The University of Texas at Austin's College of Education has introduced an Urban Education Pilot Program, the only one of its kind in Texas, to address the unique challenges and opportunities teachers face in urban schools.
Teachers who go through the program will be equipped with the skills to succeed in schools that may have a higher than average number of students from impoverished homes, fewer students with English language skills, a higher incidence of crime, high teacher turnover and a dearth of physical resources or access to technology.
Working closely together since fall 2007 a group of education faculty as well as principals and teachers from three Austin elementary schools have been scouring research materials, studying successful national models of urban education and planning the pilot program. The planning and design committee created a manual of best practices that will be a curriculum resource for College of Education faculty and elementary teachers who are participating in the Urban Education Program. The first cohort of 22 elementary intern teachers enrolled in the program this fall. The teachers in training will complete a structured three-semester sequence of instruction specific to teachers who will be working in urban schools.
"The focus of the pilot program is about teaching future instructors how to be successful in their work with diverse learners and differentiate in the ways that they respond to students' needs," said Dr. Sherry Field, associate dean for teacher education, student affairs and administration. "Every class should be an arena in which differentiated instruction takes place, a setting in which research-based strategies allow the teacher to meet the varied learning needs of all children.
"The two new education methodologies that we will be using are Response to Intervention (RTI) and Social/Emotional Learning (SEL). Because students are, obviously, not all the same, the RTI method calls for early and then frequent assessment of each student's progress. This encourages instructors to detect learning difficulties promptly and use the best intervention strategies to enable students to learn. The SEL method promotes skills like problem solving, communication, teamwork and empathy."
Collaboration among all groups participating in the pilot program means that College of Education faculty will be using the same information and research materials as mentor teachers and principals in the elementary schools where apprentice teachers train. All individuals who train and supervise the future teachers will be in alignment regarding instructional methodologies, according to Dottie Hall Riemer, a former Austin ISD principal and current educational administration graduate student who is the pilot program's cohort coordinator.
Metz Elementary, Govalle Elementary and the University of Texas Elementary School are the Austin area schools participating in the pilot program. In the eight years since the University of Texas Elementary School began, the College of Education has been translating its research into practice on the school's campus, and the Urban Education Program will expand on the mutually beneficial collaboration between the school and The University of Texas at Austin.
"UT Elementary is a research-based demonstration school that has allowed us to see our proven theories in action, and, in this respect, it's the only school of its kind in Texas," said Field. "We have reading, science, math, physical education, language arts and social studies education faculty working with UT Elementary teachers to implement the best instructional practices in all of these subject areas. The RTI and SEL methodologies also have been incorporated with great success there.
"What we learn at UT Elementary--and now at Govalle and Metz--and the diagnostic tools we develop can be replicated at other schools around the state and nation. It's such an exciting time to be doing something like this and I think all of the partners in this endeavor have a sense of how revolutionary and potentially beneficial, on a very large scale, this move is. We're building on a proven track record."
The University of Texas at Austin's Division of Diversity and Community Engagement also is working with Austin ISD, the College of Education and the UT Elementary School to implement the Urban Education Program.