In the early 1900’s, Bank Street College of Education founder Lucy Sprague Mitchell was acting as the first Dean of Women at the University of California at Berkeley. She knew John Dewey, the revolutionary educator, and was influenced by his personality and writings, and by the writing and thinking of other humanists of the day. Lucy Mitchell decided to continue her career in New York City and to devote her life to improving schools for children. She and the colleagues she drew around her knew that reform meant not just a strengthening of the kinds of schools then in existence, but a fundamental change in the concept of how children learn. She was determined to draw together a group of thinkers from different fields to study a variety of new experimental schools.
And so, in 1916, the Bureau of Educational Experiments was born and soon lodged in rented quarters on Varick Street in Lower Manhattan. Lucy Mitchell set out to conduct research on child development in experimental schools, and to that end she staffed the Bureau with a doctor, psychologists, a social worker, and teachers.
Lucy Mitchell herself became a student of children’s language, and she recorded children’s remarks and the stories they told. She concluded that formal imposition of “meaning” hampered children’s language as a medium of creative expression. She found that the children’s natural expression reflected their keen awareness of the world.
Her research bore fruit in the form of The Here and Now Story Book, which was published in 1921 and became an all-time bestseller among children‘s books. It was the first step in the Bureau’s effort to improve the quality of children‘s literature, an effort that continues to this day.
In 1926, the Working Council of the Bureau began a process of appraisal of the program of the past ten years and a rethinking of its objectives and strategies. What emerged from this process was a bold new method for bringing about change in the field of education: the development of an education program that would result in a new kind of teacher for a new kind of school. The central strategy for effecting educational reform would be the development of a teacher education program that would serve as a model to the education world.
In 1930 the Bureau acquired the old Fleischman‘s Yeast brewery and storage building. Its address was to become synonymous with the best in early childhood education: 69 Bank Street. This was a joint venture between the Bureau and eight other experimental schools. Student teachers worked at their various schools Monday through Thursday and came to Bank Street for classes, seminars, and conferences from Thursday afternoon through Saturday noon.
In 1937, a Division of Publications was established to produce writing for and about children. The Bank Street Writers Laboratory was founded, and it continues today to give encouragement to writers to produce books for children that are consistent with the Bank Street understanding of how children develop. Among the writers affiliated with the Lab were such shining lights of children’s literature as Margaret Wise Brown (Good Night Moon) and Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are).
In 1943, the New York City Board of Education recognized this history of achievements with the request that workshops be given to some of its teachers on the Bank Street methods. Bank Street faculty began to work directly with public school teachers in their own classrooms. The innovative approaches that had long been the work of Bank Street were no longer considered a threat to the established order. By 1946, Bank Street began to offer night and weekend courses for non-matriculated students. Soon some 500 people were attending these courses.
In 1950, the Board of Regents of the State of New York granted the school (the name now changed, at the Regents’ request, to Bank Street College of Education) the right to confer the degree of Master of Science in Education. The core curriculum remained the training of college graduates in the teaching of nursery and elementary school children. And for the next two decades, students–both adults and children–made their way to 69 Bank Street to learn and grow.
Bank Street’s Research Division conducted studies of teachers and the ways in which different kinds of educational environments influenced children‘s development. The National Institute of Mental Health awarded Bank Street a $1 million grant to develop a series of studies focused on the school as a vehicle for promoting mental health. By 1964, the federal government began to seek out the educational expertise of Bank Street with some frequency. With the Civil Rights Act in the offing, the U.S. Commissioner of Education asked Bank Street‘s president, John H. Niemeyer, to consult with southern universities to create models for a desegregation program. That same year, Bank Street faculty were asked to help shape the national Head Start Program and to create guidelines for Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Bank Street’s Research Division became part of a national network of Early Childhood Research Centers devoted to studies relevant to young children in Head Start and similar programs.
