On the Path to Becoming “Highly Qualified”: New Teachers Talk about the Relevancy of Social Foundations

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EDUCATIONAL STUDIES, 44: 222246, 2008Copyright C American Educational Studies AssociationISSN: 0013-1946 print / 1532-6993 onlineDOI: 10.1080/00131940802511500SOCIAL FOUNDATIONS CLASSROOMOn the Path to Becoming HighlyQualified: New TeachersTalk about the Relevancyof Social FoundationsJULIE H. CARTERSt. Johns UniversityEducational policy debates around the definitions of, and prescriptions for, the de-velopment of qualified teachers have long ignored the role that social foundationscan play in equipping new teachers for their roles in urban classrooms (Butin, 2005a;2005b; Cochran-Smith, 2004; Sirotnik, 1990). This article examines the voices of aset of urban teachers who have used their social foundations course to think throughthe urban educational terrain. Findings from these iterations indicate three themesfor how new teachers articulate the relevancy of social foundations. Both prospec-tive and practicing new teachers argue that social foundations not only informs theirthinking about the work of teaching and their understandings of the context of thatwork in urban schools, but it facilitates decision making around issues of practice.The most important finding is that teachers say it is social foundations courseworkthat helps them to place themselves within current debates about what defines ahighly qualified teacher.I think that everyone needs to take a class like this because it really makes youquestion why one wants to be a teacher, what kind of teacher that one wants to be,and as a teacher, what one wants to accomplish.Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Julie H. Carter, Foundations & Secondary Education,Department of Curriculum & Instruction, St. Johns University, 8000 Utopia Parkway, Queens, NY11439. E-mail: carterj@stjohns.eduEDUCATIONAL STUDIES 223Thus begins the plea from one graduate preservice teacher for attention tothe role that a course in social foundations can play as new teachers begin toarticulate their beliefs and commitments to the work of teaching. In my so-cial foundations courses in an urban teacher education program, I often faceperceptions of relevance starting on the first day of class, when I ask what stu-dents are expecting to learn in a course entitled Social Foundations of Learn-ing. Common claims include, I wanted to get the courses that had to dowith teaching out of the way first [before taking social foundations] and Ithought this course would be more [of a] theory [course] and less about teach-ing. These perceptions are, of course, reasonable. As preservice teachers be-gin to wonder how they will approach the everyday challenges of teaching ina classroom, they want answers that provide direction, and a framework fordecision making that do not necessitate the asking of more questions. Percep-tions of relevancy run alongside the very real possibility that teacher candi-dates will relegate social foundations concepts to the heap of learning con-sidered not directly applicable to the classroom. Unfortunately, students arenot alone in these suspicions of the social foundations course. Educationalpolicy debates around the definitions of, and prescriptions for, the develop-ment of qualified teachers have long ignored the role that social foundationscan play in equipping new teachers for their roles in urban classrooms (Butin2005a; 2005b; Cochran-Smith 2004; Haberman 1987; Sirotnik 1990). Addi-tionally, there have been discussions supporting the concern about an absenceof a strong social foundations presence in preservice programs (Hess, Rother-ham, and Walsh 2004; Sirotnik 1990) and analyses of outright threats to elim-inate social foundations from teacher education programs (Morrison 2007; seeVirginia Educational Studies Association, 2006). Scholarship has also posited thatnew teachers see their theoretical coursework as unhelpful to the practicalwork of teaching (Boyd et al. 2006; Grossman 2008; Haberman 1987; PublicAgenda 2000; U.S. Department of Education 2002). However few studies haveexplored the question of relevancy from the perspective of social foundationsstudents (Murrow 2006), and it would seem vital that students be among thevoices heard in such debates, or at the very least, that they be able to talk backto scholars and policy makers about the role that social foundations plays onthe path to becoming highly qualified teachers. Based upon the voices of mystudents, I argue that it is within their coursework in social foundations that stu-dents begin to elucidate their emerging perspectives of the field, articulate theirunderstandings of what it means to be a new teacher in urban America, and indoing so, place themselves within critical debates about what highly qualifiedteachers find most germane to their preparation. When we listen to the voicesof those most affected by policy decisions around teacher education, we findardent justifications for the role that social foundations has and will play forteaching, broadly conceived as a developing practice, not one that is completed224 CARTERas teachers transition from their certification programs into their first jobs asteachers.RELEVANCY ISSUE IN POLICY DEBATESA short review of literature surrounding the tensions between theoretical and prac-tical teacher education coursework is helpful to situate the importance of listeningto prospective teachers on this matter. In 2004, American Enterprise Institute, apolitically conservative think tank, produced a report that suggested that Americanschools of education were not only providing teachers an intellectually barrenpreparation, but also producing teachers with politically biased and ideologicallyimbalanced perspectives on teaching and learning, and doing so, in large part,via coursework in the foundations of education (Hess et al. 2004). This criticismwas not new. Various studies and policy reports both within and outside of so-cial foundations circles have indicated that new teachers see their coursework asonly marginally important to the work of teaching (Boyd et al. 2006; Haberman1987; Public Agenda 2000; U.S. Department of Education 2002). A 2000 reportby Public Agenda (funded by the Open Society Institute and Thomas B. Ford-ham Foundation), for example, reported that teachers see their teacher educationcoursework as far too theoretical to be helpful in the work of teaching.Although 41 percent of teachers say their preparatory programs struck the rightbalance between theory and practice, more than half (56 percent) say there wastoo much education theory and not enough focus on practical classroom challenges.These perceptions sometimes created a dismissive backlash toward venerated educa-tion philosophers: All these methods classes, Piaget, and all that stuffits mostlyuseless, declared one teacher. (Public Agenda 2000, 30)Since such teachers also tend to see going back to school as an unnecessarystep to teaching (Public Agenda, 2000), they may also be more likely to enroll inprograms that minimize theoretical coursework. Back in the late 1980s, KennethSirotnik (1990) sought to uncover the extent to which the study of foundationspermeated teacher education programs nationally. The study was an effort to ex-plicate what he believed to be the eroded presence of social foundations inteacher education programs. Rather than finding an overbearing ideological slantcoming from teacher educators, or efforts to indoctrinate teachers, he found thatthe language of [foundations] was simply not part of [students] vocabulary andthat students and education faculty alike appeared unaware of any underlyingphilosophy driving [their] programs (712). Fifteen years later, Dan Butin (2004),attempting to counter the argument that teacher education in foundations had be-come ideologically imbalanced, conducted an analysis