Use ‘beat the odds’ schools to train new teachers

If you received millions of dollars to help prepare teachers and wanted to include nearby public schools, wouldn’t you include some of the area’s most effective public schools? Yes, I think many of us would.
Unfortunately, that’s not what some teacher preparation programs are doing as part of their work, supported by the Bush Foundation. In a recent annual report, the Bush Foundation says its goal in providing tens of millions of dollars to improve teacher preparation is “to improve educational achievement for all students and close persistent achievement gaps.”
For several years, Minnesota’s largest daily newspaper, the Star Tribune, has published lists of metro area district and charter public schools that are “beating the odds.” These are schools that have 75 percent or more students from low-income families. They are bringing these youngsters’ reading and/or math skills up to, and in some cases, above, Minnesota’s statewide average.
Wouldn’t you think colleges that want to help the Bush Foundation achieve its goals would include, as partners, public schools that are closing achievement gaps?
So far that’s not what the University of Minnesota is doing. I asked Mistilina Sato, a professor who directs the Bush-funded program at the “U,” which of the metro area’s “beat the odds” schools they were working with as partners.
“None,” she said. “We did not target ‘beat the odds’ schools from this list and in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the district leadership played a role in assigning certain schools to the university for partnership development. We are proud to be in partnership with Brooklyn Center schools and have worked with their high school in their School Improvement Grant, and in Minneapolis with Roosevelt High School, which is in a school turnaround status. We are aiming to be an added value to our school partners in helping them improve student achievement through co-teaching and professional support that we might offer. Maybe one day we will see some of our partner schools on the ‘beat the odds’ list.”
Conversations are a good first step. But several years after the Bush Foundation started providing funds, it’s still not clear whether the teacher preparation programs it is supporting are going to use some of the “beating the odds” schools as “partner” sites to help train new teachers.
I mentioned this to a former teacher, principal, superintendent and Minnesota Department of Education assistant commissioner Mary Ann Nelson. She responded, “Unbelievable. They need to rethink what they are doing.”
I agree. Including some of Minnesota’s most effective public schools as partner/training sites would help more teachers, and more students, succeed.

By Joe Nathan (Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change.
Reactions to his column are welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org)

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