For decades, Arthur Levine, the former president of Teachers College, Columbia University, has tried to imagine a new kind of institution for training teachers. He envisions a combination West Point and Bell Labs, where researchers could study alongside future educators, learning what works and what's effective in the classroom. That idea is now set to become a reality.
This week, Levine and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation announced a $30 million partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the goal of creating a better model for teacher training.
"Instead of focusing on courses and credits students need to take," says Levine, who's now head of the foundation, "we're going to focus on the skills and knowledge they need to have to enter the classroom."
Most education schools have such low admission standards and are of such poor quality, Levine says, it would be easier to replace them than repair them.
"They're old and dated," says Levine.
The new approach to teacher preparation will focus on what Levine calls "competencies," not seat time. MIT, which doesn't have a school of education, will conduct the research to guide the new curriculum and develop technologies focused on digital learning.
Levine says transparency will be a goal, and the lessons learned will be shared with education schools across the country.
"Our hope is that they'll take our ideas, take our practices and adopt them themselves," says Levine.
Sharon Robinson, head of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, says her group's 820 member institutions have always been wary of sweeping proposals, but this one is worth considering.
"I will not be representing this as a threat to the membership of AACTE," Robinson says.
In large part, she explains, because Levine's project is going to build on the innovation that's already going on in schools of education across the country.
Besides, she says, Levine has a good track record of working with teachers' colleges, and that will go a long way in getting their collaboration.
Levine says the Woodrow Wilson Academy for Teaching and Learning will open its doors as a graduate school of education in June 2017.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Some educators are trying to think differently about how to teach teachers. A new approach is described as a combination between West Point and Bell Labs. One place became famous for its education, the other for its innovation, and that points to the ambition of the new approach. NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: It's a $30 million partnership between the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation and MIT to eventually replace colleges of education with something different and hopefully better.
ARTHUR LEVINE: Instead of focusing on courses and credits that students need to take, we're going to focus on the skills and knowledge they need to have to enter the classroom.
SANCHEZ: That's Arthur Levine, former president of Teacher's College, Columbia University and the man behind the idea. He says most education schools have such low admission standards and are of such poor quality, it would be easier to replace than repair them.
LEVINE: What we're saying is they're old and dated.
SANCHEZ: What the new academy will focus on, says Levine, is competencies not seat time. MIT, which doesn't have a school of education, will conduct research to guide the curriculum and develop new technologies focused on digital learning. Everything the new academy does, says Levine, is going to be open-source and made available to education schools across the country.
LEVINE: And our hope is they'll take our ideas, they'll take our practices and adopt them themselves.
SANCHEZ: If it sounds like a lot of hype or wishful thinking, Levine swears it's not. This new model, he says, will vastly improve teacher education.
LEVINE: Yeah, yeah, it's doable.
SHARON ROBINSON: Yeah, that's an aspiration that Arthur has along with others in educator preparation.
SANCHEZ: Sharon Robinson heads the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Its 820 member institutions train the majority of teachers and principals in this country, and though they've always been wary of big sweeping changes, Robinson says this one is worth considering.
ROBINSON: I will not be representing this as a threat to the membership of AACTE, but Arthur's not starting from ground zero.
SANCHEZ: There's a lot of innovation going on in schools of education, says Robinson, even though they don't get a lot of credit for it. Levine has a good track record working with teachers colleges, says Robinson. So, for now, she supports his project.
LEVINE: June, 2017.
SANCHEZ: That's when Levine says the Woodrow Wilson Academy for Teaching and Learning will open its doors and begin reinventing teacher education. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.