of eighty-nine foundationscourse syllabi from eighty-five different higher education institutions. In his find-ings, he suggested that preservice teachers may still not be receiving an adequateEDUCATIONAL STUDIES 225level of foundational thinking from their programs; but more specifically from thereadings reflected in their syllabi. According to Butin, although prospective teach-ers may not be receiving sufficient preparation within foundations courses, theinadequacy is not due to intellectually barren content. As Butin (2004) asserted,prospective teachers seem to be exposed primarily to pre-digested perspectivesand pre-packaged secondary sources that cannot adequately convey the criticalconversations, intractable dilemmas, and potential effectiveness of American ed-ucation (28). More recently, Butin (2005a) edited a special issue of the journalEducational Studies, devoted to articulating how and why social foundationsof education matters for teacher preparation within a policy framework (3). Helocated the decline of foundations coursework within efforts of policy makers,who have reframed teacher education discourses. Such frameworks, according toButin, among others (Apple 2000; 2006; Meier and Wood 2004; Selwyn 2006;Sunderman, Kim, and Orfield 2005) have linked the No Child Left Behind Actscommitment to closing achievement inequities directly to the instrumentaliza-tion of teacher skill sets that circumvent actual course content on issues of raceand class inequities. It would, therefore, be important to understand what thosemost highly qualified to close these gaps have to say about trends toward in-strumentalization vis-a-vis issues of inequity.Educators have long expressed a concern for the messages that get sent inschools of education, to teachers headed into urban schools specifically (Delpit1996; Hilliard 2004), and for the hegemonic mechanisms though which thosemessages get forged. Michael Apple (2000; 2006), among others (Anyon 2005;Nelson, Palonsky, and McCarthy 2007) has been an influential voice to articu-late the processes that undergird the conservative modernization of educationalpolicies (Apple 2000, xi). According to Apple, this trend has favored commonsense approaches to the establishment of seemingly neutral standards with regardto curriculum and textbooks, and to the knowledge they legitimize. These largelyneo-conservative efforts have resulted in deep suspicion of the motives and com-petence of teachers (Apple 2006, 43). Such distrust has led to intensified effortsto control the everyday work of teaching. To a growing extent, teachers have be-come the targets of efforts to reform what is wrong with education. At the teachereducation level, coursework that focuses on the intellectual work of teachingforexample the broader political and social inequities in wealth, housing, healthcare,gender, and heterosexist privilege systemshave yielded to instruction in tech-nical approaches to student success. This shift has not only been noted by thosein teacher education, but by teachers themselves. Teachers get the message that,rather than larger structural and sociological explanations, they, themselves, arelargely responsible for children who succeed and for those who fail at school. Arecent survey conducted by New York Citys teacher union revealed that over 80percent of respondents (61,000 teachers), disagreed that their educational chan-cellor has confidence in teachers expertise (Gootman 2008). Asa Hilliard (2004)226 CARTERhas indicated that such messages lead to a lack of faith among educators inurban settings. Further, prospective teachers are exposed to the rhetoric of leav-ing no child behind, although few seem to know about the excellent teaching andlearning environments that do exist for urban children (Hilliard 2004, 28). Theresulting crop of new teachers comes to fear their responsibility to close the gapwith little understanding of its origins, nor any overarching philosophy for theirwork in schools. Recent studies indicate that in alternative certification programs,particularly ones that fast-track teachers into classrooms without a full set of priorcoursework, teachers articulate feeling unprepared to fulfill their responsibilitiesin relation to curriculum and instruction (Keiler and Carter 2007; Carter and Keilerin press). The problem, therefore, is one in which new teachers are entering thefield without having had an opportunity to think through, question, and developa comprehensive picture of the educational system they are soon to become a partof, and this level of unpreparedness threatens the potential of teachers as a vehiclefor democratic education (Butin, 2004, 29).Certainly, even social foundations scholars would agree that weak foundationscourses are poor preparation for engaging in the intellectual enterprise to whichButin (2004) referred. I do not argue here that teacher education faculty needto be overly concerned about presenting a balanced perspective of the historyand social context of schooling. I argue, however, that as educators provide stu-dents access to the broad range of historical and current debates on teaching andlearning, they begin to articulate those perspectives for themselves and that, un-like Sirotniks (1990) findings, students do develop the vocabulary to articulatethe language of foundations. Sonia Murrow (2006) has pointed out that whenundergraduate students are given a rich assortment of texts and assessments thatallow them to dialogue with the texts, they can and do develop an authentictheory-and-practiced-based philosophy of education, which may allow them toenact critical pedagogy in real classrooms. This might include advocacy for theirstudents and schools (54). What seems vital then, are the perspectives of prospec-tive and practicing teachers as they make explicit the role of social foundationsreadings in these philosophies. This is especially true in urban contexts, regardingconversations about what it means to develop highly qualified teachers. It isthese iterations that can and should be used, not only to respond to, but also toextrapolate relevant policy debates. When new and prospective teachers give voiceto their developing understandings about the social and political issues to whichthey are most subject, the shift in thinking can be significant. New beliefs canbecome deeply held convictions that, as professional educators have suggested,can and should lead to individual and collective action for change.This article examines the voices of a set of urban teachers who have usedtheir social foundations course to think through the urban educational terrainand, in some cases, take action toward creating equitable environments for urbanchildren. The data, taken from four groups of prospective and practicing teachersEDUCATIONAL STUDIES 227(N = 104) at one urban institution, lays bare their response to course readingsand writing exercises on the role that social foundations plays in their thinkingon the critical conversations that currently play out in the literature about urbanteaching and learning. Findings from these iterations indicate three themes forhow new teachers articulate the manner in which social foundations contributes totheir understandings about what it means to be a teacher. I argue here that whenprovided the course-based opportunities, new and prospective teachers articulatethat social foundations concepts inform their thinking about the work of teachingand their understandings of the context of teaching in schools, facilitate decisionmaking around issues of practice and, most important I argue, help them placethemselves within current debates about what defines a highly qualified teacher.PRACTITIONER RESEARCH METHODOLOGYAs a teacher educator, sensitive to policy assertions about what is most vital forhighly qualified teachers to know, I wanted to know what my students thoughtabout this question. What do graduate-level