Five questions for Linda Patriarca

Linda Patriarca is the former dean of the East Carolina University College of Education. She stepped down from her deanship in July and is currently a professor of special education with the College. East Carolina University has been educating teachers since the early 1900s, when it was the East Carolina Teachers Training School. The School of Education was organized in 1953 and was renamed as today’s College of Education in 2003. East Carolina University’s College of Education currently consists of six academic departments that offer 17 undergraduate degree programs, 22 graduate degree progress, six programs for advanced certification and the EdD program in educational leadership.

What was your first role working in education?
When I was a 15-year-old high school student, my English teacher asked me if I might be interested in serving as a counselor at a camp for underprivileged children—all of whom were coming from Harlem or the Bronx.  If I accepted, then I had to live there at the camp (which was in New Jersey) for the summer and oversee the educational, social and daily life activities of the 10-12 children who lived in “my house.” When I got to the camp I was assigned 12- to 13-year-old students—all of whom were from very different ethnic and racial backgrounds than myself and all of whom were much more “experienced” and “worldly.” This job was one of the most challenging yet most rewarding. It literally changed my life because I got to witness the deleterious effects of urban poverty firsthand, but this education came to me through the life stories and relationships that I developed with my students. This made it very personal and emotional and, thus, very powerful. I knew then that I wanted to make a difference, and I saw myself doing it somehow through education.

What is one pivotal moment in your career in educator preparation that left a positive impact on you or others?
When I was awarded the U.S. DOE Teacher Quality Partnership Grant at the beginning of my second year as dean at East Carolina University, this turned out to be a pivotal event. This funding served as a catalyst to undertake the kinds of reforms that I believed needed to be designed, implemented and investigated in teacher-preparation programs and provided me with resources to offer faculty.

Although the “reform” road has been filled with setbacks, critics and naysayers, over the past six years a critical mass of faculty have joined together to engage in these labor-intensive efforts.  The work being done at East Carolina University has gotten state and national attention but what’s most important is that faculty who have gotten involved have created a “reform” community around teacher education—a community devoted to gathering and using data to drive program improvements.

Why did you decide to join Deans for Impact?
I have believed for some time that the way teacher education is organized, implemented and assessed is failing to produce the highest quality teaching force possible. In addition, I didn’t think that our system of accrediting programs was having much impact on quality because standards were too low, common metrics for assessing outcomes non-existent and data/feedback provided too generic and unfocused to be of much use in improving programs. Finally, the standard teacher-education associations seemed to be more focused on sharing “success” stories (even though anecdotal) and defending themselves against criticisms than they were on reforming/improving teacher-education programs and practices. When I read the statement delineating the guiding principles around which Deans for Impact would be built—i.e.,  shifting focus from inputs to outputs; supporting common data and metrics; agreeing to be transparent about results and holding oneself accountable for impact—I knew that I had found my academic community!

What most excites you about the opportunity to transform the field of educator preparation in the years ahead?
For the first time (perhaps in the history of teacher education), we have serious interest and some commitment across a core of education deans, policymakers, legislators and foundation funders around a set of very basic principles related to creating and assessing research-based practices in teacher education.

I believe that policymakers, legislators and funders see a critical need and they are looking for programs and entities that want to tackle the issues.  We have talented people (Gary Henry, Bob Pianta, Ray Peccheone and others) working on assessments/measurement issues, and we have an association (namely Deans for Impact) comprised of deans from around the country, who represent very different types of institutions, coming together to implement pilots and assess outcomes using common measurements/metrics at their respective institutions. Given this convergence of interest and talent, I believe that we have the ingredients necessary to make significant progress in transforming teacher preparation.

No doubt there are many challenges as well—political climate, funding, traditions, structure of higher education etc. – that can stall or even derail progress, but as long as there are institutions willing to take the lead and leaders willing to invest, there is real hope for change.

What is one surprising thing that everyone should know about the program you lead?
The edTPA is not a required assessment in the state of North Carolina. Given our interest at East Carolina University in finding and using valid and reliable assessments, we piloted edTPA first in one small program (Middle Grades) and then another until we now have ALL of our 17 teacher education programs—including those housed OUTSIDE the college such as physical education and Birth-Kindergarten—using the edTPA as a summative assessment.

Having and utilizing this common assessment has facilitated rich deliberations and data discussions within and across programs. For example, we have a Data Summit each year where representatives from all of the programs come together to examine and analyze data results.  We also have a group that meets monthly called TPALS. These are edTPA reps from each of the 17 programs who come together to discuss implementation issues, policy issues, set cut scores, etc. These communities of practice are transforming the culture in higher education teacher preparation at our institution because they are changing not only the way faculty are working together, but the way they are thinking about the work of teacher education.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring Q&As with all the member deans of Deans for Impact.

Linda Patriarca

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