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Proposal to Explore Education and Lifelong Learning, Research, and Outreach at URI

Envisioning Education and Lifelong Learning, Research, and Outreach at URI

  1. Context

In a vibrant and viable democracy, education has frequently been viewed as a vehicle for change and growth. In recent history we have seen many blueprints and calls for reform. From the National Defense Education Act (1958), to the Civil Rights Act (1964), to the A Nation at Risk report (1983), to the No Child Left Behind Act (2001), to Race to the Top (2008)—all call on education for solutions to societal (e.g. poverty, segregation), political (e.g. threat of foreign powers), and economic (e.g. competitive workforce) problems. Since the civil rights era there has been a steady growth of federal engagement with public education, and criticism on the effectiveness of public education has been rising as well.

Let us recognize that we face some serious challenges ahead. The US ranks 24th in providing early childhood education. High school graduates are less ready for college and careers than they ever were before. The cost of remedial education, both at the P-12 and postsecondary level, is enormous. The US spends more on education than any other industrialized nation, yet rankings for pre-college students do not reflect financial investment: Reading 15th; Science 23rd; Mathematics 31rd. As noted in the 2010 report from the National Academies, prospects for US long-term global competitiveness have continued to diminish since 2005. The US is ranked 16th among industrialized nations in attainment of four-year college degrees. To regain first place by 2025, college graduates will need to increase by 53 percent. As a public institution, URI needs to be at the forefront of supporting the improvement of education and lifelong learning in Rhode Island and the nation.

The good news is that education programs at URI are poised to respond to these significant challenges. The evidence is unequivocal that teacher preparation affects student learning, and that teacher quality is a critical factor in K-12 students’ ability to achieve. Public education is an essential institution of our democratic society: “education should be embraced as an institution-wide responsibility, with appropriate resources” (AASCU, 2012). Inspired by rigorous state and national accreditation review processes and our own examination of best practices in teacher preparation, our programs have initiated curricular changes that align with research-based findings about the essentials of research-based, current, and effective quality teacher preparation, and that demonstrate our commitment to meeting the challenges. Among these are: providing deep subject knowledge to our candidates; assuring that our students are provided meaningful experiences in Rhode Island classrooms each semester culminating in a full-time student teaching/internship, and that these experiences are graduated and build appropriate skills; providing supervision by faculty who have rich background in P-12 schools, and the ability to evaluate candidate performance based on rigorous teaching standards; and cultivating understanding of and responsiveness to cultural and linguistic diversity as essentials for effective teaching in today’s and tomorrow’s classrooms.

 

  1. Describing the Challenge and Opportunities

Even so, the economic times, urgent need, and complexities of better preparing students for postsecondary education and career success require a far more strategic approach if future generations of P-12 students are to be college and career ready. Foundational programs are needed to support this readiness: strong, visible, and effective teacher education, early childhood education, STEM Education, and adult learning, professional development, and continuing Education programs. Some of these already exist; some need to be strengthened or initiated. Learners and partners need to learn to adapt rapidly to quick-changing demands in the local and global economic, social, and political arena. This requires an institutional organization that is clearly and visibly designated, enabled, and recognized— equipped to anticipate and respond to this dynamic landscape. Organizing a structure in the university around education and lifelong learning has the potential to position URI in a prominent place in the state, nation, and world. Now more than ever, education and lifelong learning are the cornerstones of this endeavor. It is time and timely to investigate how this prominence may take shape in a specific entity at URI.

A strategic approach to college and career readiness is: “Research-based, Intentional and Focused, Sustained, and Evaluated” (AASCU, 2012). We need to institutionalize this essential work for it to be sustained, and alignment and integration are effective and powerful tools to do so. What the research tells us about national needs is a starting point, but we must work with our local businesses, communities, and public schools to determine their distinct needs. We must support the need early childhood education to all children, especially those who are poorest. We must have teacher education programs that produce the best and brightest, ready to work with children who most need them. We must link with the public schools and other educational entities to strengthen the family-child-school triad; sources of social support need to be developed and we must support adult learners who very likely will need to change careers multiple times during their professional lives.

  1. Potential Products and Conditions

Graduates of Education and Lifelong learning programs need to be ready to be leaders in their careers and communities. They need to develop agency to establish and guide the changes needed in rapidly changing circumstances. They need to represent the best we have to offer to all learners, from early childhood to progressing adulthood.

URI is poised to be a leader in educational research with the track record in funded projects at the current School of Education and across the university. The scholarship of teaching and learning extends to all branches and units of the university and places research squarely in the reality of the public schools. We expect that our graduates will contribute to this body of research and innovation. This work will gain in prominence when resources can be concentrated in a single organization.

Charge to a Committee on Envisioning Education and Lifelong Learning, Research and Outreach at URI.

Given the central (re)vitalizing and (re)generative role education has in many aspects of the function of a university, the committee will examine potential opportunities to align our human, physical, and financial resources associated with education and lifelong learning into a single subdivision, school, college, or other entity.  In so doing, the committee will carefully and objectively consider the potential advantages and disadvantages of creating a new, less distributed, comprehensive, overarching academic structure for some or all education programs (over 15 programs at undergraduate and graduate levels; 1000 students) and services, professional development, and continuing education at URI, and examine models in place at other peer institutions.

The Committee will consider the following issues:

1)    Potential new academic structures that could be created to unite some or all of the education-related fields at URI and more efficiently and effectively address current overlap, gaps, duplication, and new options for coordinated curriculum, collaborative research, placement for clinical experiences, and professional development delivery;

2)    Explore optimal proximity arrangements of education and lifelong learning programs on campus and whether close physical proximity and space designed for student/community engagement would have advantages;

3)    Consider how innovative and interdisciplinary teaching and research opportunities and potential positive synergistic interactions among faculty could be advanced with an organizational alignment that consolidates education-related faculty expertise;

4)    Determine how this realignment would affect other programs, departments, school(s) and/or colleges and propose possible resolutions that might be explored to their benefit.

5)    Determine the benefits of the functional and structural design for outreach and partnership activities with public P-12 schools and other public educational entities and services.

In conducting this work, the committee will seek constructive input and ideas from key interested stakeholders including Deans, Directors, Department Chairs, faculty, and students in education-related fields at URI and in the public schools and other public educational entities. It is estimated that the work of the group will take no longer than three months to complete.

The product of this effort will be a report that describes the opportunity to reorganize some or all of the education and lifelong learning related programs at URI under a single structure and the implications, potentially positive and negative, of moving in that direction.  Also, to the extent that specific preferred models emerge during the discussions and deliberations, these will be shared as well.  The report will be shared with the Provost’s Office, the Administrative and Management Review Committee, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, and the Council of Deans as well as with other interested parties on campus.  Any proposed changes will be appropriately subjected to university shared governance review and approval processes.

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