education students find most relevantto the work of teaching, be they preservice or practicing? For approximatelytwenty years, teacher educators have turned to practitioner research to addressthe central questionwhat do my students know or understand as a result oftheir teacher education experience? Initially, practitioner research was valued asa new paradigm, a multifaceted epistemological accounting of teacher practice.Its location, closest to teachers and classrooms, made it a uniquely powerfultool to address legitimate questions about teaching and learning on the ground(for reviews of this literature, see Borko, Liston, and Whitcomb 2007; Cochran-Smith and Lytle 1999; Zeichner 1999). However, as national education policy isincreasingly intertwined with the everyday practices of classroom teachers, recentcriticism has highlighted the limitations that small-scale and localized studies mayhave in contributing to larger national debates on quality teaching (Borko et al.2007; Cochran-Smith 2005; Cochran-Smith and Lytle 1999). Marilyn Cochran-Smith (2005) has argued that although practitioner research influences teachereducation practices within the academy, such studies can have little or no valuewhen teacher education is conceptualized as a broad-scale policy problem becausethey are not intended to establish causal relationships and because generalizationsabout the broad parameters of teacher preparation are impossible to draw fromthem (112). However, as Hilda Borko, Dan Liston and Jennifer Whitcomb (2007)recently pointed out in their analysis of methodological genres in education, noone research paradigm can address the varied range of questions researchers haveabout teacher education. Further, they posit that maintaining a variety of researchmodels will help to ensure the vitality of the field by recognizing the affordancesand limitations of each genre and by championing the legitimate contributions each228 CARTERmakes to illuminate persistent dilemmas in teacher education (10). With thesetensions and understandings in mind, it becomes vital to hear and then includethe voices of preservice and practicing teachers in relation to the relevance socialfoundations has for them as they prepare to be the newest highly qualified urbanteachers. These data represent voices that may go unheard if teacher educatorscontinue to narrowly interpret what counts as empirical knowledge.ParticipantsI used a convenience sample of four cohorts of students (N = 104) in an urbanteacher preparation program. Many are teachers already, getting their certificateand masters degree after several years in the field, often in parochial schools.These teachers are often looking to transition in public school positions. Othersare preservice, career-change students who have come to education from arange of other professions. They are a diverse group of urbanitesfirst, second,and third generation immigrants, African American, Hispanic, White, Pan-Asian,and Pan-African, enrolled in early childhood, childhood, and adolescent educationprograms at a large university-based urban teacher education program in New YorkCity. They take their courses in the evenings, for some after a day of teaching, andusually finish their programs within three years. The course in which the researchwas conducted is often the very first course in their 42 credit masters program, theonly course in the program in which foundational issues (philosophy, history, andsociology of education) are covered, and often represents their first encounter witheducational texts of any kind. The most recent data for program completers of theNew York State Teacher Certification Exam indicate an institutional passing rate inexcess of ninetyeight percent. For the Content Specialty Tests, passing rates rangefrom eighty-eight percent to one hundred percent (NYS Department of Education,2008). Therefore, by current federal and state standards, these students are soon tobe considered highly qualified teachers (U.S. Department of Education 2004).Data Collection and AnalysisData for this study was collected over the course of two years, and four classes,from students at various times during the semester, within the social foundationscourses I teach. Via in-class and take-home writing assignments, I collected,coded, and then analyzed themes regarding the relevance issue for this article.For each class, there were a total of four such assignments and a total of sixteenseparate sets analyzed (see Table 1). The total number of subjects was 104, andresponses analyzed totaled 236. Each of the four sets of data comprised open-endedwriting assignments that included: one impromptu in-class response-writing, twoself-assessment assignments (one mid-course, one end-of-course), and one finalEDUCATIONAL STUDIES 229TABLE 1Data SourcesSource Number of(Number of Sets ResponsesAnalyzed) Reading Summary AnalyzedIn-class About recent threats to 103response writing (4) Shaking Foundations eliminate foundations in(Morrison 2007) the states of Virginia and FloridaTake-home None Asks student to 76participation self articulate their-assessment (8) developing thinking inthe course vis-a-viscourse readingsFinal course Based on at least 10 Asks students to explore 57assessment (2) course readings of course readings vis-a-visstudents choosing (see their own developmentfollowing section)assessment on the readings themselves. The in-class impromptu writing askedone question: What if social foundations were to be eliminated from our staterequirements for certification? The final assessment asked two questions: Whatfindings from the readings have been most important to you? And In whatways have/have not course readings influenced your thinking about teaching andlearning as a new teacher? The self-assessments asked students to recount howthey had contributed to the course, to their peers, and how their thinking had (or hadnot) developed over the semester. Only the self-assessments were prepared at homeand typed. Each was collected, but only the self-assessment (two per term) andfinal assessment (one per term) were graded. Additionally, the self-assessment wasself-graded, and in most cases, I agreed and accepted the students grade. The studywas preapproved by an institutional review board and data were only analyzedafter the course was concluded and after students had provided permission fortheir work to be analyzed by the researcher. To account for the opportunity forstudents to indicate the ways in which they had not developed nor been informedby the course and its readings, a question in the Self-Assessment asks In whatways have you not developed in your thinking and what, do you suppose, accountsfor that? Results from that question were negligible, and therefore not included.Robert Bogdan and Sari Knoff Biklen (1992) outlined various analysis strate-gies that I utilized while in the process of making sense of the data. As all datawas collected in electronic and hand-written form, I initially conducted a reviewof all the information I obtained on these hard-copies by jotting notes in the mar-gins and writing memos on initial impressions on the data (Bogdan and Biklen1992). Each semester, I transcribed any handwritten data, and added my notes230 CARTERas an initial cooked level of analysis to both hand-written and electronic setsof data (Hubbard and Power 2003). At the analysis stage, I used Norman Den-zins (2002) notion of triadic interactional processes to interpret the data. Asstudents writings about their foundational understandings are personal, they arebiographical, emotional, and felt in streams of experience (Denzin 2002, 361).As such, their perceptions are the first lens of interpretationa meaning-makingof the tellers own design. Given this, I was careful to code meanings, as they wereexpressed through the tellers use of language. These codes are the second layerof interactional meaning-making; I coded these