Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Teacher "Quality" and Social Justice Leadership

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Teacher "Quality" and Social Justice Leadership

Article excerpt


This essay presents a notion of social justice--and leadership-oriented teacher "quality" upon which urban teacher preparation might be founded. Few current definitions and assessments of teacher quality consider the goals the authors identify as most important: activist-oriented traits and holistic evaluation methods of these characteristics. This paper includes a description of a Masters licensure program focused on this social justice concept of leadership and the portfolio assessment system used to determine future urban teachers' implementation of this concept.


Many city schools already encounter a scarcity of competent, suitably licensed teachers across subject areas who are prepared for and will remain in urban settings (Levin & Quinn, 2003). Examinations of employment patterns indicate that the United States will need more than a million new teachers over the next decade, with urban districts requiring a unique population of especially well-trained and resilient classroom educators (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). While the demand for teachers in urban settings reveals that city universities should be producing new teachers as quickly as possible, requirements borne of the "No Child Left Behind" legislation are concentrating districts and universities on an ever more restrictive notion of teacher "quality" (Oakes, et al, 2002) that fails to consider social justice tenets of teacher leadership.

City universities and urban school districts committed to preparing teachers for their diverse and challenging communities should consider a concept of teacher quality beyond what these current policies articulate. Such a notion would require new teachers to operate as teacher-leaders who are committed to serving urban schools that are located in poverty-bound and diverse communities, encumbered by excessively bureaucratic traditions, and faced with higher turnover rates amongst new teachers (Weiner, 2002). This essay outlines the circumstances of this deliberation on teacher leadership and quality, including a description of the Masters licensure program with which the authors are involved as the program's coordinators and one of its current students. This program has been focused on a teacher leadership and social justice-oriented notion of teacher quality since its inception in the late 1990's. We define the progressive outcomes upon which urban teacher preparation might be founded, if such programs are to train the classroom-based guides that city students, schools, and communities need.

This article describes the role of teacher educators in developing teacher-leaders for urban schools, depicting the assessment outcomes and practices used to train future city teachers to lead via their engagement with classroom and community constituents. We share highlights of the portfolio assessment method utilized to determine future urban teachers' integration of this social justice concept of teacher-leadership across their three semesters of training. This essay suggests how responsive notions of teacher quality rooted in these high ideals should have places in this nation's ongoing debate about how future classroom teachers might be evaluated during their pre-service training programs so that are ready to lead in their under-resourced city schools and best serve their diverse and disenfranchised city students.

Contexts and Literature Review

Many current teacher licensure options allow school districts to license as "qualified" individuals with limited to nonexistent teaching experience or coursework in pedagogy (Hess, 2005). Even as seminal studies have corroborated that the classroom teacher is the most readily affected and significant factor in any classroom (Darling-Hammond, 2003), most of these licensure avenues are inadequate for preparing teachers for typically more taxing urban settings, where issues of justice and equity are pressing concerns (Liu & Meyer, 2005). …

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