Monday, March 9, 2009

An Education Lesson from the University of the District of Columbia

Today's Washington Post carries word that "UDC Chief Wants to Cut Undergrad Major in Education." University of the District of Columbia President Allen Sessions said "hardly anyone graduates" from the program.

Post writer Susan Kinzie spoke to UDC professors in the education program who said that the problem arises from the low reading, writing and math skills of education majors. President Sessions proposes to address the issue by replacing the undergraduate program with a master's program in urban education.

I assume that Sessions came up with his solution in the middle of a long, sleepless night. The proposal bursts with ironic features. If the diagnosis is correct, UDC's education program graduates less than five percent of its enrollees because they are unable to pass a test that measures the skills their previous educational experience was supposed to teach them. So the school that purports to teach people to educate gives up on educating them.

Somehow, "the students who do graduate are excellent." The rest are so bad, UDC would rather not address the fundamental issues, but would rather close down the program. Heaping on the irony, they would like to establish a master's degree program that would address the further educational needs and aspirations of a tiny percentage of those who come to the school hoping to become teachers.

Marrianne McMullen (the person to whom I am married), who works on urban public education for the Service Employees International Union, suggests UDC go about addressing the program in an entirely different way. "Why not add to the front end of the college educational experience," she says. "Set up a program that addresses how these students were short-changed in K-12. In the process, learn more about how to help graduates of underperforming school systems. And give these graduates a personal experience they could bring to their own teaching."

We are a nation that has declined, for at least 40 years, to invest in urban public education, declined to invest in the institution that affects most deeply the lives of the majority of our children. Faced with one of the striking features of that relentless failure, the University of the District of Columbia is apparently willing to compound that failure, apparently unwilling to use its frontline position to mobilize for educational change we can believe in. We should expect more of UDC.

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