Cutting school?

(Zachary Schiller/YH Staff)

I asked Josh Satok, PC ’14, if he planned to continue with Education Studies after this semester. He smiled and hesitated. “I mean,” he said, “I guess it depends what opportunities there are, right?”

Satok had just told me that the study of education is something in which he’s deeply interested. He’s currently enrolled in “Schools, Community, and the Teacher,” a class taught by Professor Linda Cole-Taylor that places Yale students in public school classrooms across New Haven. The class will not be offered next semester, as Professor Cole-Taylor has announced plans to resign at the end of this term; Yale’s Education Studies program may be on the way out with her.

The past few years have seen a decline in Yale’s focus on teaching students to teach. When Yale discontinued its Teacher Preparation program in 2011, which certified students to teach in public schools, classes that dealt with teaching were offered under the name of Education Studies. It is neither a major nor a concentration; professors can choose to cross-list a class with Education Studies, but many of the classes fall under no other departments. Professor Cole-Taylor is the program’s director and founder. She has held that position since Jack Gillette, the co-founder and former director of undergraduate studies for Teacher Prep, resigned from his post on the heels of the University’s November 2010 announcement that both the undergraduate Teacher Prep program and the master’s program in Urban Education Studies would be terminated.

Negotiations between Cole-Taylor and Dean of Yale College Mary Miller over the future of Education Studies at Yale broke down this November, culminating in Cole-Taylor’s decision to step down as director of the program and leave Yale. Miller has said that new appointments will be made in order to continue offering Education Studies, but the administration has gradually thinned the program over the past few years and many students fear that a full discontinuation of Education Studies is imminent.

That would leave students who are interested in the study of education with virtually no outlets for their study of the field. I spoke to many of them, and they’re mad. “I think it’s kind of unconscionable for Yale as an institution of higher learning to not have any investment in exploring education,” Katy Clayton, DC ’14, said of the possibility that Yale would cut the program. Clayton took “Schools, Community, and the Teacher” last spring, and said it was one of the best courses she’s taken at Yale. “I don’t see how we can just let something like this fall by the wayside.”

Cole-Taylor took over the Education Studies program in 2011, after the former director of the program, Jack Gillette, resigned. Since then, Cole-Taylor has acted as the backbone of Education Studies at Yale, teaching most of the program’s courses. “Professor Cole-Taylor basically is the program right now,” Grace Lindsey, BR ’15, said.

The format of the “Schools, Community, and the Teacher” course is reflective of Cole-Taylor’s broader approach to the study of education. The class divides its time between a theoretical, academic examination of education and a hands-on observational section in which students go into public schools around New Haven and shadow teachers as they work in the classroom. According to one former student of Cole-Taylor’s, she’s got it right: “You need to be able to approach it from both practical and theoretical levels,” said Jesus Tirado, EdM ’11, who teaches history at the New Haven Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School. “You can’t have one without the other.”

Tirado, who earned a master’s degree from Yale’s Urban Education Studies program before it was terminated, added that it’s important for students to observe teachers firsthand. “If you don’t look at how the theory plays out in real situations,” he said, “then you’re kind of just playing mind games the whole time, which is not unimportant, but it’s not the same value as really getting involved with a school, with a class, with
a teacher.”

Students enrolled in “Schools, Community, and the Teacher” said they appreciated the opportunity for firsthand exposure to classroom environments. “You wouldn’t have the same reaction to the theory if you weren’t in the classroom,” Giuliana Berry, SY ’14, said. “Without the observation I don’t think the class would be as engaging and I don’t think we would get as much out of it as we do now.”

I met Berry in the Silliman Buttery at 8 p.m. on Tues., Nov, 27. A small group had gathered for a strategy session to discuss how to save the Education Studies program, and they let me sit in on the meeting. They mapped out plans for a panel that would discuss the value of the program, which they tentatively set for Fri., Dec. 7. They talked about posters, funding, and releasing a statement.

On Nov. 12, they set up a Facebook page, called “SAVE ED,” which had over 100 “likes” at the time of this article’s publication. The page outlines the group’s position on Education Studies at Yale: “The program’s future has become increasingly unclear as the administration continues to cut the program’s classes and structure. We would like the administration to consider student input in their reconstruction of an important and popular program.”

