In the late 1990s, the dean of the College of Education at Illinois State University (ISU) began to articulate a proposal for an Urban Teaching Park – a key component of the university’s plan to fulfill its statewide leadership-in-education role. In fact, the Illinois Board of Higher education focus statement for ISU reads:
Founded in 1857 to prepare teachers, Illinois State University is the state’s first public university. Illinois State is unique among public universities in that it provides statewide leadership in identifying the needs of Illinois schools and, through coordination with other colleges and universities, in developing and delivering programs tailored to meet them.
The Urban Teaching Park in the Chicago region would allow the university to develop graduate programs and expand technology-training programs offered to professional development school personnel. It would have direct access to teacher and schools education the state’s urban youth and will permit additional opportunities for innovative ways to serve students traditionally less able to access higher education. The Urban Teaching Park would also provide administrative support for professional development schools and other school/university partnerships, and would provide easier access for practicing teachers and school administrators to continue professional development. The Urban Teaching Park would encourage further partnership development between Chicago’s public schools and public universities.
The Urban Teaching Park was envisioned as an actual site or building in the city from which ISU could offer various resources, including course work for both preservice and graduate programs as well as professional development for its school-partnerships faculties.
In the meantime, the notion of the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline (CTEP) evolved under the leadership of a new dean in the College of Education. Research suggest that teachers often return home to teach, so why not work with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to identify middle and high school students with an interest in teaching, introduced those students to ISU, and work with City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) on a “pipeline” project to prepare these individuals to return to their communities.
ISU sought federally earmarked funds for the pipeline project; on June 30, 2003, Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. held a press conference along with ISU president Al Bowman, CPS chief executive officer Arne Duncan, and CCC chancellor Wayne D. Watson to announce the funding, and the pipeline was launched with these specific purposes:
The Pipeline will provide the Chicago area with a continuous supply of well-trained multicultural teachers for their public schools and will provide the nation with an exemplary model for urban teacher recruitment, teacher education, and mentorship…. The process of recruitment will begin in the middle and high schools with identification of students with aspirations of becoming teachers.... Students will also be given the opportunity to interact with University faculty through visits to Illinois State’s campus and faculty visits to Chicago high schools…. Recruitment and mentorship will continue as these future teachers proceed into their general education programs at either City Colleges of Chicago or directly to Illinois State…. As students advance through their professional education programs at Illinois State, support will continue with on-campus mentoring from faculty and peers. Students will return to Chicago public Schools for their complete senior year where they will be fully immersed in the practice of teaching…. This project will address the problem of retention by developing mentorship programs in Chicago Public Schools, [specifically] to earn [National Board] certification. These individuals, by attaining this certificate, will become leaders and positive role models for the groups of students who aspire to become teachers.
The first order of business was selecting a director for the pipeline, someone based in Chicago to oversee ongoing activities as well as initiate new projects- in essence, someone to make sense of the relationships that already existed so that operations were no longer “silos” but rather efficient and effective networks. In 2004, Dr. Robert E. Lee was hired to take the lead as director and start development of core partnerships to help leverage resources and create the foundational building blocks and vision of what is now a nationally recognized model for urban teacher recruitment and preparation.
Although each of the aforementioned grants, as well as the federal earmark, were now exhausted, the dream for a facility stayed alive throughout implementation of CTEP. LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), in collaboration with such agencies as the State Farm Companies Foundation, the university, and CPS, had identified various neighborhoods in the city with which it was currently working as possible locations. Following months of intense study and collaboration with these funding entities, the university identified the Little Village neighborhood as an ideal setting from which to base operations. The criteria for a neighborhood worthy of selection included the following:
The Little Village partnership will be used as a vehicle both to prepare students currently in ISU teacher preparation programs to live and work as teacher interns with the goals of preparing them for urban teaching careers, and to recruit young people from the neighborhood’s schools to ISU, hopefully to become teachers who would subsequently return to their neighborhood or to other Chicago neighborhoods to start their professional careers. At the heart of the model is a very simple concept: establishment of a community-based facility that provides comfortable lodging for ISU professors; classroom space for seminars and other instruction; a computer/Internet instructional laboratory; and space for groups with related missions to provide other services, such as after-school tutoring.
Research indicated that newly certified teachers are more likely to return home – or close by – to teach; therefore, recruiting teacher candidates from community high schools to the local university and returning them to the community is a promising strategy for creating a new and enduring population of teachers for the community. School/university partnerships work best when all parties gain: when students achieve; teacher candidates become strong local teachers and schools experience new strategies and resources; university faculty learn from current school experiences; and the local community benefits with a stable workforce of culturally responsive teachers. ISU has learned that teacher candidates whose internships run parallel with the school year are more likely than other to stay in the teaching profession.
Nothing like this partnership exists in the nation. It will leverage placement of teacher interns in Chicago’s public schools for senior-year experiences, integrating students’ university preparation with on-the-job teaching and learning. The partnership will involve school-based action research on teaching and learning, focused professional development for teachers and administrators, and infusion of the best practice with university instruction. Interns will provide professional assistance in classrooms as well as communication between school, home, and community. At its best, the collaboration will result in improved student achievement in local schools and comprehensive community development. At the same time, the university will learn from and refine a powerful partnership that will inform and improve its urban teacher preparation practices.
With this partnership in place, a grant entitled Professional Articulation for Recruiting/Retaining Teachers for Neighborhood Engagement and Renewal (PARTNER) Project ($2,557,730 + $1,116,466 secured in-kind match) was awarded to ISU’s Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline from the US Department of Education/Teacher Quality Enhancement in October 2005. In 2006, a grant from State Farm Foundation entitled National Engagement to Induct Growth & Housing: Building Organizations for Residents & Students (NEIGHBORS) was funded at $870,499 to launch the development of community-based housing options for ISU students and faculty.
In 2009, as a successful PARTNER Project came to an end, the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline assembled key partners to apply for a new grant offered by the US Department of Education – Teacher Quality Partnership, Office of Innovation and Improvement. Lessons learned during PARTNER Project would help prepare the new proposal for replication in two additional Chicago communities (Auburn Gresham (est. 2010) and Albany Park (est. 2012). TEACHER+PLUS (Teacher Education and Assessment Continuum for High-need Educators and Resources + Principal Leadership in Urban Schools) was awarded in October 2009 ($12,557,730 + $9,116,466 projected in-kind match) and State Farm also continued their support of the NEIGHBORS Project to complement the growth.
PARTNER, NEIGHBORS, and TEACHER+PLUS projects have each brought together parents, teachers, principals, district personnel, community members, university students, staff and faculty to develop, guide, and execute the collaborative work. As a university community, and alongside our partners, we are agents and advocates of social justice, and in solidarity we stand at the ready to find creative solutions to challenges encountered every day and to help leverage resources to work toward that end and on the foundation of teaching and learning. Our work translates not only service to our university students as they study to become teachers in and for Chicago, but contributes to the intellectual and human development of communities, schools, teachers, and children. It is a resounding practical representation of how we strive to realize the democratic ideal.
Over the past 13 years, the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline has been recognized as an exemplary model earning national acclaim from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, National Network for Educational Renewal, National Broadcasting Society, Association of Teacher Educators, and the American Educational Studies Association. These national and international awards recognize work that fosters the development of quality teaching, research and professional education practices that promote diversity, equity, and service-learning.