Early Urban Field Experiences for Prospective Teachers: A Case Study of Multicultural Field Placements Through a University-based Preservice STEM Teacher Program

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Educational and political leaders have expressed concern about racial and ethnic disparities in students' readiness for postsecondary study and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A lack of preparedness of STEM teachers in high-need urban districts, which serve predominantly low-income minority students, is often associated with poor student outcomes. Programs emphasizing multicultural or culturally responsive teacher education are among the initiatives that have been developed to address inequalities. In particular, early field experiences for prospective teachers in high-need districts merit closer study.

This research used a multiple case study approach to examine two field placements facilitated by a privately endowed STEM teacher education program for prospective teachers at a public mid-Atlantic university through partnerships with educational groups. It explored how two placements--at a public charter school serving grades 5 through 8 (PCS) and a college preparatory program for high school students (Summer College)--reflected nine principles of good practice put forth by Multicultural Preservice Teacher Education Project (MPTEP). Data consisted of interviews, observations at PCS, and document review, and were analyzed using matrices derived from the MPTEP principles.

These nine principles, five related to preservice teacher preparation activities and three related to desired outcomes, were reflected to varying degrees in placements at PCS. One principle was not evident; participants did not appear to examine identities as part of the placements. There was also countervailing evidence of several elements. For example, placements did not appear to extend into the community or involve community-based teacher educators. Three principles regarding activities and two related to desired outcomes were reflected in placements at Summer College, but the four others were not and the data collected were weak in some areas.

This research can help us better understand early urban field placements and how they may affect participants' readiness and interest in teaching at high-need urban schools. The study offers information to practitioners seeking to use urban field experiences to help prepare teachers for urban schools as part of efforts to improve student outcomes in STEM subjects. The study also suggests use of the MPTEP principles for future research.