ASU Teacher Education

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Dr. Mari Koerner, Dean of ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership talks about the College’s efforts to improve teacher education, including a new partnership with Teach for America.

Ted Simons: Businessman and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford is helping Arizona partner with "Teach For America" to find better ways to produce highly teachers. Joining me now to talk that and other initiatives to improve teacher training here we have Dr. Mari Koerner, Dean of ASU's College of Teacher Education and Leadership

Ted Simons: Good to have you, thanks for joining us.

Mari Koerner: Thanks for invitingng me.

Ted Simons: You betcha. Let's talk about this new project and what exactly changes.

Mari Koerner: Denny Sanford has great vision, just like Michael Crow, in terms of being innovative and entrepreneurial. He recognizes the excellence in "Teach For America." And as a philanthropist he has focused on bettering children's lives. And what is better for children than having a great teacher? And what's better for the United States than having kids who are prepared better? So working together we have designed a project where we will work with "Teach For America," look at their materials, look at their procedures, strategies, and we will adapt and then scale back those practices to college education.

Ted Simons: Let's make it clear what "Teach For America" is.

Mari Koerner: All right. Teach For America t's a not for profit organization that recruits, selects some of the brightest and best people, young people especially, throughout the United States to be teachers in classrooms in high-poverty schools, raising the achievement of children, working in schools. Working actually even after their teachers often end upin positions of leadership. They have done this for about 20 years and they have shown great success.

Ted Simons: Back to my first question: education, training for teachers was done this way, and it's now done that way. What changes?

Mari Koerner: Well one of the innovative things about this project, what Denny's vision has meant for us is to push us to open up 13 the door and look at what is successful. What's successful in "Teach For America" is the same goals we do, which is produce really good teachers. Universities are known for being a little closed to the external world in some ways. This offers a partnership we have not been able to take advantage of. So the newest, most innovative thing is we're saying hey, help us figure out how we can better prepare teachers.

Mari Koerner: Better teachers for classroom management, for specific subjects?

Mari Koerner: We are looking to reform everything we do in our program. So the first thing we're going do is look at general studies courses that our students take. Right now they can take the history of Rock and Roll. Now, not that I'm against the history of Rock and Roll. but they maybe should take the history of the United States. We are looking at the courses they are taking and making sure they are going to be connected to what we have to teach in pre-K-12. So we will be telling them, advising them to take economics, harder and more difficult math. No matter if you teach second grade or 12th grade. We will reform the way we look at general studies. In the regard, Lee Hartwell, a Nobel Prize winner who is coming to ASU, is designing a special science course is being designed in sustainability for our students and he will teach it. Imagine, being able to open ourselves up to all these great minds as a level one institution. We're also going to look at our educational courses and say they are effective. We know you have to know how to teach kids. You have to know how kids learn. We're going reduce those courses while increasing content but make them more powerful and more effective. Helping us will be "Teach For America" to say what's going on there. Third, in clinical experiences we almost double the amount of hours our students are spending in school. We will use the medical school model. We will do rounds and visit them and have them visit each other. It'll be a year in the classroom in the clinical setting.

Ted Simons: When you talk about the clinical model, is this something that is a summer institute that the school is involved in?

Mari Koerner: Yes. One of the things we'll probably be doing is while we'll be looking at "Teach For America's" summer institute, we will help them as well here in Phoenix. We will probably be creating a two-week summer institute, kind of like a boot camp, for our student teachers to have before they go into student teaching with all the kind of what you need to know to be effective in a classroom the minute you walk in. Not when you're a teacher but the minute you walk into that classroom.

Ted Simons: I know there are critics of "Teach For America." They say simply not enough experience goes into these folks before they are thrown into some of the most difficult situations out there with the poor-performing schools and these sorts of things. Why is it that so many education folks look at this curiously and say they don't have the foundation or the history, it takes more than being really smart at math to get a bunch of 9 and 10-year-olds to sit in their chair and pay attention.

Mari Koerner: Well the great thing about this investment from Denny is that that war is over. That colleges of education, like ours, and the leading organization in teacher education has called us and said, luckily now we have found a bridge to be able to work with this organization to, find out what's good for all of teacher preparation. So I think focusing on what we can share, now sharing, is actually today. That was kind of yesterday's argument. We're now looking at today's.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about sharing, you're going to work as well with the Federal Government, the business community and I would imagine other schools on campus?

Mari Koerner: And we are -- we're going to raise the level of professional -- of our professional schools to be a school of choice. We'd like to say well if can't become a teacher, maybe you can become a doctor. Because our professional school, we're going to raise incentives by working with the college of arts and science, law, and engineering. Also the federal government is a partner that has recognized our capacity to work with school Districts, our other great partners in preparing teachers. We just received a $33.8 million grant to help schools look at their own curriculum, their own teachers and to help reform especially low-achieving schools. Another way that we are reforming what we're doing is saying, when teachers graduate from our program it's not the end. We're going to help them in the school that they are in. We're going to track them. We have a teacher tracking project. We're going follow them. Do they stay in teaching? Are they effective teachers?

Ted Simons: Real quickly, the tracking project intrigues me. What do you actually look at? What do you exactly track?

Mari Koerner: Right now it's to improve our program. So what we're doing is serving our students when they come into the program, exiting, we have a technology base. We will be following them into their classroom and we're looking at what they are saying about our program. Actually we have changed our program based already on their feedback. As they go into classrooms working with the Arizona Department of Education and their data-gathering. We will be able to tell eventually looking at many different levels of achievement, how they are doing in the classroom. Not one, and that's what we're bringing to this, wha a university can bring. Different ways of looking at achievement.

Ted Simons: The idea of engineering students and law students and these folks, I see lots of dollar signs in front of the salaries later on. I don't see that kind of compensation for teachers. How do you get those folks to come back and say, yeah, I don't mind being in the classroom for so much less than I could have earned.

Mari Koerner: We have examples all around us. Anyone with children actually knows many of the teachers their children have are professionals who really, like Denny, are interested in the lives of children. I think if we raise the status of teaching, the salaries will raise, as well. We will prove that we're very much worth $100,000. As we auto prove that we we are more effective. That we are actually the center of what children learn in school.

Ted Simons: Why do you think teaching is not a more prominent profession?

Mari Koerner: Well, I think teaching is not -- because a lot of women went into it. I think in many ways women were considered the second income. Therefore the income wasn't as important. In many districts the older the child, the more money you make. Typically there's more men in secondary schools. I think everybody thinks they can be a teacher until they get in front of a classroom of 30 kids and then they realize how difficult it is.

Ted Simons: Which is interesting because a lot of folks criticize "Teach For America" because they say some of these folks so successful in other areas don't understand what it's like standing in front of those kids.

Mari Koerner: We found with our Corps members, they are very exceptional young people. We want for everyone out there to say, we want our child who could be a scientist, like Lee Hartwell, who said teachers impacted his entire life, who could be a lawyer or a doctor, a really a wonderful profession is being a teacher.

Ted Simons: Thank you so much for joining us.

Mari Koerner: Thank you for having me.

Dr. Mari Koerner:Dean of ASU's College of Teacher Education and Leadership;

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