common phrases in a qualitativeanalysis software program (N6 by QSR). For example, the term vital arose asa predominant way to describe the need for social foundations coursework, and Iknew it was important by the sheer number of times it was used. These assertionsof importance, however, were then contextualized, as Denzin (2002) suggested,within my own experiences as an insider, or, in this case, a classroom professorof social foundations who understands that students who see the course as criticalto their work, also tend to be the students who can best articulate how that changeis manifest in their thinking. This contextualization represents the third layer ofinteractional meaning-making and formed the basis for my analysis.Course ContextThe graduate-level course is meant to facilitate student inquiry into the historical,sociological, and political context of teaching and learning, toward the articulationof a personal philosophy of education. It is a required course in a 42-credit sequenceleading to certification and a masters degree. Readings are the focal point of allother activity in that they form the basis of assignments and inquiry-based class-room activities. Each week students read several primary-source readings, whichmay include research articles, biographical works, or educational theory. Authorsinclude, but are not limited to, John Dewey (1959), George Counts (1978), Max-ine Seller (1988), Alfie Kohn (2004), William Ayers (1995), Lisa Delpit (1996),Patrick Finn (1999), Gloria Ladson-Billings (1996; 1997), Ray Rist (1970), VitoPerrone (1988), and Paulo Freire (2006). In conjunction with course readings,each week students create triple-entry journals, in which they choose compellingpassages to interpret and analyze, and from which to generate personal and pro-fessional connections. The double-entry journal is a writing practice developed byAnn Bertoff et al. (1984), harnessed successfully by the National Writing Project,and then the New York City Writing Project and, more recently written aboutwithin the context of teacher education and social foundations (Murrow 2006;Traugh et. al. 2002). As Murrow (2006) pointed out, when using the double-entry format students discover early on in the course that the journal is not onlyfundamental to the course structure (21), but key to developing their personalEDUCATIONAL STUDIES 231philosophy as teachers (Murrow 2006). The double-entry journal is only slightlymodified in my course, adding a third interpretive section. Before respondingwith their analyses and synthesizing of the works for themselves, I ask that theyinterpret what they believe the author meant to convey to reader. This added layerof scaffolding allows students to fully articulate the writers ideas before they di-alectically respond to those responses, take notes on their notes, and comment ontheir comments (Berthoff et al. 1984, 20). Students then exchange their journalswith a peer, and receive feedback on it, in addition to the feedback they will re-ceive from me. This happens as a rotating process, where students exchange witheach other for two weeks, then with me on the third. This peer-review processexpands opportunities for dialogue, beyond the actual class day in which readingsare covered because it is at home, and with those conversations in mind, that peersundertake the task of reviewing the work of their colleagues. In class, student-driven discussions form the basis of group activities that apply the writers ideasto the current context and the work of teachers. Additionally, groups of studentstake on a major work of educational research and use it to transform our classroominto an inquiry-based experience for the rest of the class on the topic researched.These topics include teacher expectations, social class and race issues in schools,multilingual issues, best practices, and teaching for social justice.FINDINGSThree categories emerge that indicate what the newest highly qualified teachershave to say on the matter of the relevancy of social foundations. The first has todo with creating a vision for themselves as teachers. Coming from other careers,these graduate students articulate a redefining process for their previously heldunderstandings of what teachers are and who, therefore, they can and will be.This process of redefining is articulated, with attention to the dichotomies ofwho they were, and who they are becoming as a result of social foundationsreadings. The second relates to understanding the urban educational terrain. Here,students say they take cues from history and current politics to negotiate thetensions between what has occurred behind the scenes with what is being askedof them as teachers. Finally, students talk about advocacy and change, which areparticularly poignant among the already practicing teachers. Here, they expressrenewed passion for the work ahead of them, a change in mission toward anadvocacy stance, and a commitment to changing practices that create relevant,meaningful, and caring spaces for children; and these accounts are keyed to thedetails of pedagogy, indicating exactly how new teachers use foundational ideasin their teaching. Each of these themes allows us to create a dialectical linkagebetween the issue of the relevance of social foundations, and the ways new teachersuse social foundations as a lever to transform the practice of teaching.232 CARTERCREATING A VISION OF THEMSELVES AS TEACHERSVarious opportunities for written response to texts formed the basis of the data.Along with self-assessments of their own development, and syntheses of coursereadings, students were given a chance to respond to in-class readings such asShaking Foundations (Morrison 2007), a report about state efforts to elimi-nate social foundations from teacher education programs. For this assignment,students were asked to write an expository piece, imagining that the social foun-dations were being removed from our states teacher certification requirements.Across the writings, students indicate that social foundations have the power todefine ones identity as a teacher. Much of the data indicate that it is in the socialfoundations course where preservice and practicing teachers first construct crit-ical interpretations of the work of teaching and particularly of themselves. Onefemale preservice student wrote, As a pre-service teacher, and only an occasionalsub[stitute teacher], having a foundations course made me realize who I am.Making this discovery, finding oneself, or more specifically finding ones foot-ing is a common theme among the data that emerges from writings of studentsanalyzing their own development and participation in the course.It was in the foundations that I learned how to find my footing in this professionand also to remember where my motivation to teach comes from. Were teachers.With that territory, comes the fact that we are thinkers, doers, creators, figures andsometimes actors.As this female preservice teacher indicated, the social foundations course allowsher to think, do, and create her role in the profession, a generative definitionthat was absent from her understanding of the work of teaching prior to the course.Like her, others talk about an endeavor to find themselves and their motivation forteaching.I feel I was somewhat of a blank slate when I decided to obtain my masters degree ineducation because I had no background or experience in the field. The readings trulyopened my mind and forced me to reflect on myself and what inspires/discouragesmeand why.Another female student, a practicing parochial teacher for a few years, articulateshow the course, and its readings, helped her see a motivational center she hadnot previously experienced in the profession.I have been a teacher for some years now, but I have not seen my teaching careerin a way that I am seeing it today. This is all because of what I learned from thereadings in the course. I am