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State of the College 2016

[ Click Here to read a story about the 2016 State of the College meeting. ]

November 21, 2016

Thank you, Drew (Coles), for that introduction.

Good afternoon!  I must admit I had a quite different speech in mind for this afternoon. I was going to focus on how TC research was breaking new ground by building on the strength of accumulated knowledge and wisdom within our fields and professions. I have been spending a great deal of time with education technology developers and investors, trying to get them to understand the value of research (especially TC research) on learning and effectiveness—they talk about the need for ‘disruption’ as if throwing out all accumulated wisdom is the only way forward. This leads them into magical thinking about reform and change, into focusing on silver bullets and panaceas. It’s much wiser to approach the future as TC faculty, staff and students do—to use prior knowledge as a launching point for new discovery.  So I was going to focus on how we have a much sager approach to invention and innovation, using the wisdom of the past as building blocks, not discarding it.

But I’m not going to give that speech. I, like many of you, have simply had it. 

Going back to the murder of Trayvon Martin… The killings of Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Cameron Tillman, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Dennis Grigsby, Anthony Hill, Eric Harris, Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, Darrius Stewart, Freddie Gray, Christian Taylor, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, and countless others, known and unknown. The massacres at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. It’s been simply too much.

Then came this month. The mistrial in the case against the University of Cincinnati policeman for killing Samuel DuBose, an African-American man he pulled over for missing a front license plate. The misogynist and hateful messages of Harvard’s men’s soccer team, and even, in our own backyard, Columbia’s wrestling team. And of course, the presidential election and the deep dissension it has sown in our country.

I have been stewing over the fact that our education system bears a large measure of the blame for persistent racism, stereotyping and rash judgment.  If people were really well educated, I have been thinking, they would recognize their biases—at least be alert to them—and seek to overcome them and control their actions. This is all beyond bearing and again it produces a tremendous sense of guilt in me who has spent fifty years trying to improve our education system. 

I started my career fifty years ago as a social studies teacher. It was very clear that civic education was a major focus of our department—whether we were teaching history or civics itself. We were responsible for educating informed citizens who could make knowledgeable judgments. Graduates would need to dissect policymakers’ and candidates’ statements, critique press coverage, and sort through opposing positions.  I student taught government in Maine Township, IL, when Hillary Rodham was a senior there. I don’t remember if she was in my class but one would imagine she would have taken government that year.  Over the decades, narrow test-based accountability squeezed out the time for and focus on civics, turning schools to reading and math scores as preeminent goals.

But there’s a danger in romanticizing the past as I just have because in those days we did not focus explicitly on what clearly must be at the core of civic education today—on the respect and appreciation that must be at the heart of a multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic society, on understanding bias and on reaching understanding.  And our education system still doesn’t lay sufficient groundwork for citizenship in a just and diverse society —as so much research at TC has shown—from Professor Derald Wing Sue’s studies of microaggressions – the everyday slights and indignities experienced by people of color and other marginalized groups—to Professor Robert Carter’s work on race-based traumatic stress to Professors Caryn Block and Loriann Roberson’s work on the persistence of workplace sterotyping.

Immersed in the feeling that that the world seems broken and bemoaning how our education system has fallen short, I’ve abandoned my original speech.  But I don’t mean to convey a loss of hope. If educational institutions have disappointed, they are also our way forward.  In the search for solutions in this time of upheaval, many will consider protest, those who can will contribute to nonprofits that support just causes, and others will focus on political organizing and action. Let me make a brief aside here – We can’t abandon or disdain the mechanisms of government. Politics and political solutions are at the heart of supporting our values – the definition of politics IS the authoritative allocation of values. We must seize political tools and not assume our values will be realized if we don’t participate.  

But we – the institution of TC -- must focus on education. We, after all, are the largest, oldest and best school of education in the world—and it’s our legacy as well as our challenge to promote our social justice mission in such a way that education BECOMES the solution.  We must bring to bear our expertise in education, health and psychology to develop the multi-disciplinary approaches needed for a healthy and well educated—in the sense we would want those words to mean—society.

