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Troubling national reports on education provide opportunity for UF to shine

Published: Nov 20th, 2006 •• Category: Press Releases

We are now well into the fall, and time seems to be flying by. Homecoming was early this year (October 6) and as usual, COE was well represented in the parade by our Education College Council float in partnership with the College of Engineering. The student ice cream social was a huge success with the line getting bigger every year. Perhaps the lure of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream was the main attraction as the deans dished it out. The next fun event for the college will be the Haunted House Night on October 29, when the legends of Norman Hall come alive in a spooky atmosphere quite different from the environment students experience during the day. Visit our coE-News article for a preview of what to expect.

All these fun events for students are counterbalanced by a series of troubling national reports that have been issued in the past few weeks. The first one was by Arthur Levine, the former president of Teachers College-Columbia, and purported to be a research study of teacher education programs at institutions across the country. While Dr. Levine did provide some useful and challenging recommendations to faculty within teacher education, overall many people found it disappointing that a former president of an institution well known for its academic rigor and quality in teacher education basically reiterated many of the same criticisms of the field that have long been addressed by major colleges of education. In our case, we are already following (and have done so for many years) his recommendations to develop long-term partnerships with school districts in terms of professional development schools, offer a five-year program (known as ProTeach at UF), establish mechanisms for quality control, and encourage faculty to build a substantive link between research and practice. All people have to do is read the Education Times (the latest issue is now out) to find numerous examples of faculty scholarship that does exactly what he prescribed. The one area we do need to improve on is establishing a link between the quality of preparation our teacher candidates receive, and student learning in the classroom. We fully acknowledge the importance of this work, and several faculty are already in touch with Florida Department of Education people to gain access to databases that will enable us to determine the impact of teacher preparation on student achievement.

The second report was issued by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education that was formed by U.S. DOE Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings. While this report did not critique colleges of education in particular, the Commission’s findings will have a major impact on all institutions of higher education. Rather surprisingly, I believe this report will create a unique opportunity for colleges of education to shine on their campuses, since many of the concerns listed in the report are those that we have been grappling with for years, including a stronger focus on instruction and the assessment of student learning, and the need to provide greater access for low-income students to higher education.

A third report, produced by the Education Sector, challenges the basis of national rankings as being overly concerned with input measures such as SAT/GRE scores, acceptance rates, and peer rankings that privilege already well-known schools, and which do not consider outcomes more meaningful to society in terms of students’ long-term career paths and institutional commitment to civic engagement and greater diversity. The theme of our Centennial Conference, “Closing the Achievement Gap through Partnerships,” is an excellent example of our college’s commitment to making a difference in high-poverty, highly diverse families, schools, and communities.

While our college does well on the traditional indicators, I believe we would do even better than some of our peers on these new criteria, and I would welcome a national debate on this issue. Maybe our next conference….?

– Dean Emihovich