now more comfortable accepting teaching. I see a newmeaning into itthat of service, giving and making a difference. It is no longer aEDUCATIONAL STUDIES 233job to keep myself busy or earn money or keep up my status. I learned this frommost of the readings, like Covello, [sic] Carothers especially. Right now I am alreadyimplementing what I have learned from these authors specificallyseeing childrenas individuals who deserve respect. I see myself as a role model for these childrenin my class.Teaching is seen for the first time in a critical light and seeing anew isrepeatedseeing herself and the role she allots to work and to her status; andfor her students, seeing how they deserve to be both seen and respected. Thereadings of the course allow her to formulate this renewed vision of herself, andof teaching as her avocation, not just her job.In response to Shaking Foundations (Morrison 2007), many students artic-ulated anger and incredulity at policy makers who they see threatening teachersindividuality and creativity.By replacing our Foundations course with other courses with titles like InstructionalDesign Based on Assessment Data and Classroom Management you are takingaway creativity and individuality. Instead it seems you are making us robots ormachines to teach using one method. Our foundations course is beneficial because ithelps us find where we stand on certain important life issues that we are faced within the classroom. These kinds of classes have such a big impact that it can sometimesalter our own perceptions of society and the classroom.This students critique of policies that make robots or machines out of teachersis directly in line with analyses of the deprofessionalization of teaching, and thelinks between these efforts and the push for national teacher standards (Apple2006; Butin 2005; Cochran-Smith and Fries 2004; Dottin et al. 2005). She isnot alone. Many responses simultaneously question the logic of replacing socialfoundations with more technical courses while helping students define why theyhave chosen to be teachers.The readings that we analyzed during the course this semester all lead back to thesame question, what is best for the kids? These readings remind us that we havechosen our profession because we care. In caring about our students, we want toprovide them with the best educational experience that we can. If the foundationscourse was eliminated and replaced with courses that focused on how to teachstudents to take standardized tests, for example, it is possible and likely that focuson the student might be lost.This female preservice teacher expresses how the course readings have recon-firmed her reasons for becoming a teacherto care about children. She wondersabout the fate of children without teachers who are strongly grounded in foun-dational readings. Others wonder about future teachers. What path will they234 CARTERfollow? And further, how would following that path influence their passion for thefield?If teachers are not able to read about the ideas and concerns about educationalfigures, how will they find their own path? And thats exactly what the problem iswith omitting the foundations course. The prospective teachers are now required tofollow one path. How boring! Teachers will lose their passion that is already difficultto enact in classrooms todayand then students will never have the opportunity tobe engaged.This female preservice student feels that readings in the social foundations havegiven her the option of choosing a path to success. She articulates a linkage be-tween passion and instructional decision-making that, according to her, providesteachers the direction they need to truly engage students in their learning. Asthe data presented indicate, preservice and in-service teachers who take socialfoundations are emphatic that social foundations is germane to finding, thendefining, themselves in the profession. In these justifications, they articulate thelinkage between their readings and the work of teaching as vital. What is inter-esting about these articulations is the absolute clarity with which preservice andpracticing teachers express what all new teachers should, and, further need to,know.Their sense of belonging to a collective struggle for change is demonstrated inthe data as well. Knowing the issues that resonate with them, however, is key tounderstanding how new teachers understand these issues, and then formulate theirphilosophies and personal commitments to the struggle for change.Understanding the Urban Educational TerrainMany students come into the social foundations course knowing little moreabout it than that it represents a requirement toward completion of their certi-fication/masters program. As such, many students expect to be told what theyneed to know about teaching and learning. This may stem from their experiencein other, more technical coursework. But more likely, it stems from a real desirefor coursework content that tells them how to interpret and, thus, react to therange of educational challenges they will face in the classroom. In reflecting backon her own development in the course, a female preservice teacher contrasted thisexpectation of a course that just shows [her] what to teach, with her relief atbeing presented the context of the field in broader terms.I came in with an overwhelming feeling of wanting to be told what to do. My wholementality was simply, show me what to teach and show me how to teach it. Iwanted to be provided with curriculum and a basis for making decisions. I wantedEDUCATIONAL STUDIES 235everything spelled out for me and all decisions to be presented as either black orwhite. Thankfully after taking this course I realized that teaching is not so and if itis, then something is wrong. The authors I read in this course did little to sugar-coateducation. If I learned nothing else from them, I learned that teaching is always achallenge, often difficult and many times an uphill battle.For this student, the discovery that teaching is challenging work filled withdecisions was surprising. However she alludes to the tension between sugar-coated perceptions of teaching, and the forthright conversation in which she hasbeen engaged with authors as one she appreciates. Students express gratefulnessfor how prepared readings in social foundations have made them for the realworld of teaching. Another female preservice teacher sees her social foundationscourse as peek into a world we dont have knowledge of yet and a true preparationfor it.Foundations courses need to be in the curriculum. Without a foundations courseteachers would be going into NYS classrooms unprepared. All too often people enterthe teaching field/profession feet first and then hate it and leave. The foundationscourse allows students to really reflect on the profession they are about to enter. Itinvites us into a world that we dont have knowledge of yet. Dealing with everythingfrom diversity, gender, grading, funding of schools, etc. It truly prepares you forreal life situations.The world this student refers to is clearly one she wants to be a permanent partof. She shows disdain for those who enter the field ill-prepared for the context ofeveryday classrooms and then leave. Other students clearly point to their readingsas the source of that preparation. One male preservice teacher similarly notes theimportance of foundations readings to him, but goes on to contrast the pressurehe understands to be present in schools with his new clarity on the importance ofattention to issues of diversity.Throughout this semester we have read various readings pertaining to social justice,race, gender, etc. We live in a society where diversity is the foundation and italways has been. Teachers in NY have to understand that the classroom will bediverse and have to be able to teach all of their students. The problem then lieswith the understanding of diversity and how to address its