On Jan. 22, the School of Professional Studies decided to place the Master of Arts in Teaching program under review and to suspend the elementary track of the program for the 2018-19 academic year. Dean of the School of Professional Studies and Vice Chair of the Department of Education Karen Sibley MAT’81 P’07 P’12 said she is unsure whether the program will return. This news is deeply worrisome. The suspension and possible cancellation of the elementary track — a program that sets Brown apart from peer schools — reflects the administration’s faulty logic and undemocratic decision-making, and will inflict long-term harm on both the University and the greater Providence community.
The elementary track is a rigorous, yearlong program that combines graduate-level courses and actual, full-day teaching experiences in local schools. Suspending the program would increase student-teacher ratios across Rhode Island, imperil the growth of the program’s network of alums and eliminate meaningful educational opportunities for elementary school students. For example, the elementary track’s suspension effectively shuts down SummerPrep — a free supplemental summer program established by the elementary track and the Community Preparatory School — at the expense of numerous Providence students. The University did not bother to communicate in advance its plans to suspend the elementary track to the Community Preparatory School. The University’s lack of transparency regarding its decision-making and disregard for the impact the suspension will have on the community have been particularly troubling.
In a letter to The Herald, Provost Richard Locke P’18 clarified the University’s rationale for the review and suspension, writing, “We want to ensure that we are preparing teachers with the knowledge and skills to understand social contexts and how they impact students, meet the needs of diverse learners and promote greater equity in our schools.” But how can the University rationally hope to “continue to make a difference in classrooms in our city, state and nation,” as Locke says, without preparing a capable cohort of elementary school educators? Indeed, the elementary track — which, according to alums, focuses on issues of social justice and equality — already achieves many of the administration’s purported objectives.
Further, the University failed to respond constructively to the feedback of MAT program participants and reaffirm the value of elementary-level education. In the fall, MAT students were asked to provide feedback about the program, and many gave constructive criticism. But none of them knew that the program’s very existence was in jeopardy. Notably, the University has not suspended the secondary track of the MAT, which is also under administrative review, sending the message to alums and current students of the elementary track that their work matters less. “It feels like a slap in the face to eliminate elementary and only keep secondary, as if to say that Brown is ‘too prestigious’ to train elementary school educators,” said Ana Lopez ’10 MAT’11, third-grade teacher at the Oyster-Adams Bilingual School in Washington, D.C. “Quite frankly, I thought we were better than that.”
At the end of the day, the erasure of the elementary track will also inflict great harm on the University’s appeal as a go-to destination for elementary-level teaching. Indeed, the type of elementary MAT program offered by Brown is not available at its peer schools. Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth have no master’s programs for education. While Harvard, Cornell and Penn do have graduate education programs, they do not have any geared toward elementary school teachers. Columbia, the only other Ivy League university with a program specifically tailored to elementary education, does not have a separate immersive component like Brown’s MAT, and their program is longer than a year. Brown stands alone in its exclusive combination of classes and elementary school teaching experience. “If you talk to any alum, they will tell you that this is the best teacher education program in the country,” said Margot Miller MAT’11. It would be unfortunate — and a grave dereliction of responsibility to its surrounding community — for the University to allow this program to end.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19, Mili Mitra ’18, Rhaime Kim ’20 and Grace Layer ’20. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.