So what I want to assure you of today is that TC is in a good position to do this—we have the students, the faculty and the support of a large alumni and donor community to assure that we can sustain our legacy of ground-breaking work in service of our social justice mission over the long haul.  We can rededicate ourselves in light of recent events—making more sure than ever that our work doesn’t remain buried in journals but is out there making a real-world difference, making alliances between various substantive fields and the policy experts who focus on achieving scale, making sure our students have the both the depth and breadth to address the complex challenges ahead.  We have the building blocks—let’s use them—in ways than more than ever before make a difference.

It is a privilege to lead an institution that can and must play a central role in navigating the changes ahead.  Let’s start with our students who are at the heart of our work.

This year we welcomed 1,372 new students to TC, almost 50 more than last year. They are a diverse cohort who come from 52 countries, speak dozens of languages, and range in age from 18 to 68.  Nearly half of new students identify as persons of color.

To help focus on meeting the needs of all of our students, Tom Rock is now serving as Vice Provost of Student Affairs. (Congratulations to Tom on getting married last week.)

New TC students also come from diverse professional backgrounds. Many new students this year have been teachers, of course, at all levels of public and private schools. Others are military veterans, nonprofit founders and NGO directors, anti-bullying activists, TV news producers, AmeriCorps members, ballet dancers and opera singers, baseball coaches, and fitness instructors. We even welcomed this year a senior executive at a global financial firm who is enrolled in our spirituality and psychology program.

Once they are here, our students work to make TC itself a more just place and make suggestions on how we can improve. For example, Students for a Quality Education and the Student Senate have called attention to how student input can bring our curricular and pedagogical emphasis on diversity into sharper focus. And students were central to the drive and the work behind the creation last fall of TC’s Diversity Curriculum Mapping project. The map enables students to easily discover courses across departments that pertain to race, ethnicity, and inter-cultural understanding. At the same time as SQE was reaching out, faculty were examining their own teaching and approaches to conducting difficult conversations. I’m proud that several faculty meeting sessions involved faculty sharing and learning from one another in this regard and hope more such conversation takes place.

As I have often pointed out, our wonderful faculty engage in scholarship at the heart of our social justice mission.  It’s been a great year for faculty productivity, innovation, and achievement. In academic year 2015-16, TC faculty published 175 books and refereed journal articles and received approximately 70 major awards and honors – that they told us about.  Their work was recognized with nearly $50 million in grants and funding. The amount of funding for new awards was almost $10 million greater than last year.

The American Education Research Association bestowed eight awards to TC faculty, including its prestigious Early Career Award, won by Professor Chris Emdin. Dr. Emdin’s work on culturally responsive teacher preparation was further developed this year in his celebrated book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…And the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy in Urban Education. In the book, he outlines a trailblazing approach to classroom instruction that takes the emotional and cultural lives of black students as its starting point. 

There are many examples of work in the last year that give us confidence in TC’s ability to forge a future of improved learning and health and more widespread equity and social justice. 

To explore curricula and teaching methods to better serve multicultural student populations, Professor Amy Stuart Wells and six TC colleagues organized a first-ever professional training institute last summer on teaching and learning in racially diverse schools. The four-day institute drew 150 educators, policy makers, and parents from around the country. It featured more than a dozen expert presentations and performances and more than 30 workshops – such as “Developing Racial Literacy with Children’s Literature,” led by Professor Detra Price-Dennis, and “Leadership in Diverse Schools,” led by Professor Carolyn Riehl.

Another workshop leader, Professor Mariana Souto-Manning, supports educators worldwide in the development of culturally relevant and racially just teaching. Her award-winning book Multicultural Teaching in the Early Childhood Classroom has reimagined the potential and scope of inclusionary language and literacy curricula. Dr. Souto-Manning co-authored a new book released this year that provides inclusive, practical, evidence-based strategies for teachers in diverse classrooms.

Understanding and supporting the parents of children with cultural or biological obstacles to learning is central to the work of Professor Carol Scheffner Hammer. Dr. Hammer recently received a $1.4 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences to develop an assessment of phonological awareness for Spanish/English bilingual preschoolers. She received another IES grant of $1.5 million to develop a web-based intervention to help parents support the language development of preschoolers with language disorders.

Scholars at TC have recognized that knowledge of the worldwide African diaspora, which encompasses half a billion descendants of slaves, is a major gap in American education. So in TC fashion, they are coming together to break ground and develop fields and methods of teaching and learning that will build awareness of this prominent global community.

