A Letter from the President
Published in Annual Report - 2010
One might regard "Teachers College" as a misnomer when 40 percent of our students are preparing for careers in health and psychology.
But as this Annual Report vividly illustrates, our name has never suited us better. True, we are an eminent professional school that prepares great teachers and school principals-'"as well as health educators, nutritionists, school psychologists, speech pathologists, community organizers and economists. But our impact on society derives from our scholarly prowess and inventiveness. More than any other research institution of its kind, TC has led the way in increasing understanding of how people of all ages learn in all disciplines, how best to teach them what they need to know, and how to transform our findings into actual curricula in classrooms and other settings.
The eight stories featured in the Special Report (beginning on page 13) demonstrate the extraordinary range of high-impact research at Teachers College on learning. You'll discover how TC faculty (and our students!) are:
- Designing advanced mathematics education for very young children;
- Providing diabetes education for health care professionals who help patients manage their disease;
- Educating high school and college students about the national debt, the federal budget deficit and other issues related to fiscal responsibility;
- Training top executives at corporations and non-profits to lead their organizations through major and often volatile change;
- Bringing elementary school teachers-'"including those who have had no formal science preparation-'"up to speed in both science content and pedagogy;
- Educating elementary and middle school students-'"an age group among whom -'obesity has been growing at an alarming rate-'"to change their behaviors around -'nutrition and fitness;
- Creating new paradigms in the teaching of Chinese -'to speakers of other languages;
- Using science-based teaching to enable thousands of children diagnosed with autism and other language deficits to speak and function in mainstream schools.
Our work could not be more timely. Low graduation rates in inner-city schools and the mediocre performance of American students on international tests underscore the need to transform K--12 education. Community colleges, which are the major route to advancement for half of all low-income and minority students in this country, including many students who have come to the United States from other countries, demand greater attention. Upheaval in the global economy has forced adults of all backgrounds to consider returning to school and compelled the nation's civic and business leaders to re-think education itself.
Each effort featured in our report addresses a specific critical need in society:
- Of all the areas in which U.S. schoolchildren trail their counterparts in other leading industrialized nations, gaps in math and science are especially glaring.
- Seventy percent of organization change efforts fail, not to mention a full 75 percent of mergers and acquisitions.
- Diabetes is a burgeoning epidemic that is on pace to afflict 50 million Americans by the year 2050-'"and obesity and poor fitness among current school-aged children are major contributing factors.
- Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders has risen dramatically during the past two decades, particularly in children under the age of three.
- America's $14 trillion debt arguably poses the greatest fiscal threat to our country's future, yet standard economics textbooks for high school and first- and second-year college students barely touch on the issue.
- Chinese is the world's most frequently spoken language, and China is the world's emerging economic super-power.
That standard applies not only to the work spotlighted in the Special Report, but also many other areas of endeavor at the College during the past 12 months. These include:
Our work in city schools
We continue to refine our engagement with urban public schools-'"the heart and soul of TC's mission-'"-'to meet the evolving needs of a rapidly changing student population.
Leadership is perhaps the single most critical factor in school success. Indeed, a recent study-'""School Principals and School Performance," jointly authored by Damon Clark, an economics professor at the University of Florida; Paco Martorell, an economist at the RAND Corp.; and Jonah Rockoff, an economist at the Columbia Business School-'"finds that schools perform better when they are run by experienced principals.
TC is at the cutting edge of helping the best principals get even better. Our 15-month Cahn Fellows Program has served more than 15 percent of New York City principals, who work with more than 200,000 schoolchildren. Launched in 2003, the program recognizes the success of effective principals and provides them with opportunities for professional, intellectual and personal growth. The same study found that principals who participated in the program have improved student performance and the learning environment at their schools. Cahn Fellow-led schools out-performed their peers in terms of student ELA and math scores, attendance, graduation rates, school environment surveys and Department of Education Quality Review. The study's authors concluded that the positive impact of a Cahn Fellowship on student math scores is "roughly the same as the effect of a first-year principal acquiring five years of experience." The report found no statistically significant differences in the student demographics of the schools examined.
Excellent teaching is critical to all schools, especially those serving high-needs populations. This past summer TC welcomed the first cohort of students in Teaching Residents @ Teachers College (TR@TC), a 14-month master's degree program creating intensive urban residencies in which participants apprentice with experienced teachers at high-needs schools. Residents of the program emerge with New York State initial certification to teach in one of three specialized programs: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Intellectual Disabilities-Autism, or Teaching Students with Disabilities (Secondary Inclusive Education). After completing the program, each resident will be required to teach for at least three more years in a high-needs New York City urban school. TR@TC, which is being funded by a $9.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, focuses on the secondary grades, where the need for qualified teachers is greatest.
