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Teacher Prep: Degree Of Improvement

By Joyce Gramza


Oswego, NY – Of every 100 ninth-graders in New York State, only 57 graduate high school. And of those, just 19 go on to earn an associates degree within three years, or a bachelor's degree within six years.

So the State University of New York is pitching its plan to help keep students in school and prepare them for college.

"We're all connected," says SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. "K-12 and higher education, early childhood, workforce development we prepare the teachers who prepare the kids who ultimately come to our colleges, ready or not. And what we know is, 50 percent of the kids coming to our community colleges need remedial coursework."

"What we have to pay for that remediation is not a good use of anybody's funds," she says.

Zimpher says the SUNY system spends $53 million each year on remediation. She says it would not only save money, but benefit students, to address their needs earlier.

"If that's coming to kindergarten under-prepared or not doing well on your 3rd and 4th grade performance tests in math and reading and language, then that's where we ought to be helping to be a part of that solution," she says.

Zimpher spent most of December making the rounds of the state to mobilize SUNY's plan to strengthen the state's education system.

Zimpher says SUNY campuses are poised to work with school districts, the Department of Education, and community agencies to share accountability for student success.

"From my own personal experience in working hard in this area, I'm a big believer," she says. "If you identify where the dropout is occurring, who do we most need to help, where, and when, we can have a comprehensive-- and what I would call systemic-- approach to reform."

Zimpher says education reform has been "stymied" by searching for individual models of excellence, then trying to "scale them up" to fit the whole system.

At the same time, she says, teacher preparation has been a neglected area of higher education.

Zimpher says SUNY's plan addresses the problem holistically by improving teacher preparation while creating a variety of initiatives to support student needs from pre-K through entry into the workforce.

She says New York State will implement the recommendations of a national blue-ribbon panel she co-chaired on teacher preparation.

That will make teacher education more like medical training, with an emphasis on clinical practice.

Zimpher says that fits right in with the rest of SUNY's plan-- creating initiatives to support students' needs "from cradle to career."

"It might be a literacy zone, it might be a workforce development effort, it might be an early childhood effort," Zimpher says. "To knit these together, and to really track through a data system where the dropouts are and how we get them redeployed, and I think that's a solution."

Zimpher says SUNY's large scale is key to success because the system has campuses in all of the urban and rural communities where the needs are most severe.

Useful links:
"The Education Pipeline: Big Investment, Big Returns" - report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education