Use ‘beat the odds’ schools train new generation of teachers

Joe Nathan

If you received millions of dollars to help prepare teachers and wanted to include nearby public schools, wouldn’t you include some of the area’s most effective public schools? I think many of us would.

Unfortunately, that’s not what some teacher preparation programs are doing as part of their work, supported by the Bush Foundation. In a recent annual report, the Bush Foundation says its goal in providing tens of millions of dollars to improve teacher preparation is “to improve educational achievement for all students and close persistent achievement gaps.”

For several years, Minnesota’s largest daily newspaper, the “Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, has published lists of metro area district and charter public schools that are “beating the odds.” These are schools that have 75 percent or more students from low-income families. They are bringing these youngsters reading and/or math skills up to, and in some cases, above, Minnesota’s statewide average.

Wouldn’t you think that colleges that want to help the Bush Foundation achieve its goals would include, as partners, public schools that are closing achievement gaps?

So far that’s not what the University of Minnesota is doing. I asked Mistilina Sato, a professor who directs the Bush funded program at the University of Minnesota, “on the record” which of the metro area’s “beat the odds” schools they were working with as partners.

Her response was, “None.”

“We did not target “beat the odds” schools from this list, and in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the district leadership played a role in assigning certain schools to the university for partnership development. We are proud to be in partnership with Brooklyn Center schools and have worked with their high school in their School Improvement Grant and in Minneapolis with Roosevelt High School, which is in a school turn-around status. We are aiming to be an added value to our school partners in helping them improve student achievement through co-teaching and professional support that we might offer. Maybe one day we will see some of our partner schools on the ‘beat the odds’ list.”

The Bush Foundation also has funded a group of private colleges of education to help improve teacher preparation. They include Augsburg, Bethel, Concordia, Hamline, St. Catherine’s and St. Thomas. I asked Laura Mogelson who helps direct this effort if any of the these schools were using “beat the odds” as sites to train teachers as part of their Bush funded work. Her response, “Of the six TC2 institutions, I do not believe they have official partnerships with the schools on the list.”

But Mogelson said they planned to “start partnership conversations with additional sites, including secondary charter schools for future cohorts (possibly 13-14).”

Conversations are a good first step. But several years after the Bush Foundation started providing funds, it’s still not clear whether teacher preparation programs it is supporting are going to use some of the “beating the odds” schools as “partner” sites to help train new teachers.

I mentioned this to former teacher, principal, superintendent and Minnesota Department of Education assistant commissioner Mary Ann Nelson. She responded: “Unbelievable. They need to rethink what they are doing.”

I agree. Including some of Minnesota’s most effective public schools as partner/training sites would help more teachers, and more students, succeed.


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change.  Reactions are welcome at [email protected]

  • Mistilina Sato

    If you had access to top performing college students who want to change the world by becoming teachers, wouldn’t you seek to place them in schools with high need to close the achievement gap? That is what the University of Minnesota is doing in its school-partner network for developing new teachers, with support from the Bush Foundation.

    Our students who are studying to become teachers already have a bachelor’s degree, with an average college GPA of 3.4. They are in our program to earn a master’s degree in teaching, and they want to make a difference in the lives of students.

    The University of Minnesota wants to add value to Minnesota schools in need, not just use schools as training grounds for our teacher candidates. Through carefully designed clinical programs, our teacher candidates spend a year teaching side-by-side with a classroom teacher in seven metro-area partner districts and several other clinical cluster sites in other districts.

    Teachers and principals alike are telling us that having our teacher candidates in their classrooms working directly with the students is making a difference for the kids. In classrooms where the reading level can span from kindergarten to the sixth grade, having two teachers provides more interaction with the teachers and more differentiated approaches to learning for the students.

    So, when we had the opportunity to work more deeply with schools who wanted to partner with us on this innovative way of preparing teachers, we sought out schools that want to be on the “beat the odds” list. Our goal is to increase the number of schools on the list and to prepare teachers who will continue to change the world.