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Schools of Education That Work!


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Education World takes a look at the four colleges honored by the U.S. Department of Education for their teacher preparation programs. The winners of the department's national competition offer insight into how to train good teachers.


How can schools of education prepare college students to become great teachers?

There are no solid answers about what kind of teacher training provides the best outcomes, according to Sharon Kinney Horn, director of the National Awards Program for Effective Teacher Preparation for the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Without a solid research base or consensus about teacher education, nobody really knows the complete answer to that question, she said.

Horn told Education World that the department is carefully reviewing the qualifications of the four award-winning programs to determine common components and characteristics that might help guide changes at other schools of education. A report about those commonalties is expected in March, she said.

Each of the four award-winning colleges demonstrated how its teacher training programs translated into high-level student learning. The award-winning schools are these:


FIRST-TIME CONTEST

The Department of Education ran this national competition for the first time last year. College officials were required to demonstrate how graduates of their teacher preparation programs improved student learning in reading and mathematics. The four colleges were selected from 19 applicants.

The U.S. Department of Education's national teacher preparation award competition comes at a time when many states face a growing need to find quality teachers.

"High-quality teachers are critical to the academic success of students," then Secretary of Education William Riley said at an awards ceremony honoring the four colleges in Washington, D.C., on December 7. "More than half of the 2.2 million teachers needed over the next decade will be first-time teachers who need to be well prepared to teach an increasingly diverse student population to high standards. The time is right to draw attention to those teacher preparation programs that are particularly effective in preparing teachers who can have a positive impact on learning for all students."


HIGH-ACHIEVING STUDENTS AND EXCELLENT FACULTY

Although the four teacher preparation programs are all different -- one is a graduate school, two focus on elementary teaching, and another prepares students to teach middle school math -- some common factors exist among them.

"First of all, it's the professors," said Tom Ferraguzzi, a first-year teacher at Yonkers (New York) Middle School and a recent graduate of Fordham's graduate school of education.

A balance of reality with idealism, based on the experience from levelheaded professors, creates a top-notch faculty at Fordham, Ferraguzzi said. The combination of classroom experience and knowledge about education is a must, he added.


CURRICULUM MATTERS

Another common element of the award-winning programs is their focus on strong academic preparation in addition to pedagogy instruction. Studies have found that strong teacher competence in subject areas translates into higher student achievement, especially notable in math and science. Students at the four award-winning colleges are required to master their academic concentrations, in addition to pedagogy curriculum.

At East Carolina University, math preparation is particularly important, said Ann Bullock, coordinator of the middle schools program. Students accepted into the program must meet stringent admission criteria, Bullock said.

The importance of Alverno College's emphasis on academic preparation became clear to Department of Education officials when they made a site visit, said Kathy Lake, dean of the college's school of education. "Oh, now we get it," Lake recalled the site evaluators stating. "It's really a coherent program, not just in education, but with curricular coherence across the college."

Lake went on to explain Alverno's philosophy, "You can't just do theory or practice teaching: You need to do both. Alverno's program is more hands-on [than many others are]. We emphasize the practical application of what students learn. If they are going to be science teachers, they are doing science, not just memorizing it. If they are math majors, they are actually doing problem solving."

Combining academics and pedagogy can work only if the college teams up with cooperative principals and teachers, Lake added. Alverno, like the other award-winning schools, emphasizes field experience.


SELF-ASSESSMENT KEY IN GOOD TEACHERS

Graduates of these four schools also understand the importance of self-assessment. "Students leave here to be reflective teachers, which is a very important part of being an effective teacher," Lake said. "Teachers must constantly ask themselves what works and [reflect on] how their decisions affect students.

"It's not one size fits all," Lake said. Alverno students are taught to individualize their instruction to motivate and accommodate individual learning styles -- that is a must for today's teachers.

Alverno students are challenged with an array of problems that can become barriers for student learning. They work with emotionally disturbed and learning-disabled children because those children are found in all the schools of our nation.

"We don't need to invent problems," said Jean Ann Box, associate dean and chair of teacher education at Samford University. "They're already out there." Today's teacher may have among his or her 16 students one with Down's syndrome, one with spina bifida, and one learning English as a second language, Box said. "Teachers have to understand how to work with that kind of diversity."

At the school where Fordham graduate Ferraguzzi teaches, nine first-year teachers quit their jobs before Christmas. Ferraguzzi credits the exposure he had as a student at Fordham -- students were required to regularly visit a program for emotionally disturbed children -- along with the techniques he learned as the reasons he feels prepared to handle the variety of problems posed by his students. "It's such an advantage," Ferraguzzi said.

He also feels prepared to handle the diversity of students found in today's classrooms. Handling such diversity requires awareness and sensitivity. "You can't say, 'I'm going to call your mother' anymore or 'Merry Christmas,'" he said, because many students live with single fathers or don't celebrate Christmas.


MENTORING COUNTS

Inexperienced teachers are going to get discouraged, but the best colleges and school districts provide faculty mentors who have been in the classroom and can offer suggestions or remedies. That interpersonal component can make a big difference, Ferraguzzi said. He still contacts his faculty mentors at Fordham when confronted with a problem he is unsure how to handle.

Fordham is proud of the mentoring relationship it has developed between students and faculty. Students meet in small groups with other students and their supervising mentors to discuss accomplishments and problems they encounter during four phases of field experiences, said Regis Bernhardt, dean of Fordham's graduate education program.

"This is a crucial part of our program," Bernhardt told Education World. "Many of [our students'] problems are based on classroom management. One of the crucial keys of our program is for our mentors to support our teacher candidates."

All the other award-winning schools also recognize the importance of cultivating supportive mentoring relationships between faculty and students. Each school provides students with ample meetings with their faculty mentors and peers to compare notes on what works and what doesn't work in the classroom.


PRACTICE COUNTS

Theory to practice is a key component in all these schools. Students at these four schools don't wait until the spring before graduation to step inside a classroom. Lots of practical, hands-on classroom experience is part of the preparation program at all four schools.

The four schools also have a high rate of graduates who go into teaching and remain in the field. That can be directly credited to the students' high level of preparedness, according to Ann Bullock of East Carolina University. "They know what to expect," said Bullock. "They are very much prepared for the reality of teaching. Our graduates say that they learn to be flexible and that every day won't be the same."

The bottom line is the value that great teachers add to the lives of the kids they touch, added Bullock.