NYU Partnership School Program

PTE Host School Visits NYU - Ed Crowe report June 2008

The PTE evaluator visited four New York University host schools. Visits were arranged by NYU staff, in cooperation with host school liaisons and school administrators at all four schools. Appreciation is expressed to Rosa Pietanza for her help in setting up the visits and for making the school visit process as smooth as possible. Bob Tobias accompanied me to the first two schools, and he also provided very helpful information.

I. Summary of Learning Partner Activities in the Host Schools

Learning Partners (LPs) were expected to take part in a range of activities at the NYU host schools during the academic year. The two-page attachment summarizes the PTE evaluator visits to four NYU host schools. The second page has a checklist showing finding from the visits regarding activities by Learning Partners in each of the four schools. Interviews with the LPs, and with others identified in the summary provided evidence that Learning Partners took part in these activities:

  • LPs in all four schools spent time observing teachers and students in at least one classroom;
  • LPs at all four schools assisted teachers in a variety of ways during their observation experiences. Details about this work are included later in the report;
  • At all four NYU host schools, Learning Partners worked with a single student and with a small group of students. Their work with these students is discussed later in the report;
  • In three of the four schools, NYU LPs were able to visit other classrooms in the school to observe a different teacher; and,
  • At two of the four schools, LPs took part in departmental (e.g., math or science) or school-wide teacher meetings and events. More below on this activity.

II. Observations and Comments

For the NYU host schools visited by the PTE evaluator, the approximate number of Learning Partners placed in the school was 13-15 during the 2007-08 school year at Isaac Newton Middle School; up to 10 LPs during the year at New Design High School; 50 (?) at Essex Academy; and 5 at University Neighborhood High School. [Note—not clear about the total number of LPs at UNHS, and 50 reported for Essex is based on notes of a conversation with the host school liaison].

All four of the host schools had NYU student teacher placements. From interview discussions, all four have a practice of hiring NYU student teachers as teachers. The student teacher experience and school hiring practices are discussed below in sections III and IV.

From the visits and interviews, it appears as though there is more structure and focus to the LP experience in some host schools than in others. School personnel made various suggestions for improvement, and these are discussed at the end of this section. Examples where structure and focus were evident include:

  • LPs, student teachers and tutors were involved in team teaching (appropriate to their roles and experience levels) at University Neighborhood High School;
  • Learning Partner one-on-one experience with seniors at Essex Academy;
  • LPs attended and participated in school-wide panels at Essex, where juniors and seniors present their work to teachers and members of the community.

For all NYU Learning Partners, there appears to be a definite advantage to the linkage between their school observation experience and the Inquiries course, where they can “process” their experiences and discuss them with fellow students placed in different schools. These inner city or urban school settings are important and new experiences for many of the Learning Partners, quite different from their own high schools. Interview subjects used various descriptive phrases for the host school settings (contrasting them with high school experiences of the LPs), such as eye opening, educational, challenging, or strikingly different. In turn, the schools commented favorably on the value of having so many NYU-affiliated people spending time in these schools, working with students, teachers, and administrators. The liaison at one host school reported that one of her students is graduating from the high school because of the work of an LP with that student. The volume of contacts, of course, also presents coordination problems, and these were brought up in the interviews. Specific suggestions for improvement were made by those interviewed, as noted later in this report.

In addition to the activities that LPs were expected to participate in, several of the NYU host schools took steps to enrich their experiences. At University Neighborhood High School (UNHS), for example, the LPs were invited to teacher professional development activities. They also did “inter-visitations” to other classrooms within the building. The university liaison to UNHS holds open meetings that include Learning Partners, student teachers, cooperating teachers, and others. This is another vehicle to reduce isolation and engage LPs in the culture and organization of the school.

At Essex Academy, NYU Learning Partners went beyond the expected set of activities and worked with high seniors at risk of not graduating from the high school. For each Essex student in this group, the LP had five sessions working one-on-one with the student, five sessions observing the student in his or her classroom setting, a session with the student’s faculty adviser, and a meeting with the assistant principal/host school liaison. Through this process, Essex intentionally established a mechanism for the LP to get to know one student closely, with time for observing and working with the student in multiple settings. Of equal importance to the Essex LP learning experience, the process provided multiple vantage points or windows into student learning and student life at the school. It also gave the LP two or more student-focused interactions with school professionals (the adviser and the AP).

