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New elementary education program graduates teachers faster

student teacher in classroom with children
April 11, 2014

An innovative, three-year program designed to graduate future teachers more quickly, and with sought-after data evaluation skills, rolls out this fall at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Arizona State University’s education school will premiere the accelerated elementary education option, which also includes classes for working with gifted students, on its West and Polytechnic campuses.

According to Hilary Pierce, Teachers College senior assistant dean, the three-year model is designed for incoming freshmen who want to become classroom-ready faster. The added benefits of studying how to evaluate research data and also teach gifted learners – both skills that Arizona school districts are asking for – will make these education graduates more marketable, she said. Additionally, the shorter time frame for earning a bachelor’s in education degree suggests a potential tuition savings of up to $6,000 for in-state and $17,000 for out-of-state students.

“Everything in schools today is about data-driven decision-making,” Pierce said. “Those decisions need to happen on a daily basis so that teachers can be responsive to student needs. If we wait to respond until the end of the school year when students get their standardized test results, it’s too late.”

Pierce said the accelerated program being offered by Teachers College delves into research methods and training almost immediately. In the first year, education majors learn basic research and statistical practices that are relevant specifically to contemporary classrooms.

“We want our graduates to become teachers who can assess daily where students are in their learning, design meaningful lessons that will address deficits or areas of need and then evaluate whether the lessons they developed were successful or not,” she explained.

Following the introduction to research, ASU students take a service learning course where they have an opportunity to apply what they learned in a classroom setting. Pierce said this research-to-classroom model is a hands-on experience, perhaps unique in the nation, which Teachers College plans to expand to all of its degree programs.

“At this point, our students aren’t ready for student teaching, but this gives them an opportunity to work with a small group of students having an instructional need,” she said. “They can assess where youngsters are in their learning, teach them a specific type of lesson and evaluate if it worked or not. So our students have this foundation before even starting their field experience the following semester.”

Future teachers in the accelerated program will also graduate with two courses that count toward an endorsement in gifted education, Pierce explained. To complete the gifted endorsement on their teaching certificate, they will need to have actual experience in the classroom teaching gifted students.

“But this is the first step for students wanting to work with gifted students,” Pierce said. “For districts, this is a big priority because a lot of them are restructuring the way they deliver instruction for the gifted population. Many districts are making it much more inclusive, and not necessarily a pull-out program. So they need more classroom teachers who are skilled in working with gifted students.”

When applying for a teaching position, graduates of the accelerated program will be better equipped to meet the current needs of Arizona’s school districts, Pierce explained.

“For a teacher applicant to come in and say ‘I’ve had all of this experience in how to modify instruction based on the ongoing needs of my students,’ that’s what grades 1-8 need right now,” she said. “It’s a huge selling point.”

Freshmen entering ASU in fall 2014 as elementary education majors will be able to choose the accelerated program when they meet with their academic advisers, Pierce said. They can also switch to the faster track in their second semester, but not any later.

“Both the research and gifted elements of this new program will give elementary education majors more relevant approaches about how to best teach in an ever more demanding field,” Pierce said.