News & Information

Sac State is an innovator in teacher prep


Teacher candidates, K-12 students and school and University faculty all benefit from the PDS program.
A nationwide study of teacher preparation programs recommends several changes to teacher-candidate training. Many of those recommendations have been in place at Sacramento State’s College of Education for more than 10 years.

The recommendations were made last year by a National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education blue-ribbon panel that included California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed and other national education experts.

Recommendations included creating partnerships with school systems so the University faculty and K-12 teachers would collaboratively improve K-12 student learning as well as the candidates’ development.

Those and many other advancements have been part of Sacramento State’s Professional Development Schools (PDS) since 2000.

The PDS program develops teachers for urban, under-resourced K-12 schools, using methods that differ from a more traditional teacher-prep system, says Professor Pia Wong, one of Sacramento State’s PDS developers. It also reaches across departmental lines, involving disciplines in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Instead of rotating through three schools over three semesters, the candidate spends all three semesters at the same school. That means he or she puts down roots at the school, getting better acquainted with its curriculum, students, parents, faculty and the surrounding community, Wong says.

In doing so, the teacher-candidate receives specialized training for teaching in settings where, traditionally, more of the jobs have been. And the program seeks to maintain a professional learning community where everyone – K-12 teachers, University faculty and pre-service candidates – continues development as an educator. “Our partners have said repeatedly that this is an idea that makes sense,” Wong says of the approach to teacher education.

Teacher candidate Kathy Gerstle did her student teaching at Kingswood and Greer Elementary schools in the San Juan Unified School District. She believes the PDS program is of great benefit.

“It truly has prepared us for working in any classroom situation,” she says. “We’re better trained and prepared than an average teacher who does not get the experience in a Title 1 school.”

Gerstle cites the extra time in the classroom and experience with bilingual education as two reasons for the program’s success.

The program also teaches the candidates how to tie a lesson plan in with the students’ interests so they can identify the lessons with what is happening in their lives. “Yes, you have to teach to the California State Standards, but we learn how to do that more effectively,” Gerstle says.

Sacramento State’s program began with 12 PDS sites in 2000. Currently there are seven active sites. Most of the others, says Wong, would not be considered official PDS campuses, but still have strong partnerships with Sacramento State that support organized projects in which candidates provide early intervention tutoring and enrichment lessons for their students.

The decline has also resulted in fewer teacher-candidates – from 100-120 at its peak to about 80 candidates today.

Lack of funding is the primary reason for the reduced participation. The program received various grants totaling about $2.28 million in its first few years, but those grants have run out and have not been replaced.

“I’ve been very encouraged by our ability to keep some semblance of this program going without the kind of funding we’ve had in the past,” Wong says. She credits Sacramento State’s hardworking faculty and the commitment from the participating schools for the program’s continued support.

Another program benefit is developing instructors specifically for these types of schools, and opening more hiring doors for them. “We’ve found that candidates who have had a PDS experience are twice as likely to want to work in a low-income and culturally diverse school once they receive their credential,” Wong says.

Because the candidates have deep roots in the community and have developed professional relationships, principals have responded by filling vacancies with PDS student teachers. “If the principals know someone is hiring, they have a list of 10 or 15 student teachers they can recommend,” Wong says.

She hopes the new nationwide focus on these types of approaches will bring a renewed infusion of resources into Sacramento State’s PDS program. Wong would like to see the concept expanded to more programs within the College of Education, such as those covering counseling and school administration.

“There are pieces in the Blue Ribbon report that could be a catalyst for the next level of development,” Wong says.

For more information on the PDS program, call Pia Wong at (916) 278-4978. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.