During the visit to New Design High School, there was more discussion about the role and work of NYU student teachers than about the Learning Partners. Even so, the LPs placed in this host school were able to participate in the full range of expected activities (see the summary checklist). They also took part in school-wide professional development days, scheduled every three weeks at this school. They received feedback from their cooperating teachers during planning sessions, they observed teachers in other classrooms, and they participated in regular debriefing sessions after their observations. At any one time, New Design hosts 4-10 Learning Partners.

While Learning Partners from NYU were placed at Isaac Newton, the PTE evaluator was not able to interview any on the day of the scheduled host school visit.

One challenge in creating purposeful experiences for beginning student teachers is to give enough structure and direction so that they view the time spent in schools as productive and connected to other coursework and program goals. LPs at UNHS all had a project they worked on in the school during the semester, something that resulted in sustained activity over a period of time. The one-on-one experiences at Essex with high school students at risk of not graduating on time offered structure of a different kind—including regular interaction with adult school professionals who could help the LPs reflect on and interpret the experiences they were observing and participating in.

Recommendations

As part of the interview protocol, the PTE evaluator asked each person interviewed for suggestions that might improve the LP experience or the host school relationship with NYU. The most common suggestion was to increase the number of LP hours in the school, making sure that their experiences are connected as directly as possible with their coursework and program goals at NYU. From conversations with NYU officials (particularly with Rosa Pietanza, who was very helpful in setting up the four school visits), changes have been made for the 2008-09 academic year that are responsive to these concerns. Here is a summary of the comments and suggestions made by interviewees:

  • LP school observation hours should be increased—one hour per week is not enough to engage the NYU students in the life of the school, or in the needs/issues of the classroom of their cooperating teacher (apparently this change will be made, taking effect in fall 2008);
  • Need expressed for improved planning and debriefing opportunities; leaders at one school, for example, felt that the LPs did not believe that teachers or the liaison were a part of their teacher development (the LPs were unresponsive to phone calls and email messages);
  • Cooperating teachers in the host schools don’t always have clear expectations from NYU about what to do or how the LP school activities should/do relate to NYU program goals and learning objectives;
  • Cooperating teachers need training and support on mentoring strategies;
  • Placement of elementary education LPs in one high school was a source of concern to the NYU students;
  • The principal, host school liaison, and university liaison should meet more regularly. This is one of several suggestions made to improve communication and collaboration. One host school liaison reported there was too little organized and regular communication, describing this as a “missing link” at NYU;
  • Leaders at another school felt that the list of goals and central questions from NYU, to be provided for the 2008-09 placements, will help shape what the school does in working with LPs. These individuals felt NYU was responding to their concerns about the 2007-08 experience by taking steps to communicate expectations and learning goals more clearly to the LPs.

III. Summary of NYU Activities in the Host Schools

The two-page attachment offers a thumbnail summary of NYU activities in or with the host schools, such as involvement of school faculty in co-taught courses; the role of social work students in one school; and NYU tutors from the America Reads program. The host school visits provided plenty of evidence that NYU has an extensive broad presence in these four schools. In addition to placing Learning Partners and student teachers in the four host schools, the NYU-host school partnership included other dimensions.

  • Faculty from each of the four host schools co-taught a course with NYU faculty;
  • NYU students from the America Reads program tutored students at all four schools. These NYU students were in addition to the LPs and student teachers, and they comprised a large contingent at one of the schools;
  • Three of the four host schools reported to the evaluator that the school has hired one or more NYU student teachers to join the faculty as a regular teacher;
  • For at least three of the four schools, NYU graduates (in addition to the newly-hired student teachers) are on the teaching faculty;
  • Social work students and faculty from NYU have been actively involved with students and families at one of the high schools.

