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A Letter from the Center Directors

Our History and Our Mission
The Center for Education was established in 1988 to bring the resources of the university, and of the larger community, to bear on the persistent, seemingly intractable problems of urban schooling. Not only do we lose thousands of children and youth every year from our schools, but the students who remain face an unevenness in the quality of education that our schools offer.

  Ron Sass and Linda McNeil

Since its founding, the Center has worked directly with more than 2500 teachers serving almost 300,000 children, upgrading teachers’ knowledge and working with districts on broad, systemic, and lasting improvements in schools. In turn, these teachers have mentored an additional 5,000 teachers using tools and knowledge gained through their experiences with the Center’s programs. The Center has become a force for improving teaching and learning in high-poverty schools, demonstrating great success in schools with high numbers of Latino students, the nation’s fastest-growing student population. Center programs have won acclaim from experts in science, literacy, and learning theory for their effectiveness.

We know that many of the problems which impact children’s education arise beyond the walls of the school: poverty, recentness of immigration, lack of access to medical care, the pressures of globalization on work and commerce. We are well aware that confronting these larger issues will require major shifts in policy and community endeavors over time.

But in the meantime, every day in our city, our children come to school. They come hoping to learn.

For us at the Center, the way to make an immediate difference in children’s lives is to make sure that when they walk through the classroom door, they are met by an excellent teacher. That teacher is the key to what children will learn and whether they will be captivated by the excitement of learning. If that teacher is deeply knowledgeable about the subject and about the ways children learn, if that teacher understands the cultures and communities of the children, the children will know our community takes them seriously. They will be caught up in the magic of learning.

How Do We at the Center for Education Make a Difference?
We believe that for children to learn, to have that teacher who can spark learning regardless of what else is happening in the child’s life, the teacher also needs a chance to go on learning. And that’s where we come in. We have looked at the subjects that are typically not taught in ways that grab students’ attention, subjects where school knowledge is woefully out of date, and the grade levels that are critical to children’s persistence in school. We have then created innovative, sustained programs for teachers’ learning which address these areas of most urgent need in children’s learning: the sciences (from elementary grades through high school), early literacy, good writing, and knowledge about our globalizing world. And through grant funding we have been able to open these programs to teachers in traditionally under-resourced schools.

We also work continually to understand the issues that shape teachers’ work and students’ learning. Center for Education researchers study policies such as standardization and school reform and their effects on what happens in classrooms. Center researchers have been pivotal in bringing to light not only the extent of the dropout problem but also the stories behind the numbers. We regularly provide good, reliable, and independent data and analyses to policymakers, community groups, educators, and the media, to assure a wide community engagement in deciding how we should be educating our children.

The Center builds strong collaborations on behalf of children. The successful partnership between the Center’s Model Science Lab programs for teachers and the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology is a prime example of the ways the Center enables others at Rice to contribute to the university’s mission of research and service to the community. These partnerships between the Center and Rice faculty provide organizational structure for the “educational outreach” components of their research. Additionally, the Center researchers use their expertise to teach courses that help prepare Rice students for careers in teaching. The Center engages with many communities not typically involved with Rice, such as LULAC, the Urban League, East End neighborhoods, and Headstart, and is a valued resource to national media, children’s advocacy organizations, and legislators.

Our Vision
The ultimate aim of the Center for Education is to assist teachers in ensuring that all students have authentic learning experiences in public schools. To this end, the Center continues to serve as a catalyst for bringing the community together to work on behalf of children. We invite you to join us in working toward lasting improvements in schools.

– Linda McNeil, Director, and Ronald Sass, Director Emeritus