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Grant expands innovative teacher preparation program

September 30, 2009

An Arizona State University program that immerses future teachers in school settings to maximize their readiness for successful careers as educators has been awarded a $33.8 million federal grant to expand across metropolitan Phoenix and the state of Arizona, spanning rural American Indian communities and the Tucson area.

ASU’s Professional Development School (PDS) program, developed by the College of Teacher Education and Leadership (CTEL), gives students three times the amount of hands-on, practical classroom experience as traditional teacher education programs. In rural communities, the program enables local residents to earn a university degree and Arizona teacher certification without having to relocate to an urban area of the state.

The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education Teacher Quality Partnership Grant Program will establish “PDS NEXT,” a program involving 15 urban and rural partner school districts in Arizona. Simultaneously, the grant makes possible a number of enhancements to the existing PDS program to produce graduates who are even more well-prepared for success in the classroom, while expanding PDS to implement comprehensive school reform and full-range professional development including a two-year induction program for new teachers.

“These new facets of PDS are designed to produce highly skilled new teachers who understand the content they are teaching and how best to teach it, and to foster measureable gains in effective school functioning, teacher retention, teaching effectiveness and student achievement,” says Scott Ridley, assistant dean of CTEL and principal investigator for the PDS NEXT grant. Ridley has guided the PDS program since it began in 1999 with one school, Longview Elementary, in central Phoenix’s Osborn Elementary School District.

“As a part of its effort to help solve the great challenges facing humanity, ASU has taken on the responsibility of improving public education,” says ASU President Michael M. Crow. “This grant will enable us to make great strides in preparing outstanding teachers. It is our commitment to measure our success in educating teachers by the success our graduates have in educating their students.”

To date, PDS has produced hundreds of elementary and junior high school teachers. Through the NEXT grant, the program will expand to include students wishing to teach at the high school level. CTEL will work in partnership with ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to provide high-quality content area instruction to future high school teachers as well as those planning to teach younger pupils.

Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty members collaborated with CTEL leadership to create a pilot for a discipline-based Master of Arts in Teaching, says Laura Turchi, clinical professor of English education and a co-principal investigator for the PDS NEXT grant. The project will train students in pedagogies designed to develop literacy in English, history, and languages.

“Our faculty will lead a series of consortia linking secondary schools, community colleges, and ASU,” Turchi says. “Each consortium will develop and support high-quality freshman and sophomore courses in reading, writing, critical inquiry, mathematics, and technologies at community colleges and the university. These courses will be available statewide through distance learning and provide models of rigorous and accessible curriculum for future teachers.”

New partner school districts participating through PDS NEXT are Mesa Public Schools; the Glendale, Roosevelt, and Phoenix Elementary School Districts; Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson; the Window Rock, Ganado, and Kayenta districts in the Navajo Nation; University Public Schools; and the Phoenix Union High School District. Existing PDS partners including the Osborn, Chinle, Douglas, Indian Oasis-Baboquivari, and Gadsden districts also will participate in NEXT.

PDS targets high-need schools and communities, aiming to improve both the preparation of future teachers and the achievement of students. Mesa Public Schools (MPS), the state’s largest school district, plans to involve four of its elementary schools in the initiative, each serving low-income families.

“The principals at Adams, Lincoln, Guerrero and Whitman schools requested to participate because of the proposal’s focus on individual student growth, shared leadership structure and site-specific professional development opportunities,” says Michael B. Cowen, MPS superintendent of schools.

“We have been investigating ways to support teachers at lower-income schools through professional development, and the opportunity to partner with ASU’s PDS NEXT proposal couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Receipt of the grant will enable Ridley and his colleagues to incorporate TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement into the PDS curriculum. TAP is an initiative of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

“We are committed to reinventing the definition of teacher education at a major research university,” says Mari Koerner, CTEL’s dean. “Without abandoning the role of theory, CTEL is radically reforming its teacher education programs around TAP, which represents a unified model of clinical excellence.

“We also have learned that an investment in our partner school districts is an investment in our own teacher education enterprise,” Koerner says. “Through genuine partnerships with 15 high-need urban and rural school districts, we will work to simultaneously reform struggling K-12 schools and our district-based teacher education programs.”

An additional partner in the NEXT project is the Rodel Foundation of Arizona, which will provide training to student teachers and mentor teachers that specifically addresses the challenges of teaching in high-poverty schools and focuses on research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. The PDS NEXT partnership also includes the ASU Vice President’s Office for Educational Partnerships, ASU’s original home for the TAP program within the university.

The award to CTEL is the largest among 28 Teacher Quality Partnership grants across the country announced by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“The Obama Administration is committed to giving teachers the support they need to succeed in the classroom,” Duncan says. “The Teacher Quality Partnership grants will improve student academic achievement by strengthening teacher preparation, training and effectiveness and help school districts attract potential educators from a wide range of professional backgrounds into the teaching profession.”