Partnerships for Excellence


James Vivian (director, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute):

Thank you. I welcome the opportunity this morning because it seems to me there is great value in the challenge of digesting, reflecting, and commenting on a week as richly informative as this one. I want to concentrate on three things. First, I would like to bring some historical perspective into consideration by reflecting on how far we have come, on at least a few topics, since the Yale meeting in 1983. Second, I will comment on the central issues two and one-half years ago when we met there. Finally, I will talk briefly about one topic that received an emphasis in 1983 that it has not received here. It is a topic that we should continue to stress when we talk about collaboration.

The 1981 Colorado Springs meeting, which I did not attend, appears to have been an historic breakthrough in direct communications between leaders of schools, colleges, and universities from across the nation. The continuation of that dialogue has had considerable practical value in establishing programs and initiatives, and in eroding some of the mythology on both sides that still, at times, impedes our work and obscures the profound relatedness of all the individual institutions in our educational enterprise. In fact, at the 1983 meeting a number of the participants remarked on the notable absence of that kind of mythology in our discussions. The purpose of that meeting, as many of you will recall, was to draw national attention to the role that colleges and universities can and must play in strengthening teaching in the nation s public schools. I would note that that was our agenda before the rising tide of reports and studies issued beginning shortly after we met in New Haven.

I would note also that in 1983 it was not immediately obvious that we would focus on teachers. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching had commissioned Gene Maeroff, education editor for the New York Times, to prepare a special report surveying collaborative experiments underway across the country. Gene discovered and categorized a wide variety of programs. In his report the section on teaching is, however, a short one, and he noted there that the small number of collaborative programs across the country that addressed teaching was truly a "sad commentary" on where the partnership movement stood.

In 1982 the committee of chiefs that helped in planning the Yale meeting, especially Gordon [Ambach], urged that we concentrate on the view that we at Yale shared, the view that teaching is central to the educational process. That teaching has continued to be the focus for much of the Mellon Project and for this institute strikes me as significant. This is a signal of our priorities that we sent out from the Yale conference and will send out from this institute.

The 1983 conference concentrated on practice, on case studies of collaborative programs underway across the country, and on dialogue among the chiefs, presidents, and chancellors who were attending. Four recurring themes in their discussions were the issues of prestige, power, pay, and preparation for school teachers. There was general agreement among the parties present in 1983 that they might best work together on the preparation of teachers and thereby on the status of the profession There was a concern throughout the conference about attracting, preparing, and retaining the best possible teachers, while at the same time fostering the morale, rewards, and further preparation of individuals already in the profession. Barbara Newell said at that time that we must make sure that all in the education profession share in the rapidly changing fields of human knowledge, and that collaborative programs must therefore be far broader than the schools of education and must involve the entire university community.

At the Yale meeting there was a realistic understanding that collaboration is no panacea in public education, but that it can assist teachers in specific ways. There was also an evident concern that the effective practices presented there be applied more widely and systematically. So we ended with a conviction, as Craig Phillips stated, that the real model that had been presented was the model of collaboration itself that it can be done. But I would also recall Craig s comment on the concluding panel about the massiveness of the undertaking, considering that there are more than 80,000 public schools in this country.

There is not time this morning to talk about all of the issues from the 1983 meeting as they have been reflected in the discussions here. I begin with an observation about what strikes me as the most sobering message to come out of this meeting. Speaker after speaker has referred to the necessity of radical action if we are to bring about meaningful change in teaching. Judy Lanier, [Dean, College of Education, Michigan State University] spoke of the enduring traditions of the profession as "dysfunctional." Frank Newman [President, Education Commission of the States] spoke of this as a favorable time for radical action and coached us on some techniques and approaches. Albert Shanker [President, American Federation of Teachers] proposed major structural changes in the teaching profession. Mike Timpane [President, Teachers College, Columbia University] spoke of re-thinking the profession as "a root and branch operation." Now, if I had been a journalist at this meeting, I would leave noticed that speakers repeatedly used that kind of language.

I mention, then, only two topics in relation to our discussion in 1983; first, the idea of what, in fact, the teaching profession is. In 1983 we spoke, on the one hand, of the negative consequences that have resulted from the stratification or horizontal divisions in teaching, and, on the other hand, of the benefits of colleagueship among English, or science, or mathematics, or other types of teachers without respect to the age of their students. So, in thinking about collaboration and the reform or radical action needed to reconstruct the teaching profession in this country, it is, in my view, essential that we conceive of the profession as a whole, embracing the entire education community.

