Susan Fuhrman Winter 2011 Letter | Teachers College Columbia University

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Susan Fuhrman Winter 2011 Letter

The most successful New Year's resolutions incorporate the old and the new, drawing on past lessons to realize future aspirations.

The most successful New Year’s resolutions incorporate the old and the new, drawing on past lessons to realize future aspirations.

President Obama followed that blueprint in his recent State of the Union address, calling for the United States to regain its status as the world’s best educated nation, reassert its primacy in science and math, and regain its creative edge.

At TC, we’re working toward those goals by revitalizing our two great strengths: our unique blend of theory and practice, and our unsurpassed ability to collaborate across a wealth of disciplines. 

Teacher preparation – a controversial topic of late – is a major focus of these efforts. Some new approaches to teacher education in New York State and elsewhere divorce teacher preparation from immersion in scholarship about education.  In contrast, TC, like the best schools of medicine and law, offers its students immersion in a continuous feedback process in which practice flows from cutting-edge theory and theory is repeatedly refined by the experience of those on the front lines. For example, generations of our students have learned to use behaviorist methodology developed by Professor Douglas Greer to help children with autism. The students teach in schools founded by Doug, as well as in public schools. Their daily observations of the children then become the basis for ongoing revision of the theory that guides their work. 

We are also applying that same dynamic to fashion new approaches to the teaching of math and science.

As TC faculty member Herb Ginsburg has documented in hours of videotaped sessions in pre-K classrooms, children as young as 18 months old employ “everyday math” thinking . Now, Herb is collaborating with an education software company to create MathemAntics, a program that uses onscreen imagery to help very young children build on this innate ability. MathemAntics also creates a database of strategies for teachers.

In science, two of our rising stars, Felicia Mensah Moore and Ann Rivet, are creating new ways to make science more real for students – and teachers – by using technology to better connect them with natural phenomena. In a course she teaches to help elementary school science teachers brush up on science content and pedagogy, Felicia draws on a NASA project that makes a wealth of data gathered from space accessible to classrooms. Ann, with funding from the National Science Foundation, is exploring ways to overcome the limitations of table-top models that represent vast processes such as stream erosion and the differential heating of continents and oceans.

TC’s Institute for Urban and Minority Education, founded in the 1970s by Edmund Gordon, has been at the forefront in integrating theory and practice. The Institute has shaped new approaches to helping students in high-needs schools and neighborhoods compete on a level playing field. In January, we ensured IUME’s continued relevance for decades to come with the appointment of Ernest Morrell, an eminent authority on urban schools and adolescent literacy development, as its new director. Currently at UCLA, Dr. Morrell, who believes that marginalized communities must take the lead in addressing their own needs, has taken busloads of teenage students to the state capital to lobby for more state support of education. Dr. Gordon calls him “a smart, gentle and powerful and presence – a distinguished scholar and activist.”

Strengthening education will require a quantum leap in innovation, and TC is right in stride. In April, we will host a major conference at which a group of leading experts will, among other things, identify major threats to the development of students’ creative thinking, and how to use technology in the service of individual inquiry rather than as a tool of mass culture.

We are also launching a new Executive Master’s Program in Organization Change Leadership. The program, known as XMA, responds to a clear-cut need: Half of all U.S. executives fail or lose their jobs, while 70 percent of organization change efforts also fail – including 75 percent of mergers and acquisitions. The inaugural XMA class will be comprised of mid-level executives from the fields of law, health care, marketing and the nonprofit sector. The students will work together on action projects, devising solutions to actual problems at each other’s companies or organizations.

These students will also have a front row seat to cutting-edge thinking in the field. A TC faculty member, Bill Pasmore, has been named Editor of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Psychology. The publication, founded in 1965 under the editorship of another TC professor, Goodwin Watson, has published the leading names in American psychology, including Carl Rogers and Chris Argyris. If you’re interested in this program or know someone else who might be a great fit, visit the program online at

This fall, we will launch a new academic department, Education Policy and Social Analysis (EPSA), that will further TC’s distinguished history of shaping practice through policy research. EPSA will bring together our stellar policy faculty from different areas of the College – field leaders such as Thomas Bailey, who is currently leading an assessment of the student experience at Michigan’s Macomb Community College, a bellwether institution where President Obama first announced plans to make two-year institutions an engine for economic revival;  and Sharon Lynn Kagan, who has compiled perhaps the world’s largest database on successful programs that help young children with critical transitions such as leaving the home for preschool or moving from preschool to kindergarten.

The new department will provide our students with a more accessible and coherent policy experience at TC. It will enhance our ability to provide policymakers and practitioners with analysis of tradeoffs between investments in one sector of education or the social infrastructure versus another. And it will broaden our international focus, enabling us to hold more events such as the full-day symposium we hosted this past fall with the University of London’s Institute of Education, devoted to examining the rich history of education policy and reforms shared by the United States and the United Kingdom.

TC’s future well-being – and society’s – depends on our continuing ability to engage in such high-quality research. Three years ago, our Provost, Tom James, created a seed fund to back innovative cross-disciplinary collaboration among our faculty. The Fund has since awarded more than 40 grants of $20,000 each to support a wide range of work.

This semester we are designating a Faculty Research Mentor, providing financial and administrative supports and launching other initiatives in order to further stimulate faculty research, which we will leverage into creating a more creative, more entrepreneurial and better educated society.

Research will also be a major focus of Teacher’s 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. You will begin to hear more about both the Capital Campaign and our 125th anniversary celebration in the coming months.

Indeed, our most important acts of renewal are those that ensure your continued involvement in the life and work of the College. To that end, we have launched a new online publication, “Views on the News,” that provides subscribers with quick, informative analyses by TC experts of what’s happening, while it’s happening, in education, health, psychology and other fields.  “Views” pieces do not represent an institutional TC stance; rather, they are meant to take thoughtful readers beyond headlines and contentious debates toward gaining a deeper perspective on complex issues. The first issue included unsolicited advice to New York City’s new schools chancellor and the reactions of TC faculty members to the controversial documentary film, Waiting for “Superman.” The next issue will include stories on the proliferation of private money to fund public education, and the recent rejection by Congress of The Dream Act, which would have granted citizenship to undocumented illegal aliens who complete college or two years of military service.

TC’s third annual Academic Festival, on April 16th, will offer another opportunity to reconnect with the College. Our theme this year is “Learn and Live Well: Bringing Education to the Table,” with presentations and panel discussions on the broad topic of wellness, from human health to the culture of healthy organizations. We will again honor a group of our most distinguished alumni in a range of fields. 

I hope you will join us at Academic Festival. Meanwhile, I thank you for your continued support of TC. By helping us to recruit talented, ambitious students, by giving to our Annual Fund, and by carrying the TC banner as ambassadors to the world, you collectively fortify our institution and renew Teachers College as a place of excellence, innovation and hope.


Warm regards,
Susan signature
Susan H. Fuhrman

Published Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011


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