needs. For a teacher tobe successful, his/her foundations and understanding of the issues have to be wellcultivated. I personally had no understanding of these issues inside the classroombefore I took this course. I knew what I saw and experienced on the street and atwork, but nothing about school. I am glad that I took this course because it gaveme much needed knowledge about what Im going to encounter. Lets say that weall end up teaching-for-the-test. The reality will be that our classrooms will stillbe diverse and the issues surrounding it will be the same. Therefore a foundations236 CARTERcourse is necessary for pre-service teachers because the knowledge that it provideswill always be necessary to implement in all the classrooms of NYC.For this White male student, the two issues of curriculum and diversity are notmutually exclusive. His lack of understanding of issues of diversity prior to thecourse is contrasted with what he now acknowledges to be a critical issue inteaching. He argues that urban teachers cannot be successful without foundationalunderstandings of classroom contexts, and that readings on social justice, race,and gender are helping him to do just that. One female preservice teacher shareshow social foundations helps scared new teachers know better what to expectin classrooms. She wondered why she is poised to fulfill her degree and yet hasonly just learned about the issues covered in the course.I am telling you this because in my opinion this is the ONLY class that actually tellsthe students (me) how it really is. I feel I can relate to all the readings weve donethis semester. The other classes are good too but in my opinion this is the only classthat gave me a reality check on whats out there. This really means a lot to a newteacher. We are scared and we dont know how it will be but after this class we canactually know what to expect. Its a good thing that every teacher needs.It is clear that preservice teachers have a need for coursework that helps them toproblematize the complexities of the field as they coincide with those of the workof teaching. Many of the preservice teachers in the sample see their courseworkin social foundations as a prerequisite for teaching.Theory as Basis for PracticeIt is reasonable to assume that students who are already in the classroom mayfeel differently from those who have yet to enter it. Recent studies of alternativelycertified new teachers, for example, those with little coursework prior to enteringthe classroom, have found that teachers can attach little utility to their theoreticalcoursework. Teachers tend to use a circular logicthat they do not need it, asthey are already practicing without it (Carter and Keiler in press; Costigan 2004;2005). They articulate that they have critical and immediate needs for instructionalstrategies, which they find lacking in their non-methods courses. However in-service teachers in this study articulate very strong commitments to their socialfoundations coursework as well. They indicate that, even as the course unfolds,they search for opportunities to use theoretical ideas in meaningful ways in theirclassrooms every day.I am using my readings as guides for how I write my lessons and interact with thestudents. My thinking for future practices in the classroom has shifted in a wayEDUCATIONAL STUDIES 237where I am now focusing on the student as an individual not just a student who hasto get a good test score.This female teacher sees the linkage between readings about teachers who priori-tize students individual needs, and her commitments to her own students needs.It has allowed her to take a theoretical idea much touted in the literature and applyit to her work. Similarly, notions of practice for another female practicing teacherare the corollary between the course and her practice as delineated in terms of thekind of thinking she wants students to do in her classroom.My practices and decisions have already been influenced by these readings. I willtry to do things differently with my students, not the same worksheets they are usedto, but lessons that force them to think logically. I hope to be a teacher that fostersgrowth in each child and helps them realize their own potential.As I analyzed the data on how students used the course in their work, linkagesemerged between theory and practice. Examples of this connection were plentiful.One teacher noted how she could see the theoretical dimensions of her work as aparaprofessional, in large part due to a specific set of readings on Progressivism.Though I am familiar with teaching, this class specifically has put a name or theoryto what I observe in the classroom each day. For example I work as an assistantteacher in a progressive public school. I started working just around the time wewere covering progressive education and I was able to say to myself, my school isprogressive. I am able to see firsthand something I learned in our readings and seein reality the positives and negatives [of Progressivism].The ability to see the complexities of an issue, the positives and negatives, doesnot come from the readings alone, but as students contextualize their readings totheir own work and experience. In courses where they have many opportunitiesto raise questions and make comparisons, the outcomes are additive. Althoughin-service teachers might be thought to challenge coursework that encouragesthem to raise questions about their own practice, these students express a desireto ask questions. One female teacher, in her first year of teaching, articulates theimportance of asking difficult questions about school systems.For me, the readings are an important aspect of my teaching. Social class, institutionalracism are all important to know as a teacher going into the field, because a lot ofquestions get answered. Questions like, why certain schools are underfunded or whycertain children cant go to certain schools or even teachers who dont want to teachcertain childrenall answered in these readings. You also learn how to be a betterteacher by watching those who did such great work in earlier times, like Covello.238 CARTERIm not sure that I would have learned about him, his struggle to rise to greatness, ifI hadnt had a foundations course.For this teacher, answers come from watching master teachers such as LeonardCovello (Perrone 1988), a New York City teacher and principal who educatedsuccessive generations of immigrant students with love for them and passion forhis craft. Teachers find sustenance in their reading, and this sustains them whetherthey are already in the field or soon to enter it. A male in-service teacher describeshow his approach to curriculum shifted after a key reading in the course fromSuzanne Carothers (1995).The works we have read have awoken me to the necessity of incorporating communityinto the school and of the urgency of providing opportunities for students to makereal-life connections to their work. I have already begun to change my approachto curriculum standards to create more meaningful classroom experiences for mystudents. This process started for me after reading Carothers question: What is thesticky stuff, the peanut butter, in my curriculum, on which skills can be applied andlearned? I have been looking for the sticky stuff (and on occasion, finding it) eversince.This teachers close reading of Carothers (1995), in an article in which she cau-tioned against inauthentic commitments to the field, belies his deeper beliefs aboutthe importance of his work, and linkages between his instructional decisions andhis students learning experiences. It is voices like these that must be heard aspolicy makers consider what is most relevant to learn for teachers on their way tobecoming highly qualified and for new teachers as they hone their instructionalpractices.Teachers as Located Within Larger Policy DebatesWhat new teachers read, on their way to creating their