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The PDS Partnership Celebrates Charter and Raises Critical Issues

On a cold morning last month, approximately 75 members of the Greater Council of the Teachers College Professional Development School (PDS) Partnership met at TC for a day of work sessions.
On a cold morning last month, approximately 75 members of the Greater Council of the Teachers College Professional Development School (PDS) Partnership met at TC for a day of work sessions. Some of them were setting site-specific PDS goals; documenting ongoing PDS work; examining the role of technology in schools; and discussing race, community, and schooling.

This, the first Greater Council meeting of the year, was an opportunity for school-based and college-based faculty to participate in ongoing cooperation, to plan for the future, and to take up issues and commitments that are important to the new PDS charter.

The Teachers College PDS Partnership is a collaboration between several schools in District 3 in Manhattan and Teachers College. The 12-year-old partnership was characterized by Dean Karen Zumwalt in her greetings as "one of the more mature PDSs in the nation." It is able to grapple with the challenges and threats to public education, whether in the form of standards, teacher shortages, or the public's apparent loss of confidence in public education.

In 1988, Teachers College, in cooperation with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the leadership of Community School District 3, took a bold step and established a Professional Development School at P.S. 87. It has grown to include P.S. 207, P.S. 165, Middle School 44, and the Beacon High School, an alternative high school, all located on the west side of Manhattan.

The fundamental organizational principle of the PDS is that schools can be the equivalent of a teaching hospital, where teacher interns, cooperating teachers and TC faculty work together to develop the best pedagogic practices in a new kind of learning environment.

After nearly a year of hard work, a draft charter defining the nature of the collaboration between the schools in the district and Teachers College has reached a successful conclusion. Naomi Hill, the Director of the PDS at Teachers College called the charter, recently signed by both the superintendent of District 3, Patricia Romandetto and Dean Zumwalt, an agreement of "mind and heart." She added, "We bring a lot of passion to this work because it's only reward is in doing it. It's a reward because it pushes our agenda of caring about students and teachers on every level."

Celia Oyler, Assistant Professor of Education, and Elaine Howes, Assistant Professor of Science Education, attended the Greater Council meeting as active members of the PDS partnership. Speaking about the charter, Oyler says, "Instead of working on the basis of good relationships as a vehicle by which we do our work, now we have an actual institutional agreement."

Oyler is convinced that with the new charter the Teachers Colleges PDS Partnership is moving beyond what most PDSs are currently engaged in. "A lot of PDS partnerships across the country get bogged down in matters of institutional decision making and processes of how to make decisions about placing student teachers and how to teach courses. It all becomes very procedural. We are ready to move onto substantive issues."

Several of those substantive issues were raised in a keynote address by Betty Lou Whitford, Professor of Education in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching and the Director of NCREST, The National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching. NCREST is involved in a variety of projects including Professional Development Schools, teacher learning, assessment, the documentation of successful school reform efforts in elementary and secondary schools, and the development of local, state, and national policies on practice.

When Whitford was a professor of education at the University of Louisville, she co-directed the Leading Edge Professional Development School Network, which is affiliated with NCREST. In her remarks to the PDS Partnership audience she emphasized "the persistent and emerging puzzle of equity."

As she explained "one daunting issue," as Whitford called it "is an inherent conflict in PDS goals." She said, "The conflict has to do with the fact that as teacher educators we want to place new teachers in situations where we can see the best results with children. Given social class differences in society those situations are likely to be in places that have less diversity. That is a reality of the nature of schools and society. So how can we develop the best of new practice and also address the need to educate all kids well? Can PDSs do both things?"

She added, "You are a group that is positioned to address that agenda very well."

Oyler too referred to what she calls "cornerstone beliefs and perspectives about PDS schools." According to her, these values are related to inquiry-based teacher education and issues of equity. "Now that we have some of the institutional arrangements worked out," Oyler said, "our hope is that we can move forward on deep inquiries about the nature of teaching, learning and professional growth as well as the issues of social justice, racial equality, economic equality, equity for students with disabilities-so that our school and college become sites where issues of inquiry and equity are at the center of our work in schools."

Published Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2001


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