2014 Trustees' Dinner

President's Remarks

The following is the text of remarks delivered by President Elizabeth D. Dickey at the 2014 Trustees' Dinner in accepting salutations for her service at Bank Street.

Thank you, Dick and Laura for your continued friendship, both with Bank Street and with me.

Now I must take a moment to talk about the real star of the evening: Tony.

Let’s cut to the chase. Norma, you did a really good job! Thank you for the gift of your first-born son.

Elizabeth D. DickeyAs Tony noted, he and I have been a team for the last six years, starting even before I took office at Bank Street. He has always been a patient and thoughtful colleague,  one who knows how to probe to uncover the best solution to a thorny problem, one who asks the right questions at the right moment, one who takes the long view because he feels so responsible for an institution that he loves. Like many of you tonight, I could recount many stories of Tony’s friendship, kindness and quiet wisdom – but let me just say “thank you, Tony,” for giving me the opportunity to lead Bank Street over the past six years. You are a good friend.

Turning specifically to Bank Street College, in your take-home bags this evening you will find our just off-the -presses 5-year Report. In a short essay in the publication I take note of my 40 years in the vineyards of higher education, almost all of that time at progressive institutions. I have thought often about the urgent need to and candidly the challenge of balancing the deeply held values and ideals of the progressive movement with today’s pragmatism that emphasizes financial, political, and cultural realities. This weekend’s Saturday Times had two very pointed articles that touch upon this issue, one related to charter schools and the other about the Obama administration’s efforts to assess schools of education like Bank Street. In the background was and is the tension between ideals and outcomes.

I urge progressive educators – especially those at Bank Street -- to get more involved in these conversation about meaningful change, to advocate for educational policies they believe in, and frankly to challenge some persistent myths about our approach to teaching and learning. Indulge me while I speak about 4 myths.

The first is that progressive education sacrifices intellectual rigor in order to accommodate the disparate needs of children from diverse backgrounds.

We at Bank Street never had to be told not to leave any child behind. We know that we must account for the social and physical well-being of children, as well as their intellectual needs. Once we do that, we address the curriculum. For example, our Graduate School has partnered with the Carnegie Corporation’s 100Kin10 initiative to develop the next wave of STEM educators, optimizing their capacity to engage students around often feared topics in science and math.

A second myth is that progressive education forces teachers to abdicate too much control of the classroom to students.

Progressive education, of course, does encourage a more collaborative, interactive style of learning. That’s its enduring strength. We don’t teach children how to be curious. That’s what they are without prodding. Yet, traditional education too often tamps down that innate curiosity and teaches children only what some believe children should know.

In contrast, at Bank Street we engage children in learning by meeting them on their own terms, providing them with a stake in their own education. And we prepare classroom teachers and school leaders who recognize that respecting a child as a learner does not mean giving up control of the classroom or school.

Another pernicious myth is that the ideals of progressive education cannot be reconciled with standardized testing in public schools and the measurement of student achievement. In fact, we at Bank Street and progressive educators more generally are not unequivocally opposed to standardized tests. Well-designed tests have their place as part of a broader assessment of student achievement and teacher effectiveness. The problem is test scores are too often used as the sole determinant of a school’s success and teacher effectiveness.

Progressive education is all about innovation, taking risks, trying new ideas, and responding to students’ curiosities. Tests can be useful tools, they are necessary but insufficient as we work to understand and measure good teaching. Thus, I believe we should proceed on this topic with appropriate caution because the results of bad tests change lives, for children and teachers.

A blood-pressure-raising myth for me is that progressive educators are “squishy” and “touchy-feely.”

There’s nothing “touchy-feely” about a school where children are respected as individuals, have their classroom experience tailored accordingly, and are enabled to navigate an engaging, expertly designed curriculum.

When I visit the Bank Street School for Children classrooms, I see the impact on students of great teachers. I invite any of you who are here this evening and want to see for yourselves to follow up w me, and make a date to visit, come and see our work w children.

As proud as I am of our current graduate students I worry about them and our recent alumni. Today is not an easy moment in the U.S. to be a teacher in America’s public schools. The critics are vocal and they have some strong points. We in the vineyard, on the other hand have to get off the defensive. We must improve our explanations of what we do, what our methods are, and why they work. In addition, I think we need to confront the reality that our approach is expensive and that policy makers and others are frustrated with our lack of interest in scaling our methods.

Having said all of that, you may be surprised that I remain an optimist. Maybe this is the cumulative impact of 40 years in education, but I think it is mainly because of my six years at Bank Street.

When I arrived at Bank Street, I had heard, as you have, about the “gold standard of teaching.” And I thought, where’s the proof? Now I have the proof. Over the past two years, thanks to the generous gift of a trustee, a university-based study of our graduates is underway. This study is looking at Bank Street grads and a control group of New York state teachers from 2000-2012, a 12 year interval, long enough to satisfy those wanting long term data. Thus, it is not a quick snapshot based on short-term successes or failures.

Here are the key results: please take a moment to look at the monitor closest to you.

Slide 1 shows that 87% of Bank Street alumni reported that they are well prepared, that they enter a classroom ready to take charge of learning, and to handle effectively the challenges of teaching children with different talents and needs. That’s 20 points higher than the control group.

Slide: Comparing Bank Street Grads to Other Teachers

And that 20% “Bank Street advantage” holds up when we look at data on Slide 2 which shows Bank Street alums and the control group reporting confidence in content area preparation – an 18% advantage in science, 20% in English language and literacy, 23% in math.

Slide: Subject Matter Preparation

That’s a measure of how well prepared our graduates think they are. How well do they perform in the classroom? Slide 3 shows that more than 9 out 10 employers are highly satisfied with Bank Street prepared teachers.

Slide: Employer Satisfaction

And do they stick in the profession? Slide 4 shows that over this 12 year time frame, an average of more than 80% of Bank Street prepared teachers remain in education, with more than half of them in the classroom. The figures for the past 5 years are even higher.

Employment by Graduate Year

Bank Street has known for almost 100 years that the classroom is a special place, where life should be treasured, not endured. Imagine that!

I am not so parochial as to claim Bank Street is the only place where this cocktail of hard work, passion for teaching, and rigorous preparation are combined. But there need to be many more such places where the principles of progressive education are interpreted and used to prepare the effective educators our children need and deserve.

In closing, let me thank you for the honor and privilege to be Bank Street’s president. And indulge me for a few more minutes while we show you what a joy it is to shine a light on Bank Street – by asking you now to look again at the monitors to see a brief video that describes, probably better than I have, what is so distinctive about a Bank Street teacher and a Bank Street school.

Thank you.