Preparing Teachers for Urban Schools: Evaluation of a CommunityBased Model

By Susan Catapano, University of North Carolina-Wilmington; and Sarah Huisman, Fontbonne University

Can a teacher education program committed to the surrounding community help prepare preservice teachers to work in the most challenging urban schools? Preservice teachers spend significant time in schools, observing, tutoring children, and learning to teach. On-site field experiences introduce aspiring teachers to life in schools, and are especially important for teachers who take their first teaching positions in urban schools (Adams, Bondy, & Kuhel, 2005).

However, most preservice teachers spend little time in the community surrounding the school to understand the background and experiences of the children they will be serving (Koerner & Abdul-Tawwab, 2006). Teacher education programs do not always bring the aspect of the community into their programs. For purposes of this discussion, the term community is defined as the neighborhood, with all of its agencies, cultural organizations, assets, and challenges that are located outside of the school building but have impact on the lives and academic success of the children. The authors of this article are guided by the beliefs that to meet the needs of the individual child, the teacher must see and appreciate the community where the child lives.


Many models of teacher education are used to prepare new teachers. Recent discussions on teacher education reform call for models that provide school-university collaborations, especially when preparing new teachers for urban schools (Duncan, 2010; Glazer & Hannifan, 2006; Zeichner, 1996). Recent trends in teacher preparation programs include courses that are located in the community, in either a school or a nearby setting (Glazer & Hannafin, 2006; Hoffman, Reed, & Rosenbluth, 1997; Hollins & Guzman, 2005; Leland & Harste, 2005).

Placing students, university faculty, and courses in neighborhood schools helps connect the reality of working in a school with the pedagogy and content covered in university courses. However, the preservice teachers and university faculty are present at schools without really engaging with the community of the school and the community surrounding the school. This does not provide them with the understandings needed to help prepare and retain new teachers for high-need, urban schools (Koerner & Abdul-Tawwab, 2006; Zeichner & Miller, 1997). Currently, the majority of new teachers graduating from teacher preparation programs are middle-income, White, and female (Banks, Cochran-Smith, Moll, Richert, Zeichner, LePage, Darling-Hammond, Duffy, & McDonald, 2005; LadsonBillings, 2006; National Center for Educational Statistics, 1992). They rarely reflect the culture of the children where they will be teaching and are not familiar with the community that surrounds the school and often find the community is different from where they grew up (Koerner & Abdul-Tawwab, 2006; Ladson-Billings, 2006).

School-University Partnership As part of the faculty at a large, urban university located in the MidWest, we collaborated for many years with the local, urban, school district, to provide preservice teachers authentic field-based experiences. This usually occurred toward the end of the teacher preparation program as students completed a traditional student teaching semester. When this model of community-based teacher preparation was developed, the school district had over 33,000 K-12 students, with approximately 100 schools, and 85% of students receiving free or reduced lunch. Based on 2007 state distributed performance test data, 75% of the children scored below grade level in communication arts in third grade (Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2008). As of 2007, the high-need, urban district struggled each year to hire enough teachers with appropriate teacher certification. The partnership between the university and school district provided the district with a substantial number of new teachers each year.

The university reports that as many as 40% of the graduates from the teacher education program accepted jobs in the district (personal communication, Teacher Education Office, 2007). Unfortunately, approximately 50% of all newly hired teachers left the district within the first two years of employment (personal communication, School District Recruitment and Retention Office, 2006). Based on the above, we recognized the need to expand the model of teacher preparation to provide additional support to new teachers who were accepting positions in this high-need, urban district. Professional development schools.