Professors Ernest Morrell and Henry Levin are key players in two major related efforts. They are leading content development for a new Advanced Placement course on the African diaspora that, with final approval of the College Board, could be offered as early as next fall. The AP course aims to raise awareness among high school students about the historical context of current issues of race and privilege.  Drs. Morrell and Levin are also deeply involved with the work of the Comparative and International Education Society’s new special interest group focused on the diaspora, aimed at improving outcomes for African-descended populations.

This work is being done under the auspices of the African Diaspora Consortium. Its founding president, Kassie Freeman, has been named a faculty fellow at TC’s Institute for Urban and Minority Education.

TC faculty members are also designing strategies to improve quality of life and educational opportunities for people facing or recovering from extreme adversities, all over the globe.

Professors Mary Mendenhall and Susan Garnett Russell are breaking ground in the field of Education in Emergencies. Specifically, they are addressing the massive disruption and suspension of formal education among refugees.

Professor Mendenhall developed teacher training programs and worked with teachers in a Kenyan refugee camp to prototype a mobile mentoring program. Professor Russell has conducted in-depth, cross-cultural studies on how textbooks worldwide discuss subjects like the Holocaust, globalization, global citizenship, gender-based violence, and nationalism.  With support from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau for Population, Migration and Refugees, they together launched a study on urban refugee education. The study entails a survey of the 15 countries most affected by the influx of urban refugees.

TC scholars across departments are conducting research firmly establishing the links between adversity and physical and mental unwellness and introducing productive interventions. For example, Professor Sonali Rajan identifies environmental factors that influence health and risk behaviors among adolescent youth. In response to the overwhelming evidence that exposure to guns and gun violence has detrimental effects on children, Dr. Rajan is leading a team of researchers and clinicians from TC, NYU, and New York Methodist Hospital that will address the presence of firearms in schools.

School violence prevention is also the subject of a certificate training program now offered at TC, as is the prevention of school harassment, bullying, cyber-bullying, and discrimination.

Professor Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, co-director of TC’s National Center for Children and Families, is studying the effects of adversity at a molecular level. In previous studies, she discovered associations between poverty and the health of chromosomes, and between dopamine receptors and environmental stress. Her current studies suggest that genetic changes caused by environmental stress may be transmitted to later generations. This research could lead to improved health outcomes and increased life expectancy among poorer populations.

Turning theory and research on youth well-being into practice is the goal of TC’s groundbreaking Civic Participation Project, directed by Professors Lalitha Vasudevan, Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, and Laura Smith.  This past summer, they facilitated a participatory week-long institute on Youth Wellbeing in the Age of Mass Incarceration. It comprised theoretical foundations, skill development, real-life applications, action-planning, and funding strategies for professionals on the front lines.

Dr. Smith has recently brought a unique social justice perspective to this year’s debate about the minimum wage. In a widely hailed article in the journal American Psychologist, she argues that raising awareness of the damaging psychological effects of low wages can strengthen the social and political resolve to fight poverty.

In her new book, Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and Its Limits, Professor Ansley Erickson looks at the political and economic forces that supported segregation and inequality in Nashville, Tennessee. She argues that school policies are intertwined with property, labor, and other economic markets and pursuits that have together contributed to the growth of inequality. The book is already considered among the most significant urban studies to appear in a generation.

The founders of TC’s Sexuality, Women, and Gender Project – Professors Aurelie Athan, Melanie Brewster, and Riddhi Sandil – continue to lead and support scholarship, student research, and community projects promoting the needs of LGBTQ individuals and women. To combat the high rate of teen pregnancy, they will soon launch a project to critique sex education curricula in New York City schools and to develop a teacher development program to enhance its effectiveness. 

And even our brand new faculty contribute to our pursuit of social justice through education. For example, Professor Sonya Douglass Horsford examines the intersection of race and inequality in the context of policy and leadership. Her forthcoming book on the politics of education policy in an era of inequality will help practicing and aspiring education leaders develop and implement community-based reform strategies. And Professor Ioanna Literat is working with colleagues to focus on developing and teaching media literacy, so critical in this era of fake news.

More than a hundred years ago, faculty at TC founded the field of social studies education. And that’s why faculty in our program in Social Studies Education today continue to investigate how best to relay our vast troves of knowledge into humane teaching and principled action.

