P-20 program aims for improved education

By Tom Bukowski

The NIU P-20 program established by NIU President John Peters in 2003 hoping to achieve a seamless educational experience for every child.

The P-20 program, or preschool to graduate school program, asks observers to imagine a world where third-graders read at or above their level, every student learns algebra by the time they enter high school and every student who attends college finishes and enters the workforce as an educated member of society.

The program also was created in hopes of producing better teachers and improving student achievement, according to a video presentation released by the P-20 program on the official NIU Web site.

The P-20 program connects NIU to the disparate parts of every student’s education, from preschool, elementary school and high school, according to the NIU P-20 Web site. Programs within P-20 include P-20 field work, where students in NIU’s teacher preparation program practice teaching in real-world environments.

Project REAL, being used by schools in Rockford, is a program where prospective teachers can train in a “real” school environment similar to that of an inner city.

“Teacher preparation programs did not do enough to train teachers for an inner city environment,” said Marilyn McConachie, executive assistant to the vice president of administration and university outreach.

According to Portia Downey, a sixth-grade teacher in the Harlem School District who appeared in the presentation, teaching has become much more complicated than when she started teaching six years ago.

“Kids come to school now with so many [academic] problems,” she said.

According to McConachie, the P-20 program is funded by three primary sources: money already put into outreach programs by NIU, federal and state funding. The program also receives some private grants, such as IBM’s awarding of grant to the NIU College of Education to modernize elementary school classrooms.

“We’re lucky to get federal grants for our P-20 program,” McConachie said.

The program has received multiple federal grants, ranging from $5 million to $10 million, she said.

The P-20 connects the NIU Colleges of Education, Engineering and Engineering Technology, Health and Human Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Visual and Performing Arts, the Office of the Provost and NIU Outreach for this purpose like never before, McConachie said.

According to Peters, NIU is running the P-20 program because it is up to colleges to provide leadership.

“I can’t think of a more important role for today’s public university than the improvement of public education on all levels,” Peters said in the video presentation.