CEHD proposal under scrutiny

December 10, 2009

After receiving a $4.5 million grant from the Bush Foundation on Friday to overhaul teacher education curriculum, the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development is moving forward with what has become a controversial redesign of its teaching curriculum.

The Teacher Education Redesign Initiative (TERI) began about three years ago and has gained more momentum in the past year. The initiative aims to work with area K-12 schools to find out what qualities good teachers should have and then incorporate those qualities into the curriculum.

Seven task groups worked over the summer to propose ideas for the curriculum redesign, and most of their suggestions were uncontroversial. However, suggestions from the race, culture, class and gender task group have been criticized by some as a form of indoctrination.

The task group proposed that prospective teachers be required to demonstrate cultural competency and show an understanding of issues such as institutional racism in schools, white privilege and the “myth of meritocracy in the United States.”

The proposal calls for all teacher education courses to address issues of race, class, culture and gender. For students who don’t meet the cultural competency guidelines, the plan calls for CEHD to develop remedial steps to teach students the material.

Under the guidelines, teachers would “take responsibility for removing cultural and linguistic barriers to classroom learning” and “seek to create equal and just environments for teaching and learning.”

CEHD Dean Jean Quam said the college is committed to having faculty who can teach diverse students from all kinds of backgrounds.

“The report is not policy,” she said. “For now, it’s just brainstorming.”

The college hasn’t decided yet what pieces from each task force will be used in the redesign, Quam said.

Even though the task group’s statements were just ideas, many people are still worried by the proposal, especially after the initiative received a boost from the Bush Foundation. A $4.5 million grant from the foundation will help jump-start TERI’s community outreach efforts and provide continued support for graduates working as teachers.

A national group called Foundation for Individual Rights in Education recently sent a letter to University President Bob Bruininks criticizing the proposals and calling for the University to reject the ideas proposed in the task group’s report.

“To learn about other cultures and cultural differences is one thing, but to say you’re not going to be considered an acceptable teacher if you don’t have these values and beliefs is unacceptable,” said Adam Kissel, director of FIRE’s individual rights defense program and author of the letter.

FIRE doesn’t take a position on the actual proposals, Kissel said, but they do want to protect free speech and freedom of conscience in educational settings.

“As much as possible, we do want to defer to experts in the field to promote the views and values they feel are right,” he said. “But they cross the line when they say everyone should hold those views, especially when it’s an issue of genuine controversy.”

TERI director Misty Sato said the task group’s ideas have been misrepresented as policy and current practice, but curriculum changes are still being discussed.

“The seven task group reports are now being folded together and knitted together into the larger redesigned curriculum,” she said.

The final decisions regarding curriculum and admissions changes will be made by “a broad swath of people” from CEHD, the community and representatives from local K-12 schools, Sato said.

“We’re still in a lot of conversation about what we want to adopt or what we can’t adopt because there isn’t enough time or because people aren’t in close enough agreement about it,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of discussion and lots of shifting.”

TERI is hoping to have curriculum changes implemented by fall 2011, Sato said.

Schools: University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Cases: University of Minnesota – Twin Cities: Political Litmus Test for Future Teachers