Teachers statewide have been asked to put on their thinking caps and brainstorm solutions for educational reform.
A new California Postsecondary Education Commission program has allocated $2 million dollars for grant projects to help K-12 teachers find ways to increase learning in their classrooms.
“Helping is about innovation, and we’ll see how creative they can be,” said Dr. Joanne Bookmyer, the project’s director at UC Davis. “They’re the ones in the classroom every day and they know what it takes to educate their students.”
UC Davis and UCLA will each receive three-year grants of $1,010,000 to manage the regional Teacher-Based Reform Pilot Program. UCLA will be responsible for projects in Los Angeles County, while UC Davis will team up with Humboldt State University to award grants in the Coastal region – 20 counties spanning from Ventura County to Del Norte County.
University faculty will work with small teams from the 24 schools selected to receive grants to raise teacher aptitude and increase content knowledge, with the ultimate goal of improving student performance.
“Obviously teachers may have some ideas about what to do, but it takes some kind of discussion between them and people who allocate resources,” said Tom Timar, professor of education at UCD.
UC Davis and UCLA were selected as master grantees for the No Child Left Behind funds after demonstrating significant interest and commitment, said Marcia Trott, a CPEC spokesperson. Bookmyer said UC Davis has a positive relationship with CPEC from collaboration on grant work in the past.
The program is “from the ground-up,” and its “Teacher-Based” title is to be taken literally, Trott said.
“The teacher team for the fellowship will be able to design their own professional development program,” she said. “From working with faculty they’ll determine what their needs are and submit an application for the master grant.”
Trott said the process for a school to be chosen as one of the 24 to receive an award is similar to any grant system.
“It’s very much like a regular grant process – they’ll fill out an application and go through an interview process,” with the managing institution, she said. “If they receive the grant, they’ll work with the regional institution, which will monitor them throughout the process.”
While the project description calls for both Los Angeles County and the Coastal region to have a high-need partner, any school within the region can apply for the grant. Bookmyer said she hopes to work with a range of urban, suburban and rural schools.
“We’ll be working closely with Washington School District,” said Bookmyer. “But any school within our 20 counties – private, public or charter – can be awarded a grant.”
The regional institution, whether it be UCLA, UC Davis, or UCD’s partner in the Coastal Region, HSU, will conduct its own research throughout the meetings with K-12 schools. Kelly Wilkerson, an English and journalism teacher at Davis High School, said she believes attention to research should be a fixture of any reform.
“What I think would make the biggest difference is letting research inform our classroom practice, so that we’re not doing what we’ve always done and we’re focused on things that get proven results,” she said.
Wilkerson added that reform is especially needed amidst the wave of recent cuts to public education.
“I feel like the recent budget cuts have meant an increase in students in all of our classes – and you cannot just keep adding bodies to a classroom and pretend that won’t make an impact on the amount of time a teacher can spend with students,” Wilkerson said.
Bookmyer said that schools’ fixation on standards is just as inhibiting as crowded classroom.
“Schools are so wrapped up in standards and the state curriculum that they forget that it’s a profession on its own,” she said. “Sometimes it might be as simple as figuring out what is really relevant for their students and doing something about it – if they like hip-hop, integrate that in to the classroom.”
MIKE DORSEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.