Yet even the best teachers cannot succeed without tools to address persistent problems that hamper their students. Of these, illiteracy looms especially large, with 75 percent of all high school graduates nationwide deficient in literacy skills. With funding by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a group of TC faculty led by Dolores Perin, coordinator of our Reading Specialist program, has developed literacy coursework for middle and high school preservice teachers predicated on a core belief: While young children learn to read, older students read to learn. This past summer, Professor Perin chaired a major conference at TC (also sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation) on content-area literacy, which holds that struggling older readers can be successful if they tackle more difficult, age-appropriate material rather than texts aimed at younger students-'"particularly if the assigned materials are directly related to their everyday lives or career aspirations. As Professor Perin said, this approach is "an extension of John Dewey's idea that learning is best acquired through active engagement in solving real-life problems."
Making schoolwork exciting and relevant is essential in all disciplines. TC faculty are blazing new trails on this front by using hip-hop both as a bridge to understand the concerns and needs of urban youth and as a medium for engaging young people in the classroom. In March, our Vice President's Office for Diversity and Community Affairs hosted the panel "Education and the Hip-Hop Generation," which explored the intersection of education, hip-hop and the learning processes. As one speaker, Christopher Emdin, TC Assistant Professor of Science Education, has written in his recently published book, Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation, hip-hop, "because it is mostly created by urban youth-'provides insight into the inner workings of their thoughts about the world and, consequently, is a tool for unlocking their academic potential."
Our faculty also are looking for ways to help teachers connect with a student population increasingly composed of young people from other nations and cultures. This past spring, TC's Student Press Initiative concluded a massive project in which students at five New York City schools for recent immigrants anthologized their stories in a five-volume series titled Speaking Worlds. The pieces in the anthology were drafted from interviews conducted in Mandarin, Spanish, French, Haitian, Creole, Urdu, Bangla, Gujarti and Arabic. In May many of the authors converged in TC's Cowin Center to read from their work.
Ensuring healthy communities
If education has become today's global currency, the health of individuals, communities and organizations is the sine qua non for the advancement of teaching and learning.
Advancing health through research and professional training is embedded in TC's DNA. The College was the birthplace of nursing and nutrition education, and one of its earliest leading lights, E.L. Thorndike, introduced the scientific method to research in educational psychology. The field of conflict resolution, a discipline that in turn helped to give rise to social-organizational psychology, also had its beginnings at TC.
Today, our faculty are charting new directions that speak to the most pressing needs of our era. On the most basic level, this work continues to focus on physical well-being. In one striking example, a team led by Charles Kinzer, Professor of Education, has received a $150,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, through the foundation's Health Games Research national program, to develop a smart phone app that emulates the physiological responses smokers get from smoking. The first apps, now in testing, are likely to be for Apple Inc.'s iPhone or iPod Touch. The user would control the game by blowing into the device's microphone in response to different color and sound stimuli coming from the handset. Professor Kinzer and his team hope that playing the game elicits the same brain patterns, heart rate levels and relaxation responses that smokers get from smoking. The game, "Lit: A Game Intervention for Nicotine Smokers," is expected to be released this year.
Other research endeavors target psychological and emotional issues. More than ever before, the world today is marked by intractable conflicts that are highly destructive and perpetuated by conditions of misery and hate. In work recently published in American Psychologist, Peter Coleman, director of TC's International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution and holder of a joint appointment at Columbia University's Earth Institute, proposes a dynamical systems approach to such conflicts that outlines strategies for changing systems of thought, belief and memory.
In interpersonal relations, intractable prejudices and stereotypes can be equally damaging, even or perhaps especially when those who perpetrate them do so on an unconscious level. This past spring, Teachers College psychologist Derald Wing Sue, one of the world's most frequently cited multiculturalism scholars and an expert on issues of discrimination, received the first-ever UnityFirst.com National Diversity and Inclusion Prize for his book, Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation. Professor Sue creates a taxonomy of microaggressions-'"the unintended slights or social cues inflicted by members of a dominant group on minorities-'"and documents the toll they take on the emotional and even physical health of recipients. In a second book published this past year, Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestations, Dynamics, and Impact, he brings together essays by experts in psychology and discrimination-'"many of them his current and former graduate students at TC.
