Teacher Preparation

Teachers’ Union Launches School To Train Teachers

By Julie Blair — April 10, 2002 5 min read
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The Chicago Teachers Union has become the first labor organization in the nation to launch a graduate school for K-12 educators, a move that comes as teachers’ unions are working to expand their roles beyond the bargaining table.

Plans for the Jacqueline B. Vaughn Graduate School for Teacher Leadership were unveiled late last month, with the goal of opening its doors to 225 educators next January. The private institution, to be housed near union headquarters within the Chicago Merchandise Mart Plaza, will award only master’s degrees in the area of teacher leadership.

“The intent is to raise the profile of the whole concept of teacher leadership and to support excellent teachers in their desire to remain in the classroom,” said Deborah Lynch, the union’s president. “Even the best principals cannot meet all the challenges that are required in a school; school leadership needs to be broadened to include teachers.”

Administrators in Chicago say they are pleased that such an opportunity will exist.

“The creation of [the school] represents an important step by Deborah Lynch and the Chicago Teachers Union to further develop the teaching and leadership skills of our Chicago public school educators,” said Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the 435,500- student school system.

Mr. Duncan has been named one of the school’s nine trustees.

Union leaders outside Chicago described the enterprise as a defining moment in the history of teachers’ unions.

The school exemplifies the efforts by the CTU and other union locals around the country to become more involved in issues of teaching and learning, said Adam Urbanski, the president of the 3,800-member Rochester Teachers Union in New York. Traditionally, the unions have concentrated their energies on negotiating salary and benefit packages.

“This is an extraordinary thing,” said Mr. Urbanski, who is a trustee of the new school. “It is not likely [that] significant and real change in education will occur without teacher leadership at the center of the effort.

“This promises to be a systematic and legitimate way to promote not only teacher leadership, but also the intellectual life within teachers’ unions,” he said.

Even critics of traditional teacher-preparation programs suggest the concept has potential.

“The idea of training teachers in school leadership is an excellent idea,” added Michael B. Poliakoff, the president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, which advocates for alternative teacher education.

He cautions, however, that the program could fail to live up to its potential if faculty members don’t teach educators to analyze standardized tests and decipher research, two important skills.

“By all means, give it a chance, but be ready to call for revision and restructuring if it is not producing teachers who make a very positive difference in student learning,” he said.

‘Missing Ingredient’

What is being called the JBV School, named for a past president of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate, was conceptualized in part by Ms. Lynch nine years ago when she directed the local union’s professional-development division.

The idea was put on ice, however, when she left the position in 1995. It was resuscitated after Ms. Lynch was elected to the CTU presidency last spring on a platform that included involving educators in school decisions. (“Challenger Topples Chicago Teachers Union President,” June 6, 2001.)

The new school is important, Ms. Lynch said, because teacher leadership “is the missing ingredient in Chicago school reform.”

“We want to change all that,” she said. “We believe that a union of professionals should be as good on educational issues as on the bread-and- butter issues.”

Although the CTU will sponsor the graduate school, it will not govern the venture, Ms. Lynch said. The union will take responsibility for developing the concept and programming, staffing the institution, and renting space for it adjacent to union headquarters.

While the organization seeks state accreditation—a process that takes two years—it is courting the University of Illinois at Chicago to act as its partner, Ms. Lynch said. Such an alignment would ensure that teachers who graduated from the two-year program would do so with degrees from an accredited institution.

Trustees will govern the school in conjunction with a four-member board of visitors that will act as consultants twice annually. Allen E. Bearden, the current director of the union’s professional-development division, will be the school’s president.

The union will begin recruiting faculty members this spring, Ms. Lynch said. In addition to college professors, it hopes to persuade some of the 75 teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards now working in the Chicago public schools to teach at the school. The Arlington, Va.-based NBPTS is a private, nonprofit organization that assesses educators’ abilities through extensive portfolios.

Courses will be taught at night to ensure that classroom educators can attend, Ms. Lynch said. Educators will learn best practices, as outlined by the NBPTS, in 12 classes, each focusing on different areas of teacher leadership, school reform models, and field research.

While the national board did not participate in the design of the school, it “certainly fulfills our vision of what teacher professional development can be,” said Gary Galluzzo, its executive vice president. “This is the kind of thing we talk about ... in our mission.”

Such a program offers educators the opportunity to broaden their knowledge and increase their salaries while remaining in the classroom, said Sandra Westbrooks, the interim dean of the college of education at Chicago State University, which awards about 225 master’s degrees to teachers each year.

Ms. Westbrooks said it is vital that the JVB School earn permanent accreditation and employ standards of excellence. If those requirements are satisfied, she said, she hopes union leaders will tap her faculty to teach at the new school.

The cost of the program for a teacher who enrolls will range between $8,000 and $10,000 a year, an amount similar to that paid by other graduate students attending public and private schools, according to union officials. The institution’s initial $250,000 budget will be financed solely by tuition.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 10, 2002 edition of Education Week as Teachers’ Union Launches School To Train Teachers

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