A Teacher Quality Enhancement Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, 2004-2008, ($3.2 million) provided resources to assist in expanding the partnership between the university, the school district, and other community partners. The purpose of the grant was to develop highly qualified teachers in partnership with the urban school district. As we worked to meet the goals of the grant, we developed a community-based model of teacher preparation that merged several models. In the Professional Development School (PDS) model, successful partnerships between schools and universities work to create a new institution that is characterized by a long-term relationship that leading to improved student learning (Dempsey, 1997; Dickens, 2000; Lawrence & Dubetz, 2002; Levine, 1997). In PDS literature, the school becomes the learning setting for the preservice teachers, university faculty, and classroom teachers (Boles & Troen, 1997; Enciso, Kirschner, Rogers, & Seidl, 2000). Important formal and informal mentoring activities are part of the reciprocal learning experiences that form the partnership (Beasley, Corbin, Feiman-Nemser, & Shank, 1997). PDS development also includes family engagement in the activities that support student learning by drawing on community resources described as special services (Sykes, 1997).

Extant literature often does not mention the physical community surrounding the school or the need to help preservice teachers connect to the community outside of the school (Koerner & Abdul-Tawwab, 2006). Without this piece, can preservice teachers really develop a shared cultural perspective with the children in their classroom (Barab & Duffy, 2000)? Communities of practice. It is not surprising that the preservice teachers, and recent teacher education graduates, do not share the same communities and cultural backgrounds as the children they will be teaching. Hodgkinson (1991) that the numbers of teachers of color continue to decrease as the numbers of school-aged children of color continue to increase (as cited in Gomez, 1996).

One way to develop new teachers to work in culturally diverse schools is to form communities of practice. Barab and Duffy (2000) identified a shared common cultural and historical heritage as a crucial component of developing supportive communities of practice. A community of practice extends the traditional teacher preparation model bysupporting teacher education that reproduces a nurturing atmosphere for preservice, new, and classroom teachers as they work with university faculty (Murrell, 2001). The lack of a shared common cultural and historical heritage is the biggest obstacle for preservice teachers preparing to work in urban schools. As researchers, we asked how does a preservice teacher enter a community that is not reflective of his or her own culture or historical heritage? In addition, how does he or she engage in a meaningful and effective collaboration with teachers and families?

Teacher education programs have modified individual courses and field experiences to give preservice teachers opportunities to connect with the cultures of children in urban schools (Adams, et al., 2005; Gomez, 1996; Lenski, S.D., Crumpler, T.P., Stallworth, C. & Crawford, K.M., 2005). Some of these experiences are isolated at the university or follow individual faculty members’ interests. Some new teachers spend their entire teacher preparation program without experiencing a school setting beyond the ones that they are familiar with from their own K-12 experiences. Habermann and Popkewitz (as cited in Gomez, 1996), dismiss the notion that young,

White girls, from middle income, suburban backgrounds are capable of becoming highly qualified teachers for poor, minority, underachieving children in urban schools. The underlying basis of their argument was the time and experiences of teacher education programs is not enough to change the perspectives and values of young adults from what they have learned growing up, to what they witness in urban classrooms. This conception made us wonder if we are caught in a situation that cannot be resolved. Is it possible that needs of urban schools for highly qualified teachers may never be successful? This new model of teacher education furthered the idea that if new teachers are comfortable in the community that surrounded and supported the school, he or she would be more likely to feel comfortable as a part of the school community (Koerner & Abdul-Tawwab, 2006).

As part of the community, new teachers would accept positions in the schools and remain committed to the district. Rather than staying isolated within the individual classroom or within the walls of the school, we felt it was important for preservice teachers to learn that he or she must make authentic connections with other classroom teachers, the families and children in their classroom, and the community. Community Agencies’ Roles in Teacher Preparation As part of new teachers’ preparation,community-based field experiences, , are not new ideas (Adams, et al., 2005; Cristol & Gimbert, 2002; Zeichner & Melnick, 1996). Some programs require preservice teachers to complete a community-based project or engage in service-learning activities.

