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$18M gift to transform teacher education

January 25, 2010

In a groundbreaking move, Arizona State University has joined forces with Teach For America (TFA) to address the most pressing educational needs of our time. Through this partnership, ASU will adapt TFA’s most successful tools in order to attract, prepare, support and retain more highly effective teachers.

Teach For America has recruited, trained and placed more than 24,000 teachers since 1990, becoming one of the nation’s largest providers of teachers for low-income communities. In that time, the organization has developed strategies that have enabled it to attract people into teaching who otherwise may not have chosen the profession and created innovative support systems to help those teachers in the classroom, building a pipeline of leaders grounded in educational equity and excellence. 

Teach For America is widely known as a non-traditional route to teaching and most of its recruits are not graduates of schools of education. But now with a five-year, $18.85-million investment from entrepreneur and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, ASU will partner with Teach For America to bring major substantive changes to the way ASU recruits, selects, and prepares future K-12 teachers. 

This program, known as the Sanford Education Project, is one of many ASU initiatives to improve public education.

“Colleges of education play a role in public school teaching that is just as important as the role colleges of medicine play in health care and continuing medical education. Yet, they lag behind medical schools in terms of not being research-driven, creative, adaptive, and focused on continuing education for members of the profession,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. 

While Teach for America will have no official role in ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership (CTEL), the college will adapt TFA’s tools and develop an improved national model for teacher preparation. ASU’s goal is to scale up this model to produce more highly effective teachers every year, Crow said.

“We intend to use this generous investment to help reach Mr. Sanford’s goal of elevating teaching to its rightful place as a preeminent profession in our society,” Crow said. “We will upgrade the professionalism of teacher preparation, integrate other colleges at the university into teacher education programs, and work to make the teaching profession more attractive to high-quality students from fields including science, math, engineering, English and history.”

“Working with CTEL has been rewarding and productive,” said executive director of Teach For America Phoenix, Pearl Chang Esau. “ASU is such a positive model of how a university can work with community organizations in open and transformative ways. We look forward to being a key supporter to CTEL as they work to advance teacher preparation and elevate the prestige of the teaching profession.”

TFA will be sharing its teacher training and preparation practices as well as its models of post-placement support with CTEL.  CTEL staff will spend significant time shadowing TFA’s summer institute teachers and program directors. CTEL will then be given license to adapt TFA’s practices, written and online materials in a way that is best suited to supplement and strengthen its own programs.

In addition, CTEL will recruit and select future teachers who are the most likely to lead their students to academic success, using a model based on the traits of the nation’s most successful teachers. The CTEL curriculum will be infused with TFA principles. 

Sanford’s $18.85 million investment will enable the creation of a CTEL Summer Institute, based on the TFA model. CTEL students entering their full-year student teaching placement will have an intense pre-preparation for this important practical experience. Using the clinical model, known to be critical in medical education, the focus will be on becoming effective from day one in their school classrooms. The future teachers will study how to make effective lesson plans, how to evaluate their teaching and what to expect when they enter the classrooms. 

CTEL’s working relationship with TFA began in 2007. Currently, 320 Teach For America corps members, who are outstanding recent college graduates from a wide range of disciplines and are chosen through a competitive selection process, teach in high-need Arizona schools while pursuing master’s degrees in education through CTEL. 

In 2008 the partnership expanded as CTEL began hosting TFA’s Phoenix training institute.

“It is vitally important for the future of our country that public education be improved, and to do that we must produce more effective teachers,” said Sanford. “I believe this innovative partnership between the ASU College of Teacher Education and Leadership and Teach For America will refine the best practices in teacher education and develop new strategies to produce teachers of the highest caliber.”

Sanford, who established the Sanford Foundation for charitable giving in 2001, has been nationally recognized for his philanthropy. He began his business career with the Armstrong Cork Company, after graduating the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, in 1958, and left two years later to start his own manufacturers’ representative company and later a regional distribution company.               

In 1971, Sanford acquired a chemical company known as Contech, which grew from 50 to 350 employees before he sold it in 1982. A year later, he created a venture capital fund to help young entrepreneurs establish promising businesses, and in 1986, he purchased United National Bank, which was renamed First Premier Bank and which has grown to assets of almost $1 billion. Another of his businesses, Premier Bankcard Inc., has become a national leader in the credit card industry. Both companies are now controlled through United National Corp, Sioux Falls, his holding company.

“CTEL is now uniquely positioned to serve as a national role model for teacher preparation,” said Elizabeth D. Capaldi, ASU executive vice president and provost of the university. “Colleges of education must be willing and able to collaborate with other stakeholders, including school districts, organizations like Teach For America, federal agencies, and the business and foundation communities, in order to make meaningful innovations in the way they prepare future generations of teachers for successful and rewarding careers.”

ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership is at the vanguard of the university’s teacher preparation and education efforts. The college prepares great teachers and school leaders by combining best practices derived from current research with innovative teaching approaches, while also placing a high priority on real-world classroom experiences. Its graduates are confident, effective career professionals who will transform the lives of their students and the character of their schools and communities.

The investment by Sanford is the largest gift in the history of CTEL, which recently assumed responsibility for ASU’s teacher preparation programs involving more than 5,400 students on all campuses and off-campus sites across Arizona.