By 1970, Bank Street had developed a nationally recognized research division, an Early Childhood and Family Resources Center, and The Bank Street Readers, a series of reading materials that were the first multiracial and urban-oriented resources that displayed contemporary culture, graphics, and language. The day arrived when Bank Street could no longer answer the needs of an educational facility of national significance at its location. Reluctantly, in 1970, Bank Street left the street that had given the school its name and so much more. A new facility was built on West 112th Street, in the heart of Manhattan‘s Upper West Side educational community.
The address of the College had changed, but not its drive toward innovation. In 1972, the New Perspectives program of weekend graduate courses was launched to attract new students, to provide teaching opportunities for faculty and practitioners from other parts of the country, and to experiment with new courses. (In 2009, New Perspectives was renamed Continuing Professional Studies.) In 1976, a Graduate School program in Museum Education began to train a group of new professionals who were comfortable and qualified to work in both museums, with their ever-expanding educational function, and in classrooms. Later, Museum Leadership and Museum Special Education programs were added. Today, graduates of the programs are on the staff of nearly every major museum in the country. An Infant and Parent Development program was also created, to meet the need for broadly trained professionals to work with infants, toddlers and their parents.
The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 mandated education “in the least restrictive environment” for children with special educational needs. The inclusion of these children in regular classrooms required a reconceptualization of teacher education and practice, and this became an important part of the work of Bank Street. Faculty members are still working actively to foster inclusion in the public schools, and Bank Street now offers graduate degree programs in Special Education, Bilingual Special Education, Teaching Students with Disabilities 7-12 Generalist, and Leadership for Educational Change with a focus in Special Education. In the 1980s Bank Street became a leader in technology, creating software, a television series, and books that would enhance children’s interest in and understanding of science, mathematics, and technology. For several years, Bank Street’s programs and materials, such as the Bank Street Writer and The Voyage of The Mimi, were the most widely used in schools across the country, and were also a bestseller among adults for home use. By 1989, Bank Street, as the lead organization in a consortium that included Harvard and Brown Universities, won a five-year, $5 million award from the U.S. Department of Education to serve as the national Center for Technology in Education.
Efforts continued throughout the 1990’s to address challenges not only in New York but in more than twenty other cities. Bank Street recognized the great need for well-prepared school leaders, and created the Principals Institute, in collaboration with the New York City Board of Education. The Institute produced nearly 400 school leaders in the 1990s, most of them women and/or People of Color.
A new century and a new millennium now asks Bank Street to draw upon the strengths of its past as it prepares itself to meet the challenges of the future. Many of the challenges continue to persist. The scarcity of well-prepared teachers and school leaders; the frequently mediocre and underfunded nature of programs of care and education for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers; the underperformance of many children, particularly those in inner-city neighborhoods; and the still-present gap between the haves and have-nots, especially as it applies to the resources available to children in urban schools, all exist in today’s education system.
Education has already come a long way since 1916, when conventional wisdom believed children were to be seen and not heard. We expect to continue our work in improving the teacher preparation curriculum; however, there is still much work to be done to improve education, and we enthusiastically accept your help with that role.
Bank Street is a Graduate School, which offers intensive, individualized master‘s degree programs every year to about 800 aspiring teachers, museum educators, child life professionals, and school leaders; conducts action-oriented research designed to improve teaching and learning, and works with public and independent schools in New York City and in other cities across the country and the world.
Bank Street also has a School for Children and Family Center, which, together, offer unparalleled care and education to nearly 500 children. A variety of professional development initiatives are housed in the Graduate School, including extensive outreach work in a wide variety of schools and communities.
The Graduate School of Bank Street College of Education is recognized for its premiere practices in teacher and leader education and preparation. Our program was one of four to be designated an exemplary teacher preparation program in the United States by Teachers for a New Era (TNE). TNE aimed to create innovative and effective models of best practices for work in classroom teaching. The Graduate School was also chosen as the of of seven exemplary programs (three graduate programs, four undergraduate programs) of teacher preparation in the United States by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. The College is also leading the way to toward deeper understanding of the need for residency programs in teacher preparation. Prepared to Teach, formally the Sustainable Funding Project, is engaged in critical work with programs, districts, and schools to develop residency models incorporating many of the core practices unique to Bank Street.