The full range of NYU activities in the four host schools is broader than this summary. Some of the work is not directly relevant to the Partnership for Teacher Excellence (PTE), although any engagement that strengthens the connections between school and university has clear benefits for the preparation of teachers who have experiences as Learning Partners or student teachers in these schools. The PTE evaluator visiting four NYU host schools learned about the Summer Bridge Program at UNHS, discovered that dozens of NYU students were reading tutors in these schools, and heard about research projects taking place in the schools with their cooperation. As one principal said approvingly, NYU’s engagement has promoted a culture of “studying everything”. At New Design HS, new teachers are coached by NYU and by senior teachers.

At more than one school, leaders and teachers reported that having teachers and administrators involved in NYU activities created feelings of professionalism. For the student teachers in these schools, the host school-university partnership led to their involvement in faculty meetings, the Homework Help Room at UNHS, school wide professional development days, and in department and grade-level teacher meetings. Student teachers in one school took part in teacher planning meetings and in parent-teacher conferences.

Interviewees at two schools indicated that, through placement in these host schools, student teachers were getting solid experience with difficult students in challenging situations. This includes classroom management experience in these settings, with reports from cooperating teachers that the student teachers are improving their skills in the classroom.

Through the host school activities, Learning Partners and student teachers are developing deeper knowledge and understanding about school culture. For instance, one host school liaison organized periodic lunches for all student teachers and cooperating teachers, helping to reduce the isolation of STs, and enabling them to feel part of the school. For teachers in the host schools, co-teaching NYU classes was viewed as a benefit of the partnership. This attitude was expressed by teachers and by principals. One school leader described the feeling of professionalism that came from teacher participating in these university activities.

IV. Observations and Comments

While it is too early to assess the teaching skills and pupil effectiveness of the NYU Learning Partners and student teachers placed in the host schools, there are some indications that these experiences have potential to make a positive difference. As suggested by the comments cited above, the NYU student experiences are very different from those in “typical” teacher education programs. Earlier and fuller immersion in the life of urban schools is likely to help student teachers acquire more of the knowledge and classroom expertise that are essential prerequisites for pupil learning. These experiences also will enable the NYU students to make more informed decisions about employment offers as new teachers. The “jump” from student to new teacher, for those who begin their professional careers in NYC schools, will be far less traumatic than for new teachers without these experiences. Knowledge of school (and pupil) culture, practices, and challenges comes from direct experience. Moreover, it is apparent to the PTE evaluator that host school leaders and teachers are taking many steps to ensure that the complexity of urban schooling is fully revealed to the LPs and STs—its positive aspects and those that pose challenges for all concerned.

Even without objective measures—yet—of teaching skills and pupil effectiveness for the New York University students who are learning to become teachers in these host schools, there are at least two early indicators that the trajectory toward success is in the right direction. One of these indicators is purely impressionistic on the part of the evaluator: the contrast between the usual and customary experiences of student teachers and those of the NYU students observed in these schools suggests that the host school-university partnership is addressing the profound and systematic disconnect between the campus and the real world of schooling that are characteristic of most teacher education programs in the United States. From the comments and suggestions for improvement that are noted below, the NYU component of the Partnership has not eliminated the disconnect completely, but important steps have been taken in this regard. As one principal told the interviewer, the NYU faculty and students coming to the school are talking about teaching and learning. As a result, there is a higher level of awareness of these issues throughout the school, and this helps the school to take itself seriously.

The second positive indicator that NYU’s role in these schools holds promise for meeting the key outcomes of the PTE is that NYU student teachers placed in the school during the 2007-08 academic year have been hired to be new teachers at three of the four host schools (Essex Academy, New Design, and Isaac Newton Middle School). In addition, UNHS, Essex Academy, and Isaac Newton have other current teachers who are NYU graduates. In fact, five of the seven members of the science faculty at University Neighborhood are graduates of NYU.

