Neag School’s Teacher Preparation Programs Recognized as National Model

A University of Connecticut partnership with eight urban elementary and middle schools won recognition recently as a national model for teacher preparation programs.

The Neag School of Education’s CommPACT Schools program illustrates how a university can work side-by-side with pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educators to address challenges facing local schools, says a national accrediting agency.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education cited CommPACT as one of several examples of the kind of programs that would meet newly revised, more rigorous NCATE accreditation guidelines.

<p>Richard Schwab, center, then dean of the Neag School of Education, speaks with Dennis Van Roekel, left, president of the National Education Association, and Barry Fargo, a New London teacher, after a 2008 press conference announcing the CommPACT initiative. Archival photo supplied by the Connecticut Education Association</p>
Richard Schwab, center, then dean of the Neag School of Education, speaks with Dennis Van Roekel, left, president of the National Education Association, and Barry Fargo, a New London teacher, after a 2008 press conference announcing the CommPACT initiative. Archival photo supplied by the Connecticut Education Association

“To be singled out … as one of the models – that’s a huge recognition,” said Richard Schwab, professor of educational leadership and former dean of the Neag School, who helped establish the CommPACT effort. “They could have picked an Ivy League school or another national university, and we were selected.”

Schwab was invited to Washington, D.C. earlier this year, as NCATE outlined new guidelines designed to make the accreditation process less bureaucratic and more focused on how schools of education can help improve local schools. UConn launched CommPACT a year ago in eight of Connecticut’s most troubled urban public schools, seeking to address the achievement gap that finds many low-income and minority students lagging in academic performance – a problem that perplexes schools in Connecticut and across the nation.

The reform plan grew out of an unusual statewide coalition of groups including teacher unions, superintendents, principals, and others.

Under CommPACT, the eight schools are given some freedom to operate without the customary restrictions of a centralized district bureaucracy or union rules. Teams of teachers, parents, and administrators, working with consultants from the Neag School, make decisions on matters such as staffing, scheduling, and curriculum.

The Neag School has assigned consultants to each of the schools and, in some cases, has sent UConn faculty members and students to work in the schools.

CommPACT “serves as a real-world laboratory for helping us prepare well-grounded educators who understand the causes of the achievement gap and the solutions for eliminating it,” Schwab said, as NCATE outlined the new guidelines in June.

NCATE, the nation’s largest accrediting agency for schools of education, revised its accrediting criteria to emphasize the importance of engaging prospective teachers in addressing crucial issues affecting elementary and secondary schools, said James G. Cibulka, the council’s president.

In addition to UConn, NCATE cited model programs from the University of San Diego, the University of Cincinnati, and the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Cibulka said the new accreditation guidelines help close the gap between theory and practice.

CommPACT, he said, “is an important example of the kind of initiative we would like to see.”

In November, the NEA Foundation awarded CommPACT a second-year $250,000 research grant through its Closing the Achievement Gaps Initiative, in recognition of the program’s importance and value. UConn’s CommPACT initiative was one of four programs nationally to receive NEA funding. The others were in Milwaukee, Wis.; Seattle, Wash.; and Ohio.

“We believe these projects show great promise,” said Harriet Sanford, president and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “Although each project is dealing with different challenges, the approach is the same: collaboration that is grounded in research on best practices, driven by educators, supported by the community, and focused on improving student performance and creating sustainable systemic reform.”

In addition, AT&T Connecticut recently donated $53,500 to support the CommPACT program at the M.D. Fox Elementary School in Hartford.