Inside the disbandment of the education department

The former department’s dissolution involved discussions at the administrative and departmental level.

by Thomas Brown | 2/11/22 5:10am

education
by Lucy Handy / The Dartmouth

This article is featured in the 2022 Winter Carnival special issue. 

Since the education department was disbanded last spring, course offerings in the field have largely remained the same.

Associate dean of faculty for social sciences John Carey explained that there are a “number of criteria” that determine the structuring of the College’s academic departments and programs, such as the number of faculty, student enrollments and student majors and minors. According to Carey, decisions regarding departmental restructuring are made cooperatively by the president, the provost, the associate deans, the faculty of the relevant departments, dean of faculty and other faculty committees.

Carey said the education department was unique among Dartmouth’s departments as the only one not to offer a major. Carey added that such decisions are based on a combination of external and internal committees that review each department approximately every 10 years.

According to Carey, the process begins with the reviewed department beginning a “self-study,” in which they “take stock of their performance and trajectory” over the past decade. External committees usually include faculty members of other institutions who work with Dartmouth faculty members to review the self-study, who then in turn produce their own report of the department’s status. 

“We looked around and Dartmouth was not in a position to create a new school of education,” Carey said. “I think the experience we saw when we looked at other universities was that you either go for the high critical mass or think hard about restructuring the resources you’ve got. So in our case, we decided to pursue the latter.”

According to current sociology professor and former education department faculty member Michele Tine, the education department formerly offered a Teacher Education Program providing teacher certification from the state of New Hampshire, with the final cohort of the program graduating in 2017. In addition to the TEP course sequence, participants would  conduct a “full term of observed student teaching in a local school.” However, Tine said meeting the requirements of the state in the context of Dartmouth’s academic logistics made the TEP difficult to maintain.

New Hampshire’s graduation requirements for aspiring teachers also inhibited the department’s capacity to offer a major. According to Tine, New Hampshire requires that certified students “major in the discipline they would teach.” As a result, students would have had to pursue an additional major alongside their education studies, making completion the certification a challenge Tine wrote that these “challenges” with the TEP were noted in the department’s most recent self study, which took place in 2015. 

Students are still able to pursue the same education minor they would have been able to under the education department. Tine wrote that while the number varies year to year, around 20 students minor in education each year.

The restructuring of the education department also sought to provide “better opportunities” for the former department’s three faculty members, according to Carey. Tine is now housed in the sociology department, and two former education faculty members, Professor Donna Coch and Professor David Kraemer, are both now in the psychological and brain sciences department. Professor Charles Wheelan, who teaches a class on education and public policy, has remained a lecturer in the public policy program at the Rockefeller Center. 

“For faculty, your professional and your intellectual life — or home, I suppose — is really your department,” Carey said. “You need to have a critical mass, you need to have enough colleagues around you for opportunities for collaboration and cooperative work.”

Tine wrote that her transition to the sociology department has been “quite smooth.”

“The nature of my work hasn’t drastically changed since the transition,” she wrote. “I physically moved my office and research lab from Raven House to Blunt Hall, but I still teach the same education courses, I’m conducting the same education-related research and I remain closely connected with the other education faculty.”

Students have confirmed that the current available educational opportunities match what was provided when education was a department.

“I was glad that [the former department is] still offering the minor because I was already planning on getting that, so it’s good to know I can still continue on that path,” education minor Laurel Semprebon ’22 said. “I was also glad to see that the number of courses they offered didn’t seem to change because there are already not a ton of courses offered.”

According to quantitative social science major May Fahrenthold ’22, whose major includes a focus in education, at the time of the restructuring’s announcement, the former department “really emphasized” that restructuring would not interfere with students’ minor or their progress in obtaining the minor.  Many students were, however, frustrated by the announcement.

“I was disappointed that the department was being nominally downgraded to a non-department,” education minor Sierra Rainville ’22 said.

Similarly, Fahrenthold noted that it seemed as though the College wasn’t “very interested” in fostering education.

“Already we had a really small [education] department and it didn’t feel like Dartmouth was very focused or interested in growing that department so much as it was letting the department flounder,” Fahrenthold said. “As a school that wants to find different areas of research and encourage students to become really strong researchers, it’s sad that Dartmouth hasn’t capitalized on education as a field for that and instead seems to kind of just be pulling back.”

Regarding the future of the education minor, Tine said studying education can be relevant in students’ careers, citing a 2021 survey by the office of institutional research that reported 15% of Dartmouth alumni work in the education field after graduation — one of the top three fields of employment.

“Our goals moving forward are to reach and support as many students interested in education as possible, to spark new student interest in education, and to strengthen the minor,” Tine wrote. “We’re currently exploring ways to make our curriculum more accessible while maintaining our pedagogical integrity, perhaps by cross listing appropriate courses from other departments and programs as EDUC courses and vice versa.”

Semprebon noted her desire to see the education minor expand.

“All of the education courses available in the Fall were ones that I had already taken,” she said. “If the [minor] were to expand a little bit and bring on another one or two professors, they could… offer more courses and maybe attract more students.”

Both Semprebon and Rainville would have been interested in pursuing teacher certification under the TEP had it been available to them. Semprebon is currently applying to postgraduate certification programs.

“I want to be an elementary school teacher. Now as a senior trying to figure out what my next steps should be as someone who doesn’t have a major in education, doesn’t have any formal preparation for what it’s like to be in a classroom… I have to figure out what my next steps are,” Rainville said.

Rainville and Fahrenthold both expressed their worries of any additional reductive changes to the minor.

“I definitely have some concern in the future of whether they’ll keep downgrading the minor or get rid of the education focus,” Rainville said.

In light of the education department’s demotion, Fahrenthold highlighted the importance of education as a discipline.

“I think when you have problems in your education system, it indicates that there’s problems in your society, and when you have problems in your society, it indicates you have a gap in your education system,” she said. “So much of what we impart on people [in schools] about how it is we want you to ideally behave in a society and interact with people and treat people does come from how it is you learn.”

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