philosophical orientationswithin the field, is vital to creating relevant linkages between social foundationstheory and the work of teaching. Mary Bushnell and Sue Ellen Henry (2003) positthat epistemological awakenings are a precondition for encouraging studentsto see the importance of their education as something greater than a credential(57). Students indicate clearly that it is their readings that have led to individualawakenings in the ways they come to know the work of teaching. In manycases, these awakenings lead to radical assertions of commitments to advocacyand school change. One male preservice teacher talks about a striking change inhis thinking, and orientation toward change, after reading Jonathan Kozols (1992)work.EDUCATIONAL STUDIES 239How can a teacher (pre-service) be aware of the massive amounts of social injusticewithout reading authors like Jonathan Kozol? Are we expected to turn Americasyouth into robots only ever able to regurgitate information? Im glad I wont be. Weare taught that anyone can spark change. I will be the change in my students lives.There will be a guiding light. When we arent able to view the mistakes we havealready made, we are destined to make them again. Im a new teacher I can alreadysee the lack of creativity and free thought in classrooms. How do I know that thesekids are losing something? I know this because I was given the opportunity to seethat these mistakes are cyclical. But how will we ever break the cycle if we werentaware of the problem?It is opportunities to see that this preservice student feels are missing fromteacher education. Missed opportunities prevent him from fully comprehendingthe mistakes of the past. This orientation toward the education of teachers isechoed in his concern that in certain classrooms, kids are losing something aswell. Toward both of these conditions, he expresses a sense of indignation and, inthis, he is not alone. A female in-service teacher similarly indicts an outside force,the government, for recent moves to eliminate social foundations from teachereducation curricula (Morrison 2007).I dont comprehend why half the decisions made about education are being imple-mented. Educating teachers about the world they live in and the impact of socialclass, gender, sexual identity, school governance, inequalities, race and ethnicityissues, etc. is the key to creating a diverse thinker. Why doesnt the government wantus to be informed? Perhaps because they want us, the future teachers of America,to be managed. If we cannot think for ourselves, how can we teach our studentsto think; of course, a population of thinkers is much harder to manage than thosewho can only take instruction. We need to be informed. They want us to take blamefor situations they have created. What better way to do that than to strip us of theinformation we need to fight them on it?The relevancy of social foundations to issues of perceived power, to movementsfor collective struggle and change is clear to students who take social foundations.In some cases, the social foundations is a place where students do not becomeaware of inequities, as much as they are reawakened to problems with which theyare already familiar. One male, African American, preservice student who hadexpressed his awareness of issues of inequality in class writes:Foundations has a had a profound impact on me, in that one is aware that studentsare not just failing on their own, but if I may say so, they are being helped by a systemthat pretends to care. However, the system does not. In addition, Foundations hashelped me to not only care about my future students but also to be able to advocate forthem and myself, plus other teachers. Moreover, Foundations also shows how to240 CARTERquestion the motives of politicians, administrators, and superintendents. One shouldknow what is really going on, dont just accept issues at face value.For this student, the social foundations classroom was the first course in whichsuch issues were discussed within a framework that resonated with him. How-ever, this confirmation comes with added responsibility to his future students andcolleagues, and a promise to be an advocate for children, and to help translatedirectives as they come down from political and administrative bodies. It is apersonal relationship he has made with the courses readings, one that, he ar-gues, will translate into direct action. Sometimes this action gets articulated asa quiet struggle for change. A female early childhood teacher of several yearswrites a plea to new teachers that they must learn to teach through the politics ofeducation.This course has also made me more aware of the politics behind education. Teachersare directly and indirectly affected by the state and government. No matter what,even if you have to follow strict guidelines, dont forget why you chose to teach inthe first place (it will keep you motivated during the hard times).Teaching for Social JusticeOn occasion, students act on their newly minted political stance towards publiceducation in very open forums. One teacher e-mailed me to say that thanks tothe course, she was organizing parents whose child had been promised and thendenied a seat in one of the citys pre-K programs. She went on to stage a rally withlocal officials, and to get sympathetic television and newspaper coverage of theissue. Her effort led to an official apology and promises to address the problem.In reflection on her development in the course she writes:The foundations course has enriched me to become empowered to change thingsthat seem unjust. It has also pushed my thinking as a teacher to analyze the systemand thoroughly understand the agendas. Living in NYC, we have become an ego-centric community in which we dont realize that similar problems exist nationwide.Through this course I am socially conscious and am willing to make changes.As a teacher educator, what more can one ask of ones students than that they fullyengage with policy makers about the conditions under which they are asked towork and take actions that suggest that they themselves have a role in defining thepurpose of education, and its connection to current national crises such as povertyand equity?Perhaps students come into their program politicized, and eager to analyzedifficult questions. Sonia Murrow (2006), in describing a similar phenomenonEDUCATIONAL STUDIES 241in which her undergraduate preservice students articulated radicalized notionsafter her course writes, For the most part, and with few exceptions, the studentshad been radicalized by their life experience and used the course as a forumto practice, shape, deepen, and vocalize positions they may already have had(Murrow 2006, 242). But it is important to identify when and how this happensto students. Social foundations students indicate that it is the process of readingand creating a dialogue with the authors that allows them to imagine themselvesas change makers. As one student put it:As Paulo Freires work says, literacy is key to freeing the oppressed. As a teacher,I will one day be able to foster my students literacy hence providing them with anecessary tool used to truly be free. Ive learned that teachers must stand up forsocial justice and teachers need to convey to their students the fact that they are caredfor and truly believed in and supported.Rather than merely taking courses, one sees highly qualified new teachers usingtheir coursework to chart out a path toward being successful teachers of urbanchildren. Critics could certainly argue that the set of readings assembled presenta particular focus on social justice, and therefore social action. Are studentsunderserved (U.S. Department of Education 2002) and/or manipulated (Hess etal. 2004) by their coursework? Further, do they express these concerns whengiven the opportunity to do so? One student considers that she may have beenmanipulated. However, if this has