Educating The Educators

August 8, 2003
Dr. Robert Yinger employs colorful imagery to describe perils facing those who train teachers. "We're kind of the canary in the coal mine," he says, referring to the caged birds miners kept beside them to warn of noxious fumes. Although it's true these are challenging times for those who educate the educators, Baylor's School of Education has an opportunity to create a new model, one that could help reform education throughout the state, says Dr. Yinger, dean of the School.
When regents voted in May to suspend enrollment in three School of Education graduate programs, they took the first of many steps that Dr. Yinger believes must occur if the university model of teacher training is to survive. Those evaluating the changes should think in spans of decades, not years, and in terms of rebuilding, not tweaking, he says.
Dr. Yinger sees external and internal pressures bearing down on educator training in ways he's never experienced before. The external push comes from Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, policies that deregulate how teachers are trained and tax money is spent on education. Internally, Baylor is affected by shrinking enrollments in education programs, the quality of students the University wants as part of its 2012 Vision and the enriched curriculum the School of Education must offer to challenge students.
Politicians have intervened "because they don't trust us to do this work," Dr. Yinger says. "They are saying teachers no longer have to be prepared from high-quality programs, that we can accept them from anywhere, that our degrees, licensure, certification don't mean anything." Calling it the largest federal intervention in education in the history of America, he says it is the result of the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001," the most sweeping reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since it was enacted in 1965.
Internal challenges were apparent for years, but the University's 2012 Vision put them in sharp relief. "Once we started 2012, we realized that this was going to reshape the University in significant ways," Dr. Yinger says. Higher college entrance scores brought students who wanted more rigorous and challenging courses. "We wanted to continue to offer high-quality undergraduate teacher education programs. That's important to our mission, and we have had a significant impact through our graduates historically. But we also knew we weren't going to continue that through quantity; it has to be continued through quality," he says.
That dilemma is a national trend, and in examining other universities, Dr. Yinger found many of them dropped teacher education programs. He also watched Baylor's teacher education enrollment shrink 40 percent in four years, from about 300 to about 180 students. Under the new program, Baylor plans to graduate between 150 to 175 teacher candidates a year.
The decline has to do with student choices influenced by parents and others, he says. When a student scores high on the SAT, relatives and friends typically don't urge him or her toward a teaching career. "They're receiving advice to become doctors or lawyers or professors and go to graduate school," Dr. Yinger says. "That's just a societal problem. It used to be that we told our most talented folks to go into teaching or into one of the other service professions. But that's not a common message today."
After external consultants told Baylor last fall that it needed to re-examine its doctoral programs in educational administration in the School, faculty and administrators knew big changes had to come quickly. Baylor recommended and regents approved the phaseout of doctoral programs in kindergarten through 12th grade administration and higher education administration, plus a master's program that prepares principals. Students already in these programs will be able to complete their degrees, Dr. Yinger says.
Despite this change, Provost David Lyle Jeffrey says that Baylor is not abandoning its commitment to public schools. "It's in the Christian character of Baylor and it's part of the 2012 Vision that we ought to be committed to public education," he says. He adds, though, that the problems with education today are massive and that a Band-Aid approach will not suffice.
"It's not simply a matter of adding this or that but rather a qualitative rethinking of how we're going about education. We're shifting resources away from merely keeping the system the way it always has functioned toward a kind of global rethinking in the way we do education," Dr. Jeffrey says.
In the former model, student enrollment drove the program, but today the question is not how many want to enroll, but where and how Baylor can influence important societal issues. The answers come in four specific areas: teacher education, understanding the learning process, preventive health (health education) and higher education leadership.
Under the new model, Baylor will recruit faculty and define doctoral programs around those areas. "Then we would shape our undergraduate programs to fit both the mission of the University and also feed into these emphases," Dr. Yinger says.
As a result of these changes, at least four doctoral degrees are being considered: learning and development/assessment; higher education; teacher education; and exercise, nutrition and preventive health. The first degree will be reshaped from an existing PhD in educational psychology and the next two are being developed. The fourth one, the doctorate in health and human performance, has been proposed, and Dr. Yinger hopes regents will approve it in 2004.
The School of Education's partnership with the Waco Independent School District will continue and expand Baylor's award-winning collaboration in Professional Development Schools. Under this plan, which began with one school in 1993, Baylor provides tutors and teaching interns to the public schools. Nine more sites became Professional Development Schools last fall. Beginning with the 2004-05 school year, all teacher education candidates at Baylor will participate in a yearlong internship on one of the WISD campuses. This replaces the one-semester student-teacher experience.
This is Dr. Yinger's second time to reform a teacher education program. He directed the Cincinnati Initiative for Teacher Education at the University of Cincinnati. "What we discovered is that teachers were thinking about their work in ways that were diametrically opposed to what they were being taught. So we became interested in teacher learning and development," he says. The project created new curriculum outside of existing programs, which allowed department chairs to keep their programs running. The reformers borrowed faculty for pilot programs. "Then we pushed it back into the system and replaced the old programs with new," he says.
"Bringing Dean Yinger in was a bold move because he is a very highly qualified individual with a distinguished national reputation," Dr. Jeffrey says. "For him, it was a risk. He was being brought into a situation that is not the most advantageous for an administrator in education, one that would present very large challenges fiscally because we would have to rethink it to get the job done."
But Dr. Yinger does not mind taking a risk, especially if the need is there. The bottom line is attracting students who are committed and academically talented. "I love the challenge of building programs and creating new ideas and trying to design something that's a unique response to a need, so I guess I am a problem-solving addict," he says. "And I am more comfortable with risks and experimentation. People who have been doing reform work have a much higher tolerance for ambiguity and risk than most people do."
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