In New York, Accelerating Developmental Education Reform

The City College of New York, one of the 25 institutions that are part of the CUNY System.

Across New York, both the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY) have been overhauling developmental education, removing or minimizing standardized placement tests, and giving greater weight to students’ high school grades, a key predictor of success in college. The results were immediately apparent. Both CUNY and SUNY saw dramatic improvements in the numbers of students who placed into, and passed, credit-bearing courses.

The next steps are focused on implementing and scaling evidence-based practices to increase student retention, completion, and graduation. Faculty are at the center of many of these changes. As two of six Strong Start to Finish Scaling Sites, CUNY and SUNY are implementing a range of developmental education reform strategies, from expanding guided pathways to course redesigns that provide corequisite interventions in math and English. By Fall 2022 CUNY aims to phase out all traditional, standalone remedial courses.

Partner Spotlight: The City University of New York

When Felix Matos Rodríguez was named chancellor of the City University of New York in 2019, he had a clear vision. To improve student success, CUNY needed to improve the quality of instruction.

CUNY, the nation’s largest urban public university, serves as a national model for promoting and driving social and economic mobility for the 275,000 degree-seeking students who attend its 25 institutions. The Puerto Rican-born chancellor, the first member of a minority group to lead the university system, started at CUNY in 2000 as a history professor and scholar of Black and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies. He is a vocal cheerleader for faculty and their role in advancing CUNY’s historic mission: “We call ourselves the American Dream Machine.

But as Matos Rodríguez ascended CUNY’s ranks, he also recognized a greater need to grow a culture that prizes and recognizes instructional excellence. “One part that was missing was a commitment to better teaching.” He communicated his vision widely and celebrated CUNY’s unprecedented response to the COVID-19 pandemic, transitioning nearly 50,000 courses online and equipping more than 30,000 students with computers and hotspots. The pandemic, Matos Rodríguez wrote, underscored why effective teaching was more important than ever.

“How teachers teach, how students learn, and what methods and approaches have proven most effective at elevating student achievement and outcomes.” Improving instruction “is one of our key priorities at CUNY — a way to both boost student success and support the invaluable resource that is our faculty.”

‘Improving Pedagogy at Scale’

Driving the instructional vision is CUNY’s Innovative Teaching Academy, which has provided training to over 4,100 faculty since its inception in early 2020.

“We hope to improve pedagogy at scale across over 7,500 full-time faculty and over 12,000 part-time faculty,” said Annemarie Nicols-Grinenko, the University Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, during a panel discussion at this year’s ACE Annual Meeting. Nicols-Grinenko is a member of CUNY’s Innovative Pedagogy Working Group, which is charged with leading the Innovative Teaching Academy’s offerings and culture-building activities.

‘Scaling Instructional Excellence’

During the 2019-2020 academic year, through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, CUNY’s flagship university, the City College of New York, trained and certified 50 faculty in ACUE’s course in effective teaching practices. The experience helped nearly 100% of faculty refine their instructional practices and the successful launch was a driving factor in CUNY’s decision to deepen its investment in professional learning for faculty.

That spring, CUNY was one of four university systems selected to participate in the national Scaling Instructional Excellence for Student Success initiative through the National Association of System Heads (NASH) to train hundreds of faculty in ACUE’s courses (NASH, 2020). In addition, a second grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York provided funding to support 14 faculty cohorts across CUNY’s seven community colleges in the 2020-2021 academic year.

Joining NASH’s initiative helped launch CUNY’s Innovative Teaching Academy, says Nicols-Grinenko. “When we applied for the NASH opportunity, the Academy was just an idea. Receiving this award and being part of the NASH initiative, allowed us to start to make the Academy a reality.”

Much of the training provided by the Innovative Teaching Academy is aimed at best practices in teaching online, but the Academy has also offered opportunities for CUNY faculty to learn more about mindset-supportive practices, open pedagogy, participatory teaching methods in the arts and humanities and alternative forms of student assessment. CUNY has supported the Academy by reallocating internal resources and through partnerships with ACUE and Western Governor’s University, and funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation, Strong Start to Finish/Education Commission of the States.

Faculty as ‘Our Most Important Asset’

To improve pedagogy at scale, CUNY’s academic leaders recognize that providing faculty with professional development opportunities is necessary but not sufficient. To take root and grow, teaching must be embraced by the faculty and leadership of CUNY’s institutions, and assessed and rewarded at the college level.

The CUNY Innovative Teaching Academy plans to deepen its efforts to celebrate faculty who invest in their instructional training, starting with a university-wide event to recognize credentialed faculty. It is also working with the Office of Academic Affairs and the leadership of the University Faculty Senate to develop a plan to explore ways of better recognizing excellence in teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning in CUNY’s tenure and promotion processes.

“If we invest in our most important asset, which is our faculty, we’re going to get faculty that are more motivated, happier to do the work that they do on the teaching side, and much better outcomes for our students,” said Matos Rodríguez.

State University of New York

Faculty development is a driving catalyst for developmental education reform in the State University of New York, the largest comprehensive system of universities, colleges, and community colleges in the United States.

Through a grant from Strong Start to Finish, all 30 of SUNY’s community college and eight four-year colleges are implementing at least one developmental education reform.

Their strategies are to:

  • Accelerate and scale up SUNY’s Guided Pathways reforms
  • Scale Math Pathways and targeted corequisite interventions across the SUNY system
  • Expand corequisite English Accelerated Learning Program (ALP)

In-depth faculty training and professional development are major levers being used to realize these goals, according to Johanna Duncan-Poitier, the Senior Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges and the Education Pipeline for SUNY. Duncan-Poitier emphasized that there was a strong commitment to faculty development and engagement as part of the implementation. That includes over 60 workshops with over 3,000 attendees. “We are investing in the people who are investing in student success,” Duncan-Poitier said.

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