been the case, she prefers manipulation tothe prospect of a course in which students leave not knowing what type of teacher[they] want to be and what makes a good teacher.In regard to the [idea] of foundations being a waste of time and manipulative, andthat other classes are more important, if you consider and understand what type ofteacher you want to be and what makes a good teacher, then a manipulative class isbeneficial. Until you know the basis for education and the type of educator you are,all other classes can be considered to be a waste of time if not applied effectively.EDUCATION POLICY THAT HONORS THE VOICES OFHIGHLY QUALIFIED TEACHERSAccording to educational policy makers, highly qualified teachers are thosewho perform well on multiple measures of subject matter competency (U.S.Department of Education 2004, 4) and hail from teacher education pathways thattightly align state content standards for students with certification or licensurerequirements (16). Coursework in the social foundations of education rarely, ifever, appear as a linkage for its contribution to preparing and supporting the work242 CARTERof these highly qualified teachers in their roles in high-needs schools and districts(Butin 2005a, 2005b; Cochran-Smith 2004). Although this article certainly makesa case for teacher education coursework that allows students the space to articulatetheir beliefs about diversity, their roles in the profession, and their responsibilityas agents of change; more important, it provides a needed response to policy con-ceptions that limit the definitions of highly qualified to notions of pedagogicalcontent knowledge alone. Marilyn Cochran-Smith (2004) has called upon scholarsto not only challenge limited notions of teacher effectiveness as it is written intothe No Child Left Behind Act, but to expand the research base regarding what ishappening to notions of multiculturalism, diversity, equity, and social justice inthe face of intense emphasis on standards, high-stakes testing, and narrow viewsof what counts as research (163). When we include the voices of prospective andpracticing teachers on these matters, it gives policy makers, accreditation agen-cies, federal and state departments of education, and teacher education programadministrators a direct line of communication with those most affected by teachereducation policies.When one asks teachers how they use the social foundations course and itsreadings to inform their developing understandings and their work, one learnswhat prospective teachers actually do with what they learn in teacher preparationcoursework (Cochran-Smith 2004, 163). Both preservice and practicing teacherssay that their coursework is a vital link between understanding the work of teachingand performing this work. First, they say that it is in the social foundationscourse that they first find their footing in the field. This foundation helps themevaluate the kinds of teachers they want to be. They say that they have need forcoursework that helps them define who they are as professionals, and use thatbase to understand and then problematize the current context of schooling andtheir role in it. Michael OLoughlin (1992) has referred to social foundationsclassrooms as the safe spaces students need to construct new knowledge andtake risks in exploring their beliefs and practices. He writes, In a world inwhich teachers are often silenced by the institutional structure of schooling, themost powerful anecdote is to affirm their personhood and their experiences andprovide a space in which they are enabled to voice their thoughts and examine theirexperiences (338). Teacher educators have the privilege of providing these spacesand are, therefore, the most immediate intermediaries between new teachers andpolicymakers.Urban social foundations students from a variety of racial and ethnic commu-nities explain that issues of diversity and social justice are important to them, andhave direct implications for how they make instructional decisions. In learningabout these issues, they are grateful for opportunities to dialogue with masterteachers who model how to construct safe environments for children that placea high value on what children bring to schools. The critical perspectives theygain from such primary source readings help them clarify their priorities aroundEDUCATIONAL STUDIES 243being an urban professional educator. Putting children first, or recentering thechild for the purposes of pedagogical decision-making, is not a matter of rhetoricbut one of urgent need and they believe teachers are uniquely influential in thismandate. Dan Butin (2005b) has suggested that an argument for the relevancyof social foundations can be made using the language or dominant discourse ofpolicy makers themselves, even though they explicitly ignore any reference tosocial foundations significance to the creation of highly qualified teachers. Socialfoundations students say that they need coursework that allows them to vision andrevision themselves as teachers who care for and about their students, and thenuse that framework to make instructional decisions. This is, in fact, what highlyqualified teachers do every day, and it runs directly counter to political agendasthat prioritize data driven instructional practices over ones that are based in whatteachers know about their own students.Finally, and most instructive for policy makers, social foundations studentsexpress disappointment with state and federal policies that undervalue their sol-idarity and professionalism. They are angered and politicized by inequities theyknow they continue to face as they enter the field. They hold governments re-sponsible for gaps in teacher education coursework that leave them unpreparedfor real classrooms; and they hold school systems responsible for the persistentsocial problems that face their students. As one female preservice student put it,This course taught me that as a teacher, I have an incredible amount of influenceand I need to be prepared to battle for students rights and their ability to have aquality education. I learned that I am going to be very important and to just haveconfidence and strength to face what lies ahead. Although foundations course-work has been criticized, and legitimately so in some cases (Butin 2004; Hess etal. 2004; Sirotnik 1990), I argue here that critiques that silence the voices of socialfoundations students are not useful to understand exactly how new teachers makesense of foundational concepts and, more important, the relevance those conceptshave as new teachers carve out their philosophies and practices of teaching. Whenone analyzes the articulations of prospective and practicing teachers who havebeen provided a venue for deeper intellectual exercises, their critiques can andshould be included in the discourse that surrounds conversations about teachercertification. The implications of this work for policy makers, who increasinglyshape the everyday work of teachers (Apple 2000), points to the need to listento what the newest American teachers have to say about the larger context oftheir work. Knowledge and skill sets teachers find most relevant must be includedas a part of the broader discourse around teacher competency if we are to ad-dress long-terms issues of teacher retention. As conversations ensue regardingthe reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, this studyallows teachers the opportunity to talk back to policy makers as they considerwhat education policy might look like if it honored the voices of highly qualifiedteachers.244 CARTERACKNOWLEDGEMENTI thank Dr. Sonia Murrow and Dr. Leslie Keiler for their generous assistanceduring the conceptualization, writing, and editing process. I also acknowledge theinsightful comments and suggestions of reviewers and the editors of this journal.REFERENCESAnyon, Jean. 2005. 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