Jean K. Quam: American Dream lives on at the U

  • Article by: JEAN K. QUAM
  • November 27, 2009 - 3:38 PM

In her Nov. 22 column, Katherine Kersten suggested that the future of teacher preparation at the University of Minnesota will be a process of ideological indoctrination denouncing "the American Dream." Just the opposite is true. The American Dream lives and thrives in the College of Education and Human Development.

The college is engaged in a significant rethinking of its teacher education programs, and its main focus is on improving student learning across Minnesota. The Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, with support from education partners throughout the state, will be a national model for preparing teachers for the real challenges of a 21st-century classroom.

We do not take a narrow view of who is an American and who can achieve the dream. We expect and require that teachers of the next half-century take a broad, balanced view of that dream.

As the premier public research institution in the state, the university is uniquely positioned to develop this initiative by connecting ongoing research to teacher preparation programs and to partnerships with school systems in the state. We recognize that now is a critical time to address barriers to student achievement and to give teachers and administrators the tools they need to be effective.

The proposal for this initiative has taken more than a year to develop and has included the work of more than 50 faculty members and Minnesota educators. Seven task groups collected wide-ranging ideas last summer on important areas that inform the initiative: families and communities; special education; technology standards; English language learners; reading; assessment and learning; and race, class, culture and gender. Reports generated by these task groups are not policy, but a set of working ideas brought forward for discussion. The broader scope of the teacher education curriculum will be much more comprehensive than any one set of ideas and is still under development.

Kersten's primary concern is that the initiative addresses the reality of how issues of race, class, culture and gender play out in classrooms and affect student achievement. Her position is that discussion of these issues equates to indoctrination. Our belief is that acknowledging these issues is essential to teacher and student success and that ignoring them will not make them go away.

Research indicates that teachers need to understand that teaching encompasses a range of knowledge and skills, including the teaching of subject matter, shaping teaching processes to build on cultural repertoires and varying abilities of students, and collaboration with other professionals and parents.

The National Academy of Education has outlined key curricular areas for teacher preparation programs, including preparing teachers to work with diverse learning populations. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards also holds as one of its core propositions that teachers are committed to respecting the cultural and family differences students bring to the classroom.

A teacher with expert subject knowledge but without skills to connect with students or to be flexible and inventive in the classroom is an ineffective teacher. Under the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, teacher candidates, regardless of background, will learn how to adapt to diverse learning situations and to diverse learning needs among their students.

We value diversity and encourage exploration of all viewpoints and ideologies. This was recognized by both the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education in its 2006 evaluation of the college and by the Minnesota Board of Teaching.

The Teacher Education Redesign Initiative is not about narrowing teacher preparation along a particular ideology; it's about creating innovative models that allow our teachers to succeed and to in turn cultivate the potential of their students. That means opening up the possibilities of the American Dream to all students.

Jean K. Quam is dean of the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development.

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