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Preparing Preservice Teachers to Partner with Parents and Communities: An Analysis of College of Education Faculty Focus Groups

Article excerpt

Abstract

At both state and federal levels, partnerships of schools, parents, and communities have become an educational priority. Are teacher education programs adequately preparing preservice teachers for these partnerships? Focus groups of College of Education (COE) faculty from five Illinois Professional Learner's Partnership universities were conducted to answer this question. This study is organized around key themes that emerged from the discussions: importance of including the topic in teacher preparation programs; difficulties with the topic regarding cultural issues; negative preservice teacher attitudes about parents; differences in parent involvement at elementary and secondary levels; mixed messages given to preservice teachers by experienced teachers; inadequacy of the traditional teacher preparation program and student teaching experience to provide students with enough parent and community partnering opportunities; and the necessity of stressing collaboration and communication in teacher education. The theme selections were based on how frequently they were mentioned by different participants. The focus group discussions generated rich data and offered participants the opportunity to share their concerns about the topic.

Key Words: family-school-community partnerships, preservice teacher preparation, parent involvement, teacher attitudes toward parent involvement, focus groups, teacher education programs

Introduction

In order for teacher education programs to meet state goals of the Illinois Professional Standards (Illinois State Board of Education, 2002), federal objectives of the federal Goals 2000 (United States Department of Education, 1994), and accreditation standards of the National Council for Accreditation of Teachers (NCATE, 2002), the topic of schools partnering with parents and communities must be incorporated into the required curriculum of teacher education programs. But even with these state, federal, and accreditation directives, the topic is given limited attention in most teacher education programs (de Acosta, 1994; Epstein, 2001; Epstein, Sanders, & Clark, 1999; Greenwood & Hickman, 1991; Shartrand, Weiss, Kreider, & Lopez, 1997; Weiss, Kreider, Lopez, & Chatman, 2005).

The Academic Development Institute (ADI) contracted with the Illinois Professional Learners' Partnership (IPLP) to determine what Colleges of Education at IPLP universities are doing to prepare preservice teachers to partner with parents and communities. Five Illinois universities are partners in IPLP: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Roosevelt University (RU), Loyola University-Chicago (LU), Illinois State University (ISU), and Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU).

Surveys of teacher education programs are often directed toward administrators such as department chairs or deans. This research was directed toward College of Education (COE) faculty at the five IPLP universities. In addition to reviews of course descriptions and syllabi on the university web sites, COE faculty were surveyed by e-mail in 2000 and 2001. Because faculty in special education, early childhood education, and elementary education are most likely to address partnerships with parents and communities in their courses, survey recipients were selected from university website faculty lists for those departments. Syllabi reviews and course schedules were also helpful indicators of faculty interest in the topic. Other survey recipient criteria included: (a) IPLP members; (b) those listed in the COE faculty directory for Departments of Curriculum and Instruction; and (c) recommendations of COE administrators and faculty.

The 2000 survey was e-mailed to 20 education faculty at each IPLP university and consisted of two questions: (1) "What courses will you teach in academic year 2000-2001?" and (2) "How do you prepare the preservice teachers in your classes to work with parents and communities? …