Both kinds of engagements place the preservice teacher in the community doing something other than working in a school. Community agencies either accept teachers as volunteers or work with the university to develop specific projects (Shirley, Hersi, MacDonald, Sanchez, Scandone, Skidmore, & Tutwiler, 2006; Zeichner & Melnick, 1996). Many of these experiences are situated early in the teacher preparation program as part of the series of foundational courses required in most teacher education programs (Szente, J., 2008/2009; Weber, 1998). However, early on, preservice teachers do not have well developed connection with the pedagogy of learning to teach or understanding culturally diverse learners (Culp, Chepyator-Thomson, & Hsu, 2009). Other teacher preparation programs use the service learning model, “plan, act, and reflect design” in preparing teachers for urban schools (Andrews, 2009; Edwards & Kuhlman, 2007, p. 45). In these programs, community-based field experiences are an integral part of the pedagogy of preparing highly qualified teachers for urban schools. Community-based field experiences provide evidence suggesting preservice teachers gain better understanding of diverse populations and learn how to communicate with people from diverse cultures (Adams, et al., 2005; Hollins & Guzman, 2005, Koerner & Abdul-Tawwab, 2006; Lenski, et al., 2005). However, the studies are limited in making a clear link between the activities experienced by preservice teachers and the goals of the teacher education programs. Few teacher education programs challenge preservice teachers to see the assets which are available in the urban community (Alkins, BanksSantilli, Elliott, Guttenberg, & Kamii, 2006). Intensive coaching by experienced university faculty and classroom teachers helped preservice teachers build a bridge between their own home culture and those at the children’s homes (Lenski, et al., 2005).


Figure 1 is a visual representation of the model of teacher education that we have developed to demonstrate the experiences of preservice teachers in the neighboring community. It represents the fusion of coursework, field experiences, and community experiences incorporated into the teacher education program. It emerged as a result of working with students and teachers in a PDS partnership that supported the development of communities of practice. This model differs from other models of teacher education that list community as an important part of the preparation of new teachers. In Murrell’s Circles of Practice (2001), the community is listed as one of the influences, or circles, that connect to the preservice teacher as a support in learning to teach in schools, especially those in urban settings.

The circles that Murrell identifies are separate entities that connect to preservice teachers as part of the overall program of teacher preparation. In the Community-Based Model (CBM), pictured in Figure 1, the community is the foundation upon which other pieces of the program rest; it becomes the crucial piece of the development of the new teacher. New teachers have a strong context as they apply what they are learning about the culture and history of the children in their classrooms with what they are learning about how to teach. The CBM includes three aspects of communities of practice: opportunities for preservice teachers to develop an understanding of and begin to share the history and cultural perspective of the community of the children, situational learning, and reflective practice (Barab & Duffy, 2000; Catapano, Huisman, & Song, 2008; Murrell, 2001). Community-based activities and resources helped preservice teachers learn about the history and culture of the children in the classroom.

Preservice teachers developed and implemented curriculum based on the community surrounding the school. This experienced, provided situational learning for preservice teachers as they tried out the ideas and activities they had learned in their university courses. Each aspect of the model required preservice teachers to reflect on what they were learning and doing within the classroom and the community. Reflection was conducted in both written and oral forms, and by using university faculty, school administrators, and classroom teachers as sounding boards to dismantle stereotypes and misunderstandings. For example, it was common for preservice teachers to view family members as uncaring about their child’s education because of incomplete information and understandings. One school administrator pointed out that some families were living in homeless shelters where they shared living quarters and did not have much opportunity to complete homework before the lights were turned out in the evenings. This information challenged the preservice teachers to reconsider their perspective. The three criteria of the CBM, learning about culture, situational learning, and reflection, contributed to creating culturally responsive, highly qualified, teachers for urban schools.


