MSU leads national research focusing on improving racial equity in teacher preparation programs

February 24, 2022

Ongoing research led by Michigan State University Associate Professor Terry Flennaugh is examining processes in teacher preparation programs that aid in enacting racial justice. The goal: Understanding elements that work and suggesting improvements for all teacher preparation programs nationwide.

Flennaugh in 2017 teaching MSU students, including future teachers, during the Early Success Scholars summer program

The work is funded by the Hewlett Foundation, which originally supported the work in 2019 with a $450,000 grant. Hewlett refunded the program for an additional $850,000 in 2021 to continue and expand the research, providing a more holistic view of all aspects of teacher preparation.

“We want to examine elements throughout all of the teacher preparation experience to find things that contribute to—or get in the way of—new teachers feeling like they can enact this work,” said Flennaugh.

Inside K-12 partner schools

Thus far, research has focused on studying collegiate programs and experiences.

“We also want to look at what is happening to and with interns who are going out in the field,” said Flennaugh, director of urban education initiatives in the MSU College of Education. “We want to learn what happens in K-12 school districts our higher education institutions are partnering with, where we send our interns. We want to develop responses and resources for cohesiveness and community.”

For example, Flennaugh explained, teacher preparation programs may discuss the importance of racial equity in schooling, but interns could find their mentor teachers, administrators or others at their placement district are telling them racial justice does not matter. The research is aiming to unlock pathways to ensure future educators understand, see and feel the impact of racial equity and justice throughout the entirety of their teacher preparation journey.

Analytical tools—like one being finalized in partnership with the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California—aim to aid in documenting and illuminating contextual affordances and constraints. Flennaugh hopes the tool can be used by other teacher preparation programs nationwide in the future as a tool of assessment to improve their programs, too.

Project partners are Minnesota State University, MankatoCalifornia State University, Dominguez Hills; FHI 360, a nonprofit organization and, new in this round of funding, Cleveland State University. All are collaborating in a networked improvement community (NIC) and are dedicated to sharing best practices and resources that are working for their institutions. MSU, for example, is sharing insights on its Urban Education Speaker Series and pre-college programming.

“As a collective, we’re guided by a theory of improvement,” said Flennaugh. “Our learning and research is improved because it is happening across varied contexts. We want to, we can and we will learn and change from this work.”

Portions of this story were pulled from a 2021 story in the New Educator by Priscilla El-Achkar.