School of Education reflects on 100 years of leadership

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the School of Education as the 12th school or college at the University of Michigan. 

“This milestone has inspired us to reflect on our contributions to the field of education,” said Elizabeth Birr Moje, dean of the School of Education. “It is a chance to recognize — even rediscover — the people and work that paved the way for our current community.

“In a year when connecting was a challenge, it has allowed us to unite around our shared hopes for education. It is an opportunity to thoughtfully and collectively move into our next 100 years with renewed focus and commitment.” 

The university’s national profile as a leader in the field began in 1879 when U-M became the first American university to create a professorship devoted to the study of education. Since those early days, U-M scholars, including renowned educational philosopher John Dewey, have been leaders in education research, practice and policy.

Early faculty and students pioneered methods for assessing student progress, managing schools and districts, and improving the connection between secondary schools and institutions of higher education.

For more than four decades, SOE operated a nursery, elementary and high school in which new methods of teaching and evaluation were developed.

Students look on as their teacher reads a book aloud in a class that was taught in a university-operated elementary school.
Students look on as their teacher reads a book aloud in an elementary school class. (Photo courtesy of the School of Education)

In the 1950s, the school forged a new field — the study and improvement of higher education — at a time when college enrollment across the country was rapidly increasing. The Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education was established to address the burgeoning need for trained administrators and the changing needs of higher education policy.

Among the center’s many contributions are studies on diversity, equity and inclusion in postsecondary institutions. In the late 1990s, CSHPE faculty provided evidence to the federal courts that U-M’s race-conscious admissions policies were justified by their educational benefits. Their work demonstrated that a racially and ethnically diverse student body has significant educational benefits for all students — minority and nonminority alike.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the school focused on educational opportunity and access under the leadership of Wilbur J. Cohen, who was one of the country’s foremost architects of public welfare before becoming the school’s dean.

As a result, the school’s commitments grew in the areas of early childhood education, school desegregation and urban education. Additionally, SOE became the first university department to offer formal academic training in educational gerontology — an area of research and practice for which the school became internationally recognized.

Beginning in 1970, The Program for Educational Opportunity was a Race Desegregation Assistance Center funded under Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. PEO helped school districts transition from segregation to integration, offering needs assessment, Equal Employment Opportunity planning, training and consultative services to districts in the Midwest. 

Student teacher David Shumacher teaches at Thurston Elementary School in 1977.
Student teacher David Shumacher teaches at Thurston Elementary School in 1977. (Photo courtesy of the School of Education)

The 1980s and ’90s marked the beginning of an ever-growing research program that defines the school’s national and international reputation. Through the end of the 20th century, the school’s faculty, staff and students became known for their scholarly contributions to teacher education, literacy, instructional technologies, higher education, educational psychology, mathematics instruction, school leadership and policy.

These areas continue to represent the school’s strengths, as new initiatives also focus on advancing scholarship that dismantles racist and oppressive educational practices, policies and systems.

The new Community-based Research on Equity, Activism & Transformative Education Center is one example of a new approach to education scholarship that honors the voices, knowledge, assets, needs and experiences of youth, families and community members. The CREATE Center intentionally connects U-M faculty, students and staff with community-based scholars and practitioners working to promote educational change.

In higher education, faculty and students are working on college access from many different vantage points, including affordability, college readiness, equitable admissions and inclusive campus climates. A new SOE admissions center launching in 2022 will be a hub for admissions research and information for the public. This new center has the potential to shape the future of college admissions practices.

Among the school’s efforts to better prepare educators and retain teachers in the profession is the development of a new model inspired in part by medical training. The Michigan Education Teaching School is one of the components of the Detroit P-20 Partnership.

U-M education students and fully certified recent graduates work under the supervision of the school’s teaching staff and U-M faculty. Residents continue at the teaching school as certified, paid teaching staff members for three years following graduation from SOE while receiving all new educators’ support.

Within the Detroit P-20 Partnership work, the School of Education is also engaged in the development of place-based and project-based experiences for elementary and secondary students. The curriculum and teaching practices empower Detroit students to learn engineering and design principles, become problem-solvers and see themselves as leaders in their community.

Furthermore, a “community schools” approach directs attention and resources that address students’ physiological, sociocultural and socioemotional needs so students and families can flourish.

A student uses a computer at the opening of the Prechter Laboratory for Interactive Technology in 1994.
A student uses a computer at the opening of the Prechter Laboratory for Interactive Technology in 1994. (Photo courtesy of the School of Education)

As part of the school’s commitment to providing high-quality, affordable resources to educators everywhere, the new Michigan EdHub will leverage technology to offer professional and public learning opportunities. In addition, Michigan EdHub will advance online learning, community engagement, professional development and credentialing for educators.

Through this initiative, SOE is expanding what online education can be by prioritizing authentic community-building in online spaces and preparing learners to approach problems in education.

The School of Education enters its second century focused on meeting the crucial needs of educators, learners and communities with the same spirit of exploration and collaboration that made the school a leader from the beginning. Through a series of virtual events titled Centennial Conversations, the School of Education has been discussing topics that will shape the field of education for the next 100 years.

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