Recommendations

As part of the host school visit protocol, the PTE evaluator asked each person interviewed for improvement suggestions. Some interviewees made comments about future goals and strategies within a particular school (or across the set of NYU host schools). Both sets of ideas are summarized here:

  • At one school, the host school relationship has been rewarding enough that the principal has specific goals in mind for deepening the impact of the partnership by drawing on NYU resources to inform classroom management strategies, engage faculty, teachers and student teachers in collaborative team teaching; and having NYU help the school to perfecting its curriculum plan;
  • It was also suggested that NYU offer a course at UNHS or another partnership school that enrolls teachers from several of the host schools;
  • The comment was made at more than one host school that supervising teachers are not giving productive feedback, and don’t have recent teaching experience in similar schools. An implication of these comments is that supervising teachers have too little knowledge or understanding of schools like these host schools to be effective in their roles;
  • Similarly, an assistant principal reported that supervising teachers provide feedback that is not consistent with what student teachers hear from their cooperating teachers or from other teachers in the school. This person went on to say that feedback to student teachers at the school from regular NYU faculty is fine, but that other supervising teachers are not so good in this regard;
  • The comment was made that improved communications between NYU and the school, its cooperating teachers, and student teachers would help to ensure that everyone has clear expectations from NYU about what to do during the student teaching experience;
  • Addressing the expectations issue might be helped by the suggestion from a current student teacher, who recommended that NYU faculty should develop a “tight timeline” for the ST experience, making it clear what to do and when it should happen during the student teaching experience. It was suggested that this document could be the basis for a calendar or schedule (i.e., a detailed organizing framework on student teaching) provided to NYU faculty, cooperating teachers, and student teachers.

Finally, there were ideas for involving the NYU student teachers more deeply in the culture of the host schools. One cooperating teacher suggested that student teachers would have a richer experience if they were part of after-school programs at the schools, attended faculty meetings, and participated in other school wide activities. Another person indicated that it was a problem that student teaching is not a full time experience at a school—it was described as “teach a few hours and then go back to NYU”. The principal at another school suggested that student teachers should begin their work at the host school a week before the start of classes and stay until the end of the school year.

V. Summary of Findings on Host School Goals and Activities

At each of the four schools, teachers, assistant principals, and principals were asked to comment on the goals they hoped would be achieved for the school by being an NYU host school.

  • University liaison an asset to the school (UNHS)
  • Recognition and respect for the professional status of teachers in the host schools, through such activities as school faculty giving talks, teachers taking NYU courses, and teacher roles as adjunct faculty in co-taught NYU courses;
  • Hopes for positive impact on students of the host school partnership: interviewees reported numerous examples, such as juniors and seniors taking NYU classes (Essex); improved outcomes for individual high school students as a result of work by NYU students and faculty; and having 50-60 high school students case managed by MSW students, social workers, and student teachers at New Design;
  • In another case, the significant number of NYU students and faculty involved in the school (e.g., university liaison, student teachers, cooperating teachers, social work students) allows the school to make progress toward its objective of having individualized relationships with every high school student
  • Host school impact at Newton has resulted support for the idea that professional development plans for teachers are real, not just an exercise. This has led to improved focus on providing effective tools to individual teachers enabling them to evaluate and reflect on their teaching practice.

There were many other examples of benefit to the host schools cited during the interviews. Some are described in the material under other headings in this report. As the NYU-school relationships have evolved and deepened, this progress is leading school administrators to imagine and work toward additional future benefits to the school, its teachers and its students. Like the willingness of host schools to hire NYU student teachers to join the teaching faculty, the fact that school leaders have concrete thoughts about how to expand the schools’ relationship with NYU is an important indicator of the extent to which the partnership has met host school goals and expectations.

Among the ideas proposed during the host school visits were these:

  • Teams of professional students (e.g., medical, dental, social work, and education) working together with school faculty and students as a team;
  • Improve the Partnership teacher forums by giving them a subject or topic focus, and holding them during the school day;
  • Principals and assistant principals at several host schools would like to see more on-site teaching of NYU methods and Inquiries courses;
  • Hold topic-specific forums for teachers at the host schools, and invite both teachers and administrators from other local schools to attend;
  • Various strategies and suggestions for improving placements of Learning Partners and student teachers also were proposed by interviewees. These are discussed in sections II and IV above.