The CBM grew out of our involvement within the collaboration with partner schools. As a result, preservice teachers were given the opportunity to work in urban schools, and experience life-in-schools, on a daily basis. Three sources of information formalized the CBM of teacher preparation. First, we engaged with community representatives to identify activities and experiences that fit seamlessly and effectively, into the teacher preparation program (Edwards & Kuhlman, 2007). Next, we negotiated with the principal and teachers at the field site to allow preservice teachers to engage students in semester-long projects that focused on learning about the community. The project-based learning provided situational learning by giving preservice teachers opportunities to engage children in project work focused on their community. Finally, we were on-site with preservice teachers to assist them in completing the project work and support their understanding of the community and culture of the children (Kent & Simpson, 2009). In addition, we provided information about access to resources in the community that could support the project. These three aspects of the CBM provided a process of layering teacher preparation activities on a foundation built upon the understanding and access of the assets of the community (see figure on opposite page). The activities developed to fit into the teacher education program included:


Did it work? In an effort to evaluate the effectiveness of the CBM on the development of highly qualified teachers for urban schools, we gathered feedback from students and teachers participating in the program from 2004-2008. Data included evaluations of the internship class by students, and feedback on each experience included in the CBM (poverty simulation, bus tour, professional development activities, and the community-based project) for each semester. As we collected feedback, we continued modify the CBM each semester. We decided to focus our evaluation on the data collected for the year 2007- 2008, because the model had reached a point in the development where application would not require additional, major modifications. In addition, to the data regularly collected, 23 of the preservice teachers who participated in the CBM were engaged in three focus groups.

These teachers had completed their internship and/or student teaching during the 2007-2008 year. The feedback was becoming consistent and student reflections indicated that the model was working (Kent & Simpson, 2009). The collection of data followed the schedule outlined in Table 2. Four survey instruments from 2007-2008, from the bus tour, poverty simulation, internship semester review, and the overall evaluation of the program, asked preservice teachers to provide both scaled and narrative data on how or if they valued the experience, what they learned, and how they anticipated using the experience when they became a teacher. Bus Tour Using an anonymous, electronic survey, preservice teachers rated their overall experience on the bus tour in helping them learn about the communities surrounding the school. There were 19 teachers on the fall 2007 trip and 20 on the spring 2008 trip.

All the students on the spring trip (20) and 90% of the teachers on the fall trip (17) rated the trip useful or very useful. Most of the feedback was narrative and preservice teachers commented the most useful thing about the tour was getting to see a part of the city where they never go and learning positive things about the urban setting rather than just the stories of crime and violence presented on the evening news. Preservice teachers (26) commented they found one of the most beneficial things about the tour was learning about the communities where the children lived (Koerner & Abdul-Tawwab, 2006; Ladson-Billings, 2006). A few teachers did not find the tour beneficial. One commented, “… my dad is a city cop and he can tell you all the negative things that happen here.

All I heard was positives today. We should hear both.” Others reflected on other aspects of the day, “ drove home the point that [City] is VERY segregated. I guess I always knew it, but the tour really showed me.” Poverty Simulation The poverty simulation feedback was also collected by an anonymous, electronic survey and included several rating charts to determine how much the simulation helped the teachers develop a better understanding of families living in poverty. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, most answers were either an 8 or 9. Narrative feedback included comments on how preservice teachers became more aware of the struggles of families living in poverty to comments that they had been poor and did not think the simulation taught them anything new. One comment, “this was helpful…I worry people will walk away and go on with their lives…not taking much with them,” was reflective about the value of professional development. Another comment, “...I thought I had financial worries, but now I know it could be much worse…at least I have some options,” indicated participants were personalizing the experience and empathizing with families living in poverty (Ladson-Billings, 2006).