Professor Bill Gaudelli is renowned for his expertise in global citizenship education and his leadership in international teacher development and training. His newest book, published earlier this year, offers critical, cross-cultural examinations of sustainability education, cultural diversity, and human rights education in order to determine best-practices in the development of globally-conscious classrooms.

Professor Anand Marri works to advance the economic literacy of students in K-12 and to develop a fiscally responsible citizenry. Dr. Marri led the creation of TC’s Cowin Financial Literacy Program for New York City public school teachers and will launch a national version of the program next year.

Last year, Professor Sandra Schmidt received the Early Career Award from the National Council of Social Studies-College and University Faculty Assembly for her work on how public spaces influence our civic identities. In particular, she has discovered patterns of social inequity by examining how students negotiate their physical school environments.

Professor Christine Baron also studies physical spaces, such as museums and historic sites, to discover how buildings and objects can be used effectively in the teaching and learning of history. Because understanding the past is essential to understanding the present and preparing for the future, Dr. Baron’s research will have a significant impact on how we revive moral and civic education in our country.

To build on the great work of these and other TC faculty whose discipline centers on teaching for a civil democratic society –such as Professor Michael Rebell, who is now developing a legal argument that our education system’s failure to produce capable citizens is both a cause and a symptom of inequity and social injustice – I’ve been thinking about a new initiative closely related to their work although it builds on everything I’ve mentioned today and so many other studies and initiatives I haven’t had time to mention.

I believe that civic education has to be redesigned, reinvigorated, and re-established for 21st Century society – our digital, multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic society. There is no better place than TC to do that.

To take full advantage of TC’s status as a progressive institution of cutting-edge research, leadership, and activism, I have been thinking about a new 21st-century civics initiative. By joining our cross-disciplinary intellectual resources with our powerful will to effect widespread change, TC can lead the movement to get civic and social justice education into every school in America.

There have been some initial discussions with Provost James and with members of the faculty. I look forward to working with them and with many of you on this important project and with sharing developments in the months ahead.

The achievements and contributions of today’s faculty build on those of the past.  I’d like to take a moment now to highlight four of the scholars we lost this year.

Ann Gentile was a pioneering movement scientist and neuropsychologist who established the world’s first program in Motor Learning here at TC. She served on the faculty for 44 years. Dr. Gentile developed now-familiar concepts and treatments, like neuroplasticity and physical rehabilitation, that have improved the health and well-being of millions. We celebrated her life earlier this month with a memorial conference on the future of motor learning.

Robert Crain was a TC professor of Sociology and Education for 16 years and a leading expert on desegregation and racial tensions in schools. He was one of an early group of sociologists who worked to uphold the protections afforded through Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Warren Yasso taught at TC for more than 30 years and was a former department chair in Mathematics and Science Education. Dr. Yasso, a specialist in oceanography and science pedagogy, was ahead of his time in bringing attention to critical environmental issues.

Patricia Cranton, a longtime educator in TC’s Adult Learning and Leadership program, was one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of transformative learning, the use of imagination and personal experience to awaken new perceptions and understand alternate viewpoints.

Though their fields varied, each of these scholars offered us new methods of learning and teaching to improve lives and raise social and civic awareness. We must bring the best of all areas of knowledge into the classroom if we want to produce more fully-rounded, thoughtful, and compassionate citizens.

Perhaps we can find donors for the 21st Century Civics effort. TC’s long legacy of scholarship will endure and progress, thanks to the alumni and donors who have contributed to our Where the Future Comes First campaign.  As of today, we have raised $268 million, 89% of our $300 million goal.

The campaign brought in more than $40 million in the last fiscal year – making it the second most successful year of the campaign, and the third largest fundraising year in the history of Teachers College.

This remarkable success is due largely to the broadening of our donor base. Our alumni outreach efforts have been particularly successful. Since the start of the campaign, 9,278 individual alumni have donated – nearly 3,000 of them for the first time. Of the 338 donors who have made their first major gift to the College, nearly half are alumni.  

To get another sense of the growth of alumni engagement, we can compare numbers to TC’s last campaign, which ended in 2003. Then, alumni contributed 9% of the total amount raised. In the current campaign, alumni are responsible for almost 22% of total contributions to date.