It is true that the program’s future has become increasingly unclear: the details of the failed negotiations between Cole-Taylor and Miller remain hazy. (Professor Cole-Taylor declined to comment on the circumstances of her resignation for this article.) It is entirely possible that the administration will replace Cole-Taylor and leave the program intact—indeed, Miller has said that this is her intent—but students nevertheless
remain apprehensive.

One problem that University officials voiced with regard to the Teacher Prep program was that it seemed too pre-professional. Some students worry that this line of reasoning will be used again, this time in order to justify the termination of the Education Studies program as a whole.

Students in the program offered spirited rebuttals to this potential line of attack. Lindsey, who is currently enrolled in “The Teaching of History,” another Education Studies class taught by Cole-Taylor, said she thought the observational aspect of the Education Studies program did not make it more pre-professional or career-oriented. “What you’re doing is giving people an academic grounding in a discipline that has a component in which you’re observing professionals,” she said. “How is that different from any other discipline?”

Another sticking point has been a perceived lack of student interest in the program. This was one of the main factors that led to the demise of the Teacher Prep program in 2011: “The Teacher Preparation program in Yale College has seen a decline in certifications over time,” read the news release announcing the program’s cancellation.

Education Studies students have a crisp rebuttal to this argument, too: a weak program can’t generate interest, and a non-existent program eradicates it. “I think it’s an awful self-fulfilling prophecy if we say that since there isn’t enough interest on campus we shouldn’t have a program,” Sophia Weissmann, SM ’14, said. “That means there will never be any interest on campus because you need a program to attract kids.”

In interviews, many Education Studies students noted that the final project for students in the Global Affairs program requires working for a semester at either a government agency, a not-for-profit, or a nongovernmental organization. “Maybe what Education Studies needs is some rich donor to give $50 million to make a big Education Studies Institute,” Satok said, making a somewhat wry reference to the Jackson Institute, out of which the Global Affairs program is run.

All of the students I interviewed who are enrolled in “Schools, Community, and the Teacher” offered the same example of how high the demand is for Education Studies classes. Cole-Taylor, they said—almost as if they had all rehearsed the same lines—likes to teach smaller groups of students, so instead of teaching one class of 20 students, she broke the class in two and teaches two sections back-to-back. This parable was evidently meant to demonstrate two things: there was more demand for the class than Cole-Taylor felt would be appropriate for an ideally-sized section, and she’s a champ, willing to put in extra time in order to better serve her students. (Indeed, students lionize Cole-Taylor, frequently using words like “love,” “the best,” and “role model.”)

Weissman led the Tuesday night meeting in the Silliman Buttery, ticking off bullet points from her laptop. They discussed strategies for getting the word out about the planned panel, using both Facebook posts and email blasts. In general, students were not only open with me in interviews for this article, but were also eager to raise awareness. They really, really want to be able to take these classes, and they made sure to tell me so.

Students bemoaned the fact that University officials have not sought input from them in the potential restructuring of the Education Studies program. “That lack of transparency and input is one of the most concerning factors regarding the future of the program because of the degree to which it raises the uncertainty,” Lindsey said.

The students running the SAVE ED group aren’t banking on that outcome. I asked one of them, Rachel Fishkis, CC ’13, whether she was optimistic about the prospects that the Education Studies program could be saved. “I am optimistic,” she said, “especially because Salovey is coming in, which gives me hope because he seems receptive to student input. But two years ago I also was very optimistic about Teacher Prep, so that makes me a little more cautious.”

Michelle Shortsleeve, EdM ’10, who earned a master’s from the Urban Education Studies program and now teaches at Achievement First, a New Haven charter school, lamented the possibility that the Education Studies program might be cut. “It’s a very high-quality program,” she said, “and I think it would be a real shame for New Haven to lose that from Yale and for Yale not to give that opportunity to
its undergraduates.”

Right now, everything is up in the air; as they fight for their program, Education Studies students will have to wait and see what happens.

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