Semester Review The semester review results, shown below in Table 3, generated information that told us what the preservice teachers learned as a result of their experiences in the school and what they hoped to do when they became teachers (Glazer & Hannafin, 2006). It also provided an opportunity for preservice teachers to identify transformational moments of their own thinking during the experience. Data analysis tallied each time a preservice teacher mentioned one of the items. In fall and spring semesters, most preservice teachers indicated they learned about classroom management and teacher behaviors, such as, planning, organizing, flexibility, and using the “teacher voice.” Preservice teachers consistently mentioned learning about curriculum development, lesson planning, and unit planning (Edwards & Kuhlman, 2007). In spring, preservice teachers commented that they learned a lot about instructional strategies, including hands-on activities, projects, and learning centers. In the spring semester, they noted how much they valued the time with the children. Several mentioned teaching and connecting with the children as important during their day in the school.

A few of the preservice teachers wrote narratives about what they learned, Janice wrote, “…children are beautiful, children want to learn, enjoy each other.” Several of the preservice teachers wrote, “… plan, plan, plan…,” both when asked what they learned and what they would do as teachers. Finally, Sarah wrote, “one thing I will not do is taking away my children’s recess time…” Others wrote narratives about their transformational moments, Jason wrote, “when we went on a field trip and the children were recalling things about trees I had taught them in class…” Brenda wrote, “learning their names. (I know that may seem so simple but the interaction gets better when you call the student by name).”

Jackie and Diane, partners wrote, “when my students really got into learning about the habitats, even when I wasn’t there,” and, “when we did assessments…the students really excelled…I wasn’t sure they were learning anything.” One student, Christian, noted his transformational moment was, “When I found out through a lesson that a student did not have a light in his bedroom.” Overall Program Evaluation In the spring semester of 2008, we wanted to ask the current preservice teachers in the CBM, both in the internship semester (n=18) and student teaching semester (n=14), to evaluate the overall program, specifically rating the components of the model as how helpful each was in developing their understanding of diverse and communities where they completed their field experiences (Adams, et al., 2005; Gomez, 1996; Lenski, et al., 2005; Koerner & Abdul-Tawwab, 2006).

Data in Table 4 notes that 20 (out of 32) of the teachers responded and rated the components of the CBM as helpful, with more than 75% of responses falling from very helpful to somewhat helpful. Teachers who participated in the activities saw each one as useful. Table 5 reports the overall program evaluation where preservice teachers rated individual activities and requirements of CBM as how helpful they were in learning to teach. There are no activities identified as a waste of time.

The most helpful activities were working with a cooperative teacher (n=19) and preparing a classroom management plan (n=18). The Design for Instruction (Unit Plan), Assessment Analysis, and Planning a Field Trip each had 16 preservice teachers identify them as very helpful in preparing to be a teacher. The overall program evaluation asked students to rate how prepared they were, at the time of the survey, to accomplish typical classroom activities and requirements. Table 6 indicates that only a few students were still struggling with the common duties and responsibilities of a classroom teacher. The things teachers were most confident in accomplishing included teaching science (13) (the subject of the community project), pacing curriculum (11), and accessing community resources (11).

Preservice teachers felt the most unsure of preparing children for the state mandated standardized test (4). Focus Groups Three focus groups were held in May with 23 preservice teachers who just completed their internship (12) or their student teaching (11). Preservice teachers were asked to comment on the experiences they had in the CBM and whether or not the prepared them to teach in an urban school (Glazer & Hannafin, 2006). Four emerging themes from the comments of the preservice teachers included, all of the teachers reported that the CBM was valuable and they believed they would not have had the same experience learning to teach if they had selected an internship and student teaching in a different setting. …It was really surprising to me. I did not know what to expect. I am really glad I had this experience. I learned so much.

