Architecture & Design, Government, and Higher Education

Davenport’s Master of Urban Education includes clinical model

Partnership with GRPS puts students in front of classrooms right away.

August 15, 2014
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To address the concerns of the effectiveness of urban school educators, a Grand Rapids university is launching a graduate program this fall incorporating a practical application to change the model of how future teachers are prepared.

Davenport University, a private academic institution at 6191 Kraft Ave. SE, announced recently that it had received approval from the Michigan Department of Education and the Higher Learning Commission to launch its first master’s degree program through the new College of Urban Education as a Michigan Alternate Route to Interim Teaching Certification.

The new Master of Urban Education program is designed to produce effective educators, especially in urban settings, through its emphasis on practical application and incorporating a clinical model often seen in the medical field.

Dr. Andre Perry, founding dean of the College of Urban Education, said the new graduate curriculum differentiates itself from traditional programs by requiring candidates to spend time in classrooms from the first day, rather than on theoretical learning only.

“Candidates essentially start out as teacher aides, mentors, but they slowly matriculate into a traditional student teaching experience,” said Perry. “There is tremendous teacher turnover among first-year teachers, and we want candidates to really understand urban communities because we feel — the field feels — if a candidate is more prepared, they are more likely to stay.”

Davenport University is currently partnering with Innovation Central High School, 421 Fountain St. NE, which is part of Grand Rapids Public Schools. The university worked closely with Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal in the development of the program, according to Perry.

“So much of the program is dependent upon that partnership because when you are talking about creating a clinical program, you are really talking about putting people in a space where people have to become members of that community,” said Perry. “We don’t want to be seen as a separate program inside of a school; we want to be seen as part of the school.”

Richard Pappas, president of Davenport University, said the practical application of the program also includes skills development in areas such as data analytics in order to measure the effectiveness of the graduate student and the success of the students they are teaching.

“The practical application is important in education because often you don’t get your student teaching until your senior year, and what we believe is, like the medical model of nurses being in the hospitals immediately as students, we believe that is what teacher education should be,” said Pappas.

“With data analytics, you will be able to tell the level of all students and be able to teach to all those different levels to move them along. We will assess where they are today and show their improvement in math, reading and science.”

Davenport’s College of Urban Education was launched in 2012 in response to a need for more effective educators in a range of disciplines, and the Master of Urban Education program was created in response to criticisms of teacher education programs, according to Perry.

“The new master’s program is a direct response to the criticisms of teacher education programs that often are said to not develop skills in the areas that are most relevant to student learning. Teaching is a practice. It demands more clinical skills than anything else,” said Perry. “We are teaching how to do, how to differentiate instruction, how to support students from a socio-emotional way, how to understand curriculum common core and all of these things.”

Pappas said the high turnover rate for the first three years of teaching in urban schools is a primary concern. A policy brief on the high cost of teacher turnover prepared for the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future reported the national turnover rate rose to 16.8 percent for the 2004-2005 academic year, while in urban school settings the rate has increased to more than 20 percent.

For many high-needs rural and urban settings, the turnover rate leaves schools struggling to close the student achievement gap since they never close the teaching quality gap, according to the policy brief.

“The basis of it isn’t a criticism of teachers, or even of leaders. It is a criticism of showing the outcomes. The outcomes are very clear that urban students are less successful … and one of the things that is really important to us is high turnover rate (of teachers),” said Pappas. “Someone comes out of another school who doesn’t necessarily want to teach urban education; they take the class (and) they are overwhelmed.”

One of the reasons the graduate students will be required to teach at Innovation Central is to see if they will be successful in the urban teaching environment and effective at engaging high school students, according to Pappas.

“I really think this is a skill that needs to be honed and taught by the university, and it is part of our curriculum,” Pappas said. “They will learn really how to teach in a way they haven’t learned how to do before.”

“It is important that candidates understand what is going on in the educational space from a very real perspective, but if folks want to become theoreticians, if they want to become philosophers of education, this is not the place,” said Perry. “If they want to become an effective teacher, then Davenport is the place for them.”

With classes beginning Oct. 29, recruitment for the inaugural cohort of approximately 10 to 15 students is underway. Eligible candidates are required to have a bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 GPA, and have passed the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification basic skills test and the subject area competency exam, according to the press release. 

After the first year of the program, Pappas said the university will measure results and be transparent moving forward to revise aspects that aren’t working.

“When we decided to do this, it really was a national issue that isn’t being resolved. There is no other program like we’re suggesting,” said Pappas. “We have people like the Gates Foundation interested and great support from Steelcase Foundation. This will change not just Grand Rapids in terms of the model of effective teaching, but it will change the whole country if we are successful.”

Davenport received a $200,000 grant from the Steelcase Foundation to assist in developing the program in collaboration with GRPS.

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