Entrenched attitudes can directly limit economic advancement, as well. As families in poverty seek to transcend their circumstances, the ability of women to rise in the work force is essential. Yet they have often been hampered by the question: Do newborns in the first year of life fare worse when their mothers work? The answer, according to a major study co-authored by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, TC's Virginia & Leonard Marx Professor of Child and Parent Development Education, is essentially "no." In a report that generated international headlines, Professor Brooks-Gunn and her co-authors, Wen-Jui Han and Jane Waldfogel, both professors at the Columbia School of Social Work, looked beyond the scope of parental employment to include extensive data on parent-child interactions, family income, child care and other factors that affect child development. They discovered that while early maternal employment carries some downsides, it also offers some advantages, such as increasing mothers' family income along with the likelihood that children receive high-quality day care. In the tally of advantages and disadvantages that accrue from new mothers working, the net impact on infants is neutral.
Strengthening TC for the future
Our preeminence in education research, policy and practice at the cutting edge has helped to attract talented, ambitious students to TC in ever-increasing numbers. In fall 2009, we welcomed our largest entering class since the mid-1970s-'"only to better that performance this past September with our largest, most diverse and most selective incoming class in the post-World War II era. In all, applications have risen by 17 percent since 2006.
By staying at the cutting edge, we also bring our alumni back. In April 2009, more than 500 alumni attended TC's second annual Academic Festival-'"a day of stimulating panels, presentations and performances by our faculty, alumni, staff and students. Topics included the requirements for founding or leading an innovative school in New York City; advances in technology to support teaching and learning; executive coaching for leadership effectiveness; helping adults refine longstanding skills and learn new ones; promoting nutrition and fitness in schools; and-'"for parents-'"tips for helping kids get into college. The event was highlighted by the first-ever presentation of the TC President's Medal of Excellence to two alumni: His Excellency Nahas Angula, the Prime Minister of Namibia and the architect of that nation's education system following its independence from colonial rule; and Ulysses Byas, a former principal and superintendent who led the fight for better resources for black schools in the American South during the segregation era. We also celebrated the contributions of longtime TC Trustee Joyce Cowin with the dedication of the Cowin Conference Center and honored five distinguished alumni: Raphael Montaez Ortiz, the noted sculptor and founder of Harlem's El Museo del Barrio; Vivian Ota Wang, Program Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute; Viola Vaughn, founder of 10,000 Girls, which provides education and business training to girls throughout Africa; the Reverend Lesley George Anderson, President of the United Theological College of the West Indies; and Luis Rios, Education Consultant at the California Department of Education, who provides assistance to family literacy programs.
The theme for this year's Academic Festival, which will be held here at TC in April 2011, is "Learn and Live Well: Bringing Education to the Table."
Finally, we have launched several broad initiatives to ensure a continuing tradition of groundbreaking work that will keep TC faculty, students and alumni at the cutting edge well into the future.
In 2007 Provost Thomas James created a seed fund to back innovative cross-disciplinary work by our faculty. Over the past three years, the Provost's Investment Fund has awarded more than 40 grants of $20,000 each to support work ranging from a faculty working group on Latina/o education to a symposium that will convene some of the nation's leading experts on creativity. The success of the Fund powerfully confirms Provost James' belief that "innovation cannot be legislated from the top down," and that successful administrations empower faculty to pursue promising research and provide the -'political will to help bring their great ideas and discoveries to scale.
But other conditions are essential to creating a climate conducive for the highest-quality work. That is why, in September, I declared the 2010--11 school year TC's "Year of Research"-'"a time when the College will take major leaps toward rethinking and reinventing education across the human lifespan.
We are redoubling our commitment to bolster research at all stages of development, across all disciplines, and have already adopted measures that will make it easier for faculty to identify and develop funding proposals for research while involving students more closely in the process.
Research will also be a major focus of Teachers College's soon-to-be launched capital campaign-'"an effort that will coincide with our celebration, beginning in late 2012, of the 125th anniversary of the College's founding. The latter, while certainly a moment for taking stock of all we have accomplished in the past, will be, above all, an occasion for envisioning our future. As I told our faculty, students and staff this past fall, when the College celebrates its 250th birthday in 2137, I want eminent historians to describe how Teachers College rethought and reinvented education across the lifespan in ways that our founders never could have imagined.
Susan H. Fuhrman