If I went with a different group [sic location] it would not have been the same. My friend in the [sic] district didn’t do anything like I did. I was really part of the school. …. (Janine). Another theme was identifying the pros and cons of the CBM model. Although all of the preservice teachers identified the things that were important to them personally, they thought the pros included having the opportunity to teach each week, preparing curriculum, and learning about classroom management. The only consistent negative aspect was the amount of work the internship required. They all said they were grateful for the experience and the work paid off but they mentioned that it was a harder internship than the experiences of other preservice teachers. …

I would never have learned about classroom management if I had not been required to teach the students each week in internship. I was part of the group that ran the science lab. We had 16 children, 4 times a day, every Tuesday. You really figured out what would work and what wouldn’t work. Consistency, that is what worked… (Jason). Finally, the focus group identified the access to materials through the grant funds and the on-site support of the university faculty really helped them feel success learning to teach in the urban school. … instructor was always there to help. Sometimes we didn’t know what to do but she always had suggestions that worked. I don’t know what I would have done if she hadn’t been there. It made all the difference…(Candace).


As of 2008, over 200 preservice teachers have participated in the CBM of teacher preparation. Approximately 25% of the teachers accepted positions in the urban district where they completed their internship and student teaching. Declining enrollment in the district as of 2008 sent another 25% into charter schools and the “urbanring” districts that were just outside the inner city. Each year, we continued to work with our former students who became the new teachers in the partnership schools. They anecdotally report they feel comfortable in the school and community because of the CBM and yearlong experience of the teacher preparation program. New teachers also reported that they better understand the students and have a stronger foundation to build upon when designing curriculum and lessons. The final year of teacher preparation in the CBM relies on a foundation of knowledge about the community of the children. It uses a variety of experiences to provide preservice teachers with the skills, knowledge, and experiences to become highly qualified urban teachers. Data collected throughout the development of the model provided us with information on how to improve the model each semester. By academic year 2007-2008, the model was complete with minor revisions. The data collected that year provided us with information about the value of the model in preparing teachers to work in urban schools.

The group of students participating in the data collection that year was small; however, the data was a true evaluation of all pieces of the model. The bus tour of the community surrounding the school sets the historic and geographic context of the community for the preservice teachers. The poverty simulation provided teachers with a perspective of families living in poverty (Ladson-Billings, 2006). The semester-long curriculum project developed and implemented by the preservice teachers connected what the children were learning with what they saw in their community. Through situational learning, preservice teachers develop their skills in integrating curriculum, meeting curriculum standards, and making curriculum connections with children’s lives by applying what they learned in their teacher education program with what they learned from the experience of teaching. Most importantly, preservice teachers mentioned learning about classroom management through this model, one of the things new teachers struggle with regardless of their teaching placement.

All along the way, preservice teachers reflected about what they were learning and experiencing under the guidance of university faculty who accompanied them to the school each day. As the university faculty, we found the work in the urban schools energized our own practice. This model provided an opportunity to learn about the community surrounding the school and how important it is to weave that knowledge and understanding into the teacher preparation program. As a result of the on-site work with the preservice teachers, we were able to secure strong university-school partnerships where our research was welcome, provided professional development for the teachers, and were often invited to participate in many other school-family events. This opportunity carried over to our classes beyond the internship and student teaching. Finally, as reported in the surveys collected after each activity of the CBM, preservice teachers responded that completing activities that specifically gave them experiences in the community, working directly with children, families, and classroom teachers, and collaborating with university faculty, helped them find value in the surrounding community and be able to consider the whole child when thinking about teaching (Koerner & Abdul-Tawwab, 2006). Experiences in the CBM helped them dismantle assumptions about poverty and the community where the children lived.

The activities helped them develop confidence as teachers in urban schools. Susan Catapano, Ed.D., is an Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at the Watson School of Education at the University of North CarolinaWilmington. Her research is in the area of teacher preparation for urban schools. Her publications include “Learning to teach in urban settings: Preservice teachers apply advocacy strategies” in Mentoring and Tutoring and “The university’s role in teacher preparation” in Teaching Education. Sarah Huisman, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Education at Fontbonne University. Her research focuses on multicultural education and teacher mentoring. Other publications include “Are we there yet? Perspectives from partners in a community of practice” in Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts and “A Search for Cooperative Learning Groups in Urban Classrooms” in the book New Research on Early Childhood Education.


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