Teaching Profession Opinion

Teaching for a Changing World: The Graduates of Bank Street College of Education

By Contributing Blogger — January 14, 2016 7 min read
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This post is by Jon Snyder, the executive director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE).

Since at least the release of What Matters Most by the National Commission on Teaching America’s Future, it has become “common knowledge” that the quality of teaching is an essential variable in the school-learning of children. The question isn’t whether teachers matter, but rather the best way to assure quality teaching for all of our children. A core question is whether the responsible way to do so is to require professional preparation prior to becoming a teacher of record or to recruit smart people into teaching and have them learn on the job. Of course, the distinction is not that simple. One cannot learn how to fly an airplane without flying an airplane. But usually, in the interest of the safety of the passengers, one does not fly an airplane on one’s own while learning. Teacher Residency models (some housed in institutions of higher education, some outside of IHE’s) for instance, provide extensive practice flying an airplane (teaching) with an experienced pilot (experienced teacher) in the cockpit providing both guidance to the beginning pilot as well as to providing a secure flight for the passengers.

Given the expanding demands on the educational system (competing in a flat world, exploding knowledge and technology, rising inequality, international turmoil, chaotic political processes to name but a few) that deeper learning can help address, the issue of quality teaching for each and every one of our children is more important than it has ever been.

In a soon-to-be-released series of publications, SCOPE researchers document the outcomes of a particular teacher education program. While the findings are specific to the graduates of the Bank Street College of Education, they also offer potential learning for all who are interested in the quality of teaching we provide to our children. A series of five reports examines the quality of the preparation of graduates of New York City’s Bank Street College Graduate School of Education teacher certification programs, their teaching practices upon graduation, the influence they have on their students’ learning, and the cumulative effects of school-wide practices at schools supportive of the Bank Street approach. The results are based on the triangulation of analyses of extensive surveys of graduates, a comparison group of graduates from other New York State teacher education programs, and employers; large scale administrative data related to the impact of program graduates on pupil learning in New York City public schools; in depth classroom and school observations; and interviews of graduates, principals, and college faculty.

The reports document a noteworthy range of findings, including much to challenge conventional views of teacher education, including the following:

  • Graduates who stay in teaching and take on a variety of educational leadership roles;
  • Graduates who feel exceptionally well prepared across subject-matter areas, especially in social studies and English language arts;
  • Graduates who report feeling well prepared to meet the needs of diverse students;
  • Employers who are enthusiastic about hiring program graduates because of the sophisticated insights and skills they bring to the classroom;
  • Learning gains for students of Bank Street graduates on value-added measures from standardized test scores, with all of the necessary caveats, comparable to those of other teachers, with a slight edge in English language arts for students taught by experienced Bank Street teachers;
  • Graduates who offer an engaging, developmentally meaningful, and inquiry-oriented curriculum that support a wide range of students;
  • Graduates whose teaching practice is oriented around extended, integrated social studies units that serve as a focal point of the curriculum, and includes extensive, well-considered field trips to connect classroom learning to the broader community;
  • Students of graduates who are happily and deeply engaged in robust and meaningful learning experiences;
  • Evidence of children’s capacities to read, write, analyze, problem-solve, inquire, and think creatively that extend far beyond what is seen in many classrooms today; and
  • In schools that are organized around the Bank Street developmental-interaction approach, joyful, productive classrooms where students engage in experiential learning, investigate the natural and social world, learn to collaborate and communicate, and are developing the 21st century skills that are much talked about in today’s reform conversations.

In the reports, the researchers describe in richly detailed vignettes, the following thematic threads in the work of Bank Street graduates:

  • An approach to students with an emphasis on play and child development, observation and reflection, meetings and conferences, process-orientated learning, and regarding students as young scholars;
  • An approach to curriculum with an emphasis on the centrality of integrated social studies, engaging with outside-of-school environments through purposeful field trips, arts infusion, and content learning through collaborative inquiry; and
  • An approach to the world with an emphasis on connections to family and fostering community, commitment to diversity and inclusivity, teacher professionalism and collaboration, and teaching for the public good.

What Made a Difference?

There is a widely held perception that teachers nearly universally think their teacher preparation was, if not a complete waste a time, certainly woefully inadequate. Our findings do not support that perception. The researchers surveyed teachers with one to ten years of experience who had graduated from Bank Street as well as a comparable sample of teachers in New York State who had graduated from other programs. While 87 percent of the Bank Street graduates responded that their teacher preparation program was “effective” or “very effective,” 66 percent of the comparison teachers said the same. While Bank Street “outperformed” the comparison sample, two thirds of the experienced teachers rated their preparation as effective or very effective.

In addition to the overall rating, several specific features of the Bank Street experience stand out in the results.

  1. When asked about the utility of specific aspects of their preparation program in preparing them as a teacher, Bank Street graduates were significantly more likely than comparison teachers to report that program coursework (83 percent vs. 65 percent), advisement/supervisory support (82 percent vs. 67 percent), and the caliber of the instructors of their classes (88 percent vs. 55 percent) were “helpful” or “very helpful” in preparing them as teachers. Both Bank Street graduates and comparison teachers rated the importance of their field experiences highly (87 percent for both).
  2. Bank Street graduates also rated the quality and depth of field experiences and advisement highly. A key feature of Bank Street programs is the extended fieldwork experience, supported by an intensive small group advisory. Perhaps, then, it is unsurprising that Bank Street graduates were much more likely to have spent an extensive amount of time in supervised fieldwork compared to the teachers in the comparison sample. More than half of the Bank Street graduates reported spending over 720 hours (approximately 120 six-hour days or 24 weeks) in a classroom placement; in contrast, only 13 percent of the comparison teachers said the same.
  3. The results also suggest that, to a significant degree, Bank Street graduates found that their educational experiences at the college successfully aligned with the institution’s stated mission. In comparison to other teacher preparation programs, Bank Street was significantly more likely to be characterized by graduates as having a focus on a developmental, child-centered approach to education (99 percent vs. 89 percent of other program graduates); a commitment to social justice and the tradition of progressive education (95 percent vs. 61 percent); individualized mentoring and professional development with knowledgeable faculty advisors (88 percent vs. 74 percent); meaningful coursework and assignments that build connections between theory and practice (90 percent vs. 81 percent); and a purposeful culminating/capstone project or portfolio (83 percent vs. 65 percent).

There is no question but that supporting each and every one of our children into and through deeper learning requires expert teaching. The findings from this study provide provocative information to guide our policy and practice decisions regarding the education of the teachers of our children. We urge you to view the full findings of the report, available soon at SCOPE’S web site.

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