VI. Final Observations and Comments

The desire of host school leaders and teachers for deeper and more structured engagement with NYU—expressed in different ways at the schools—is an indicator of success so far in meeting host school goals through the PTE. Their suggestions for future directions can be viewed as a roadmap to develop strategies to sustain and institutionalize the partnership, so that it goes beyond individuals and their interests to encompass mutual inter-dependence between NYU and its host schools. These four host school visits support the idea that major steps have been taken in this direction, and they also suggest that further development of the university-school partnerships will strengthen the clinical experiences and outcomes for NYU students.

By their nature, the host school evaluation visits did not provide information about changes that may be underway in the curriculum content of NYU’s teacher preparation program. The visits indicate clearly that significant steps are taking place at the four visited schools—and perhaps others as well—to improve the clinical component of the preparation program. The experiences of NYU students in these four schools are quite different from those of students in “typical” teacher preparation programs, just as the clinical sites themselves differ in important respects. The traditional routine is to view identification of placement sites and arrangements for student teaching at those sites as accomplishments in themselves, with little attention paid to the quality of the placements or the results for knowledge and skills development by teacher candidates.

Because of New York City’s school reform agenda, these four host schools are not typical of the schools where most teacher candidates in the United States (and perhaps in New York City) obtain their clinical experience. Through the evolving working relationships between these schools and NYU, their value as clinical sites appears to be improving in the view of this observer. The schools themselves show evidence of a focus on learning outcomes, student and teacher development, assessment and accountability, such that each school is far more than a collection of independent classrooms under one roof. School teachers and administrators appear to see themselves and function as agents of learning and change. There is an intense, almost driven, focus on the needs and lives of students enrolled in these schools.

As a result of the school culture, NYU Learning Partners and student teachers in these four schools are experiencing far more than the individual placements with solo practitioners that characterize most teacher education programs. By itself, this is a major step toward solving a critical problem in the development of student teachers. As suggested elsewhere in this report, of course, this is no guarantee that NYU students who have these experiences will come to demonstrate the knowledge and teaching skills that produce measurable impact on pupil learning. Those outcomes are empirical questions that will be addressed as the project continues. In the meantime, placements in host schools, the related activities discussed in this report, and consideration of the suggestions for improvement made by interviewees are likely to improve the odds that NYU students with these experiences will, in fact, come to possess the requisite knowledge and skills to have a positive effect on pupil learning in the schools of New York City.

Finally, the host school visits described in this report uncovered the creation of what might be called “new roles” for particular individuals in the partnership between schools and university. The university liaisons and host school liaisons are the persons who occupy these roles. In the phrase used by some education reformers, they function as “boundary spanners” across the two cultures of school and university (Goodlad, Romances with Schools: A Life of Education, 2004). In fact, these individuals work in two diverse educational cultures.

The observations that follow in this paragraph come solely from the evaluator, and are not the result of interview comments by the host school liaison. One host school liaison typifies the strengths and challenges of this role (Goodlad also called them “hybrid educators”). This person teaches in one of the NYU host schools, is a cooperating teacher for NYU student teachers, teaches a section of an NYU methods course, and is a doctoral student at the university. The success of the host school experience for NYU students owes a lot to the ability of this individual to function effectively in these multiple roles. From the vantage point of the school, an aspect of effectiveness comes from respectand status within the host school. The same individual is respected within the university for ability, energy, knowledge, and skills. However, a public school teacher—even one who spans these boundaries so effectively—has limited status in the culture of a university.

Sustaining the long-term vision of teacher preparation at the heart of the Partnership for Teacher Excellence requires that those functioning in these boundary-spanning roles be accorded high status and respect in both cultures. It will be a major contribution to the reform of teacher preparation in the United States if the partners can foster, nurture, and sustain individuals in these roles. A fundamental requirement for success will be the attainment of faculty-like status and respect within the culture of the university. This applies to the host school liaisons and to the university liaisons. If teaching is a clinical practice profession, the cross-culture clinical “experts” must be recognized as such on both sides of the divide.