public high school where they’ll spend mornings team-teaching groups of summer school students under the guidance of an experienced educator.

Other ideas on the table include:

  • A new master’s degree designed to give experienced teachers advanced training focused on specific skills, such as bilingual education;

  • More coursework aimed at showing new teachers how public policy and leadership roles can be used as levers for change; and

  • Ensuring that graduates of the program are well-prepared to begin work toward earning certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The graduate school also plans to form a partnership with the Boston public schools to create professional- development schools, in which Harvard students would work alongside experienced teachers during the academic year, much the way that doctors-in-training work as interns in teaching hospitals.

“I want the boundaries between the schools and the ivory towers to be much more permeable,” Ms. Merseth said. “I want our faculty going to schools more often and for school people coming here more often.”

Switched in Midstream

As the changes unfold, Harvard will be joining a growing number of schools of education that are emphasizing the preparation of teachers to work in urban schools. (“Northeastern Urban Ed. Program Emphasizes Hands-On Learning,” Nov. 3, 1999.)

Still, the speed with which Harvard is moving has caught some prospective students off guard. The decision to cut enrollment during the redesign phase— from about 90 this year to about 55 next—was made after the candidates for next year’s incoming class had applied to the school.

A recent Boston Globe story anonymously quoted a rejected applicant who said the temporary cutback calls into question Harvard’s commitment to help Boston’s schools, which will need to hire as many as 400 teachers next year.

But others lauded the school’s decision to dive headfirst into the project rather than wait another year to begin. Said Rachel Curtis, a Boston school official who has coordinated district training programs: “We’ve been pushing hard to have higher education institutions that are preparing our folks move the locus of their training into the schools.”

Even at full capacity, Harvard’s is a small program. The roughly 90 students at the graduate school this year who are preparing to teach represent less than 15 percent of its overall enrollment. Most students there concentrate on research, administration, or public policy.

“Harvard will never be training thousands of teachers like some other institutions,” Ms. Merseth said. “However, we feel if we can get this right, we can work with some other institutions to share what’s working and make a contribution that way.”

A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 2001 edition of Education Week as Harvard University To Ground Teacher Education in Urban Experience


School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teacher Preparation Teachers Can Take on Anti-Racist Teaching. But Not Alone
Teachers want to do better by their students of color, but many don’t know how. Madeline Will examines the gap between intention and action.
3 min read
Illustration by Jamiel Law
Teacher Preparation You Have Anti-Racist Curriculum Resources. Now What Do You Do?
Teachers need spaces to explore how power dynamics have shaped the subjects they teach, explains Sarah Schwartz.
4 min read
Illustration by Jamiel Law
Teacher Preparation We All Live Racialized Lives: The 'Identity Work' Teachers Need to Do
Understanding the Black experience also means seeing white privilege, writes education professor LaGarrett King.
3 min read
Illustration by Jamiel Law
Teacher Preparation Opinion Before We Can Have Anti-Racist Classrooms, Teacher Preparation Needs an Overhaul
My knowledge of African American history did not come from school, writes Keziah Ridgeway. Why was that?
Keziah Ridgeway
3 min read
Illustration by Jamiel Law