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A Letter From The President


Susan H. Fuhrman

Susan H. Fuhrman, President of Teachers College, Columbia University

Dear Friends: 

Since its beginnings, Teachers College has defined “education” in the broadest sense, as the experiences that occur not only in classrooms but also in communities, churches, streets, homes and all the other settings of daily life. That view is perhaps best expressed in the thought of the College’s most iconic figure, John Dewey, who argued that education is life and vice versa, and that learning is a process through which the student creates meaning by trying to make sense of his or her environment.

TC also has been known as an education partner to the world, with an enduring commitment to providing policymakers and practitioners with the best and most impartial research-based information.

Nowhere do these two ideals converge more meaningfully than in our efforts to address the nation’s achievement gap—the gulf in opportunities and outcomes that separates poor students and students of color from their wealthier, typically white peers.

As the nation works to overcome that gap, we believe it is critical to keep the Deweyan view of education firmly in mind. Research has repeatedly shown that children from disadvantaged circumstances simply do not come to the starting line equally matched to compete; that they are handicapped by poorer health care, unsafe neighborhoods and unstable housing, broken families and language deficits that stem from parents who themselves are typically products of poor education. These issues become compounded as they attend schools that have fewer qualified teachers and offer less challenging curricula.

This isn’t news. These basic findings have been reiterated in major national documents such as the Coleman Report and A Nation at Risk. What’s far less clear, however, is what to do about it. There are few fields more ideologically contentious than education and few more complex. The idiosyncrasies of individual demographic groups, cities, neighborhoods, classrooms, teachers and students make it especially difficult to tease out precisely what, in a given intervention, affects student learning and achievement.

This past winter, our Campaign for Educational Equity launched Equity Matters, a sweeping initiative to research what’s known about what works in closing the gap and to identify what still needs to be asked. Those writing the Equity Matters reviews—faculty and students from TC, as well as researchers from other institutions—have cast a wide net. Taken together, their work focuses on 12 areas that bear directly on our ability to close the gap—from pre-k and curriculum to preventive health measures and special education; from appropriate class size and effective after-school programs to bilingual education and the effects of school segregation.

Beginning on page seven of this Annual Report, we bring you a preview of the findings from these reviews. Their combined effect is quite powerful, and I believe the reviews will serve as a road map for the future of education research for many years to come.

The Equity Matters initiative also illustrates TC’s power to bring its best minds together across multiple disciplines. There have been a number of other developments at TC this past year that also have served to unite the institution and its many strengths. These include:

  • Partnering, more closely than ever before, with New York City public schools—particularly in our surrounding neighborhood.

    During summer 2007 we hired Nancy Streim, an expert on university-public school collaboration, to head our new Office of School and Community Partnerships. During 2008, under Nancy’s leadership and with the aid of a major foundation grant, we will announce a group of local schools we will provide with our resources and with whom we will share responsibilities for students’ academic performance. We will also plan a new pre-k through 8 school in collaboration with the community, the Department of Education, the United Federation of Teachers and Columbia University. In so doing, we reconnect with the days when TC ran its own “laboratory school,” not only serving the children of New York City, but accessing valuable knowledge that shaped and reshaped the College’s curriculum.
  •  Extending our involvement with the education systems of other countries.

    As 2008 began, we received a grant from India’s Khemka Foundation to help create and assess a leadership curriculum for Indian high school students. TC faculty and students are working closely with a growing number of schools across India to implement this work.

Our partnership with the education ministry of Jordan continues to blossom. TC is helping Jordan strengthen its preservice teaching preparation, the performance of its inservice teachers in math, science and English language learning, and its instructional leadership preparation for principals and education supervisors. Eleven Jordanian school teachers visited TC in summer 2007 to participate in our program for the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages. In November and December 2007, Columbia and TC sponsored a researcher-in-residence in Amman to conduct a needs assessment of Jordan’s educational improvement priorities. In 2008 we will participate in a design retreat with Jordanian educators to develop a preservice curriculum and offer a number of short workshops.

TC also is active in Africa. With funding from the Soros Foundation Network, the College is offering a course on international education policy studies jointly with the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. In Tanzania, a team of TC students led by Professor Fran Vavrus has begun a curriculum development project for secondary schools. And TC’s Center for African Education continues to support the School Fees Abolition Initiative led by UNICEF and the World Bank.

We continue to develop our education ties in Japan, China, Bolivia, Iceland, Ghana and other nations. And early in 2008, we announced the appointment of Dr. Portia Williams as Director of International Affairs, reporting to me. A TC alumna with more than 13 years of experience in education and training, international development and community development programming, Portia serves as the first point of contact for internal and external constituencies regarding TC’s institutionally focused international activities.

During the past year, we also added two important new members to our Board of Trustees. They are Dawn Duques, an alumna, educator and long-time member of our other advisory boards, and Marla Schaefer, another alumna and the former co-CEO of Claire’s Stores. We also lost a valued member when R. Thomas Zankel, the son of our late Board Vice Chair, Arthur Zankel, passed away at far too young an age.

And we were also joined by a new Vice President of Development and External Affairs, Suzanne Murphy, formerly of Sarah Lawrence College. Suzanne—yet another alumna; they do come back to us!—is a dynamic leader who brings a track record of success and a deep commitment to TC’s mission.

So there is much to celebrate at Teachers College and much new work to be done. Our impact on education, locally, nationally and worldwide—and thus our power to improve human lives—has the potential to be greater than ever before. I look forward to realizing that potential in the months and years ahead.

Susan H. Fuhrman


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