A Renewed Sense of Purpose
By Diane Dobry
Ten years ago, the U.S. economy was booming, the world seemed safe-and education schools were in the vanguard of a school reform effort that was a national priority. Today, the world is a more precarious place, and education has slipped to a distant fifth among voter concerns in this year's presidential election. And the role of education schools has never been more in doubt. That was the challenging environment described by President Arthur Levine in his September 22 State of the College Address to the TC Community.
Speaking in Milbank Chapel, Levine outlined six major trends that have changed the educational landscape during the 10 years of his presidency and told his audience that it is "time to think about the future and finding new ways to do business… time to focus in order to keep education, psychology and health on the national agenda at a time when they are in danger of falling off."
The College has engaged in precisely the kind of self-assessment and renewal Levine believes is essential to its future. During the past year and a half, TC has conducted a strategic planning process that has "defined the primary focus of the institution as educational equity to improve access, expectations and outcomes for those most disadvantaged in our society."
Meanwhile, the College faces other challenges. "We want to boost scholarship aid; enrich student life; continue rehabilitation of the physical plant; and pay more attention to staff development," Levine said.
Levine was followed by Darlyne Bailey, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, who welcomed the community to the 118th year of classes at TC. She described the College as a "multiversity" that will achieve its mission "not in spite of, but because of" its wealth of diversity. Bailey said that the school must continue to focus on recruiting and maintaining a diverse population of students, faculty and staff, and to ensure that its mission continues to be reflected in the service it delivers to the world. On the latter front, Bailey called attention to the College's partnerships in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, as well as its outreach in Asia and Africa.
The State of the College ceremony was also marked by the announcement of the new Elaine Brantley Memorial Award for Community and Civility, which honors the memory of TC's beloved cafeteria cashier, who died last year. Janice Robinson, the College's Vice President for Community and Diversity, presented the Award to the first recipients, Anthony Bonano, Director of Student Accounts, and Amy Pabarue, Telephone Switchboard Operator. Robinson said that the two "by virtue of their daily efforts go beyond the expectations of their positions to promote a sense of community and a culture of civility at the College."
Brantley's daughter, Eboné, presented the winners with their individual plaques, and Robinson said that another plaque bearing their names-and, in future years, those of additional honorees-will hang in the cafeteria.
Changing Times And A Changing Role
In describing the factors that have altered the tenor of the debate around school reform, Levine pointed to an unlikely culprit: the Baby Boom generation. The aging Boomers, who make up more than 60 percent of the nation's voters, originally put education on the national agenda-but now, worried about elder care for their parents and health care and social security for themselves, they're in the process of taking it off.
The result: less funding for education and more
competition over available dollars; fewer college graduates who choose
to enter education-related fields; and a growing danger that inner-city
schools and poor and minority children will be forgotten.
Among the other factors cited by Levine:
- Education schools' historic role as gatekeeper to the education professions is being steadily eroded by government, private industry, the media and others. In fact, 45 states now offer teachers, principals and superintendents alternative routes to their jobs, and the federal government has increased its regulation of education schools-dictating appropriate research methods, curriculum content, graduation standards and accreditation requirements.
- Through the No Child Left Behind legislation, the federal government has also taken control of school improvement. "The Secretary of Education, a former education school dean, has said that education schools are unnecessary," Levine said.
- A more conservative Republican majority has replaced the progressive Democratic leadership of the education reform movement, and appears to be growing more firmly entrenched. "Right wing think tanks dominate the dialogue and national debate on education," Levine said. "It's a less friendly environment for schools like ours.
Still, the news is not all bad, Levine said. Ten years ago, TC was chronically operating at a deficit; it faced looming deferred maintenance costs of some $100 million; salaries were low and the school lacked the resources to fund research; and TC had virtually no visibility in the media and little impact on educational policy and practice.
Today, TC is operating from strength, having recently completed the largest capital campaign ever carried out by an education school. The school's budget has been in the black for the past 10 years; its physical plant has been restored; its faculty has expanded by a third; its research funding is on the rise; and top students from across the country and around the world are enrolling in its programs.
More Work To Be Done
Bailey described five activities that will be priorities for TC during the coming year:
- The Board of Trustees will continue to explore improved compensation packages for faculty and staff.
- The College-wide Affirmative Action Committee will closely monitor TC's success in attracting faculty from under-represented communities, and will seek to provide department chairs and search committees with tools that will bolster their efforts.
- Work will continue in developing a process for implementing the Strategic Plan, with special focus on determining the optimal size for the College; improving financial aid packages for students; putting technology to better use; and moving away from incremental budgeting to budgeting based on an ongoing assessment of the merits of all activities at the College.
- The College will marshal its efforts for a successful accreditation reviews by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Middles States Commission on Higher Education.
- Bailey introduced both the new Office for Enrollment and Student Services, headed by Associate Dean Donald Martin, and the new Office of Policy and Research, under the direction of Professor Sharon Lynn Kagan, Associate Dean for Policy. The role of the latter office will be to "translate the findings from research and practice into language that can be used by our local, state and federal legislators."