Bills and Lim: Let Yalies learn about education

Hundreds of Yale students are interested in and passionate about public education. Yet when our teacher preparation program closes in a few weeks, there will be almost no classes on education politics, policy or practice offered at our university. We believe that next year’s Yale College Council should strongly advocate that President Levin found a new education center at Yale.

Yalies have unambiguously demonstrated their interest in public education. Last year, 250 seniors – 18 percent of the graduating class – applied to Teach for America, which has been the top employer of Yalies for three straight years. Even more graduates will end up teaching through programs like the Boston and New York Teacher Residencies, or will be placed directly in schools across the country. Many of these students would love to take at least a class or two on teaching and public education during their time as undergraduates.

Sadly, that option is not always available, because there are remarkably few education courses offered at Yale. John Starr’s seminars on education policy and politics have well over 100 applicants for a mere 20 spots; in fact, he recently opened up a new section targeted at graduate students. This semester, a college seminar taught by Matt Matera and Greg Rawson (graduate students at Yale and former TFA teachers themselves) had 130 applicants for 18 spots. Yet because it is a college seminar, it may never be offered again. “Schools, Communities, and the Teacher,” which is the only education class besides Starr’s to be taught on a regular basis, is similarly oversubscribed.

Unfortunately, Yale’s response to this interest so far has ranged from neglect to hostility. After years of maintaining a small but excellent graduate school of education and undergraduate teacher preparation program, Yale announced that it was shuttering both at the end of this year. Jack Gillette, the acclaimed professor who teaches “Schools, Community, and the Teacher,” had his position unceremoniously eliminated and is leaving.

Within weeks of this decision, 702 Yale undergraduates and hundreds of concerned alumni and graduate students signed a petition urging Yale to offer more education courses. But since President Levin, Dean Miller and others are skeptical of pre-professional programs, how can this need be addressed without compromising Yale’s identity as an institution focused on generating research and providing a liberal arts education?

Simple — a new beginning for the study of public education at Yale. While we believe that the teacher prep program has served Yale students well, if the administration is opposed to it on principle there are still other ways to ensure students have an opportunity to pursue their budding interests in schools and teaching.

We urge the administration to create a new education research center staffed by top social scientists in economics, sociology, political science, psychology and urban studies. In addition to these academics, Yale could attract the best innovators and practitioners in public education today — people like David Levin, the founder of KIPP charter schools, who recently received an honorary degree from Yale; or Doug Lemov, whose rigorous research on effective teaching has shaken up the field of teacher preparation; or Dacia Toll LAW ’99, who founded the Achievement First schools right here in New Haven. These leaders could spend a year or two pursuing research related to their practice, while educating and inspiring the next generation of leaders in education reform.

Who better than the YCC, which is tasked with representing students’ interests to the administration, to champion this cause? We know that this year’s candidates for YCC have been criticized for a lack of bold, new ideas. However, we have met with all of the candidates for president and vice president, and are encouraged by their willingness to show leadership on this important issue. Whoever wins this week’s election, we look forward to working with them to push for a bright new beginning for the study of public education at Yale.

Brian Bills is a junior in Ezra Stiles College and the coordinator for Yale for Education Studies. Lawrence Lim is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College and the president of Students for Education Reform.

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