Second, with respect to the preparation of teachers, the emphasis here has been on preservice education and the first years of teaching As we began on Monday, Gordon Ambach listed five factors important in strengthening the practice of teaching. The fifth, which he termed "the continuing opportunity to learn," was stressed in 1983, but has received less attention here. So I would like this morning quickly to pull together some of the threads of the discussion throughout the week that relate to that point. We have heard, for instance, about the problems of retention: that individuals who remain in teaching are disproportionately from the lower quintiles; that there is little correlation between length of experience in teaching and effectiveness in the classroom; that lack of intellectual stimulation, collegial relationships, and serious discourse with adults marks the profession; that the recency of the teacher's own learning is an important factor in student learning; and that teachers are the largest white-collar group in need of continuing education at a time when lifelong learning has become a reality in our society.

To those points I would add another nationwide, a high percentage of teachers have minimal formal preparation in their subjects. Let me illustrate by referring to the New Haven public schools. In that school system fewer than sixty percent of secondary teachers in the humanities and only about one-third of those in mathematics and science majored in college or graduate school in the subject they are currently teaching. Moreover, because scholarship in these fields is constantly changing, even if a high proportion of teachers had majored in the subjects they teach, they would still need to stay abreast of the new developments in their fields.

The present state of teacher preparation in the humanities and sciences will not be readily improved as a result of new teachers entering the profession. Nationwide, in the latest year for which these statistics are available, only about sixty-two percent of newly graduated teachers in the arts and humanities and about forty-four percent of those in science and mathematics were either certified or eligible for certification in the field they were currently teaching. There are already well-publicized shortages of qualified teachers in some subjects in certain areas of the country, even though the National Center for Education Statistics projects that the total demand for secondary school teachers will continue to decline through 1988. These shortages may well become more widespread as the children of the "baby boomlet," who began this year to increase total elementary school enrollment, begin in the early 1990s to enter secondary school.

Moreover, in many districts like New Haven, the current rate of teacher turnover remains at a very low level. In so stable a teaching force, many individuals are reassigned to teach subjects they have never taught before, or have not taught recently. I would remind you of the New Haven teacher Ernie Boyer talked about earlier in the week, the teacher who was conducting a very engaging class on Oliver Twist. That teacher had spent four years in the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute studying subjects in literature and history, had received a special fellowship for summer study in England, and was in the year following Ernie s visit assigned to teach mathematics because he was the best qualified mathematics teacher available for the position in that particular school. I tell the story to illustrate the problem of low turnover and frequent reassignments for teachers in terms of the additional preparation such reassignments require. In short, to strengthen teaching in public schools, we must provide for the ongoing preparation of individuals already in the profession, as well as those now entering teaching. I say this by way of a reminder from the Yale conference that we know how collaborative programs and collegial relationships among teachers that stress common problems in teaching their disciplines can further prepare teachers in their subjects, keep them up-to-date in their fields, heighten their morale, and encourage them to remain in teaching. This kind of collaboration remains a most natural, logical, fruitful, and timely alliance. I would add that the collaborative work in this vein that we undertake now can begin to create the professional life, the conditions for teaching, that will help to attract and to retain those individuals whom we wish to enter and to remain in the profession.

I close with two final observations. First, in 1983 there was a greater precision and clarity in our use of the term collaboration. At that time it implied collegiality. Here the term has been used in broader and more varied ways. As we continue our work together, we will need to sharpen our use of the terms that apply to partnerships of institutions and to collegial work among teachers from those institutions. That we are only beginning this work is best illustrated by the Department of Education s survey last year, to which more than 9,000 out of almost 17,000 school districts responded. Of the partnerships that those districts reported, only about five percent were partnerships with colleges and universities, while mole than two-thirds were with businesses. In my view, our colleges and Universities must become a much larger element in the partnership movement.

Finally, I must make a point with respect to resources. Here we have heard very diverse views expressed. Steve Kaagan spoke about the power of small amounts of money and how, in that sense, the Mellon Project has been immensely valuable and will continue to be so. We also heard about the need to reallocate existing resources, including different models for bartering resources. We heard too, what to me is a striking comment that school improvement is too important to be left to volunteerism and a related concern about providing financial rewards sufficient to foster serious and lasting collaboration among university and school teachers.

Where will we find these resources? In the latest two-year period for which the Council on Foundations has compiled grants information, total foundation support across the country for all projects concerned with teaching in schools was less than $4.5 million. Only a fraction of that amount went to collaborative programs. Obviously, we cannot look to private foundations for the level of resources that will be necessary to promote the systematic and widespread establishment of collaborative programs. More important, I am convinced that collaborative programs that strengthen teaching will not be sustained if they exist on the fringes of institutions, or on the fringes of teachers' professional lives. Unless partnerships are supported and rewarded as central professional activities, they will lack rigor and status, and will not be taken seriously.

In conclusion, a measure of our own seriousness about collaboration will be the extent to which our schools, colleges, and universities across the country will have joined in supporting collaborative work financially. That is an issue that over time we will have to address if the movement for university/school collaboration is to continue to progress. Thank you very much.


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