Let me mention just two recent gifts from our alumni.  

Edith Shih helped inaugurate a summer music education lab in China, where TC music education students, led by Professor Randall Allsup, spent several weeks collaborating with their counterparts at a university in Beijing.

And you may have read that Jody Arnhold and her husband John gave TC a $4.3 million gift to establish our exciting new Doctoral Program in Dance Education, which we plan to launch next fall. With fewer than 200 state-licensed dance teachers serving the city’s 1800 public schools, the need for expert dance teachers is very pressing. This program will prepare the next generation of dance educators, policymakers, leaders, researchers and others who will advocate for dance education.   

Let me stress the policy and advocacy missions implicit in this gift.  As we did several years ago with the Laurie Tisch gift to support nutrition, we have joined the substantive emphasis of the Arnhold gift—in this case, dance — with our policy expertise.  It’s wonderful to make headway in new approaches to professional preparation and in education practice; it’s even more wonderful if we can consider how new approaches can be supported by policies necessary for them to have widespread impact or scale. 

The campaign has also helped us modernize facilities and revitalize our physical campus.

The highly anticipated official opening of our new Learning Theater, made possible with an $8 million gift from Camilla and George Smith, will make this spring semester an historic one for TC. The Learning Theater comprises 10,000 square feet of reconfigurable space ingeniously and beautifully designed to maximize flexibility. It allows for experimentation, self-directed learning, and imaginative teaching, and it will ensure that TC remains home to the world’s preeminent library in the field of education.

Scholarship support for students remains the top priority of the campaign. We are committed to lessening the burden of student debt by raising more financial aid, and the impact has been extraordinary. To date, we’ve raised $73 million for scholarships. And we’ve created 147 new scholarships.

The College’s strong institutional health reflects directly on the TC community’s energy, engagement, and selflessness. Our recent Middle States Commission re-accreditation process made that clearer than ever.  412 students, faculty, and staff came together to conduct and develop the College’s self-study. Anyone familiar with the process knows how much time and labor it demands. I want to acknowledge Sasha Gribovskaya, our Director for Accreditation and Assessment, and our Steering Committee, chaired by Vice Provost Bill Baldwin and Vice Dean Lin Goodwin, for their outstanding work.

We can all be very proud of the results. The Commission gave TC its highest possible assessment, and praised our efforts in making the College, and I quote, “a national leader in developing new academic programs, new pedagogy, new facilities and technology to enhance the quality of the education students receive.”

Before closing, I’d like to pay tribute to an organization and individual that perfectly embody our commitment to social justice.  Last Thursday, we hosted a 20th anniversary celebration of our Community College Research Center and its founder and leader, Professor Tom Bailey.

When we talk about meeting the needs of our most underserved populations, about education as THE central solution to society’s problems, and about the moral obligations of inclusion, equity, and opportunity for all, community colleges must be at the forefront of the discussion.

Today, as the CCRC celebrates its big milestone, community colleges enroll 56% of all Hispanic undergraduates in the U.S. and 44% of all black undergraduates. More than two-thirds of community college students come from families earning less than $50K a year, and almost half of students without parental support earn less than $20K.  

Twenty years ago, little research existed on community colleges, despite their enormous influence on the lives of so many Americans, and, by extension, on the future of our country. Dr. Bailey recognized a need, aggregated the best knowledge and resources available, and made community colleges a subject of groundbreaking research, policy-making, and effective practice. They are central to the conversation in education today because of the work of Dr. Bailey and his colleagues at the CCRC.

Dr. Jill Biden, a community college educator and the wife of Vice-President Joe Biden, delivered the keynote address at last week’s celebration, which drew over a thousand guests. Dr. Biden and the prestigious members of the panel that followed her speech all paid tribute to Tom’s foresight and dedication.  

The state of Teachers College is strong because people like Dr. Bailey keep the TC dream alive. When we erase barriers to education, comfort, and hope for marginalized populations; when we diminish people’s fears and protect their health and their rights; when we reduce prejudice and ignorance and increase compassion and knowledge – that is when we are fulfilling the promise that TC’s founders made.

Thank you all for keeping the dream alive and for fulfilling that promise. We need you now more than ever.

And let me be the first to wish you Happy Thanksgiving and all the best in the year ahead.

Published Monday, Dec 19, 2016