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Teachers College awarded $43M grant to help reform Ariz. schools

October 12, 2010

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was chosen as one of ASU's highlights from 2010. Look here for a look back at some of the year's most prized stories.

Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has been awarded a $43.4-million Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant from the U.S. Department of Education that will provide funding for comprehensive school reform in Arizona, including a performance-based compensation system for teachers.

The Arizona Ready-for-Rigor Project, led by ASU in collaboration with the Arizona Department of Education and the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, is a statewide network of schools in partner districts serving high-need students. The goals of the project include increasing student achievement, retaining highly effective educators and fostering exemplary school culture in the highest-need communities across Arizona.

“This is an important recognition that Arizona State University is embedded in the community and sees as a core mission the improvement of PreK-20 education in the state,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “Bringing in these kinds of resources means that children in Arizona will benefit, communities will benefit, and our Teachers College will benefit through learning about how to best incentivize classroom teachers.”

Through the TIF grant program, the Arizona Ready-for-Rigor Project will pursue three objectives: 1) use of a statewide Ready-for-Rigor Support Center to work with a network of 71 historically struggling, high-need schools to achieve four key outcomes at each site, including ambitious achievement goals and effectiveness ratings; 2) use targeted, higher-than-average teacher pay-for-performance bonuses; use targeted, technology-enabled and district-based principal and/or teacher preparation programs; and prepare, recruit and retain highly effective principals and teachers in the hard-to-staff schools and areas; and (3) contribute to the research knowledge base on performance-based compensation systems by participating in DOE’s national evaluation study.

The 71 schools served by the grant represent more than 46,000 students across 18 districts that have partnered with ASU and Teachers College on teacher development and site-specific supports necessary to bring about comprehensive school reform. Ten of the districts are located in urban areas, while eight represent rural settings.

“Leaders in education, commerce and politics accept as truth that Arizona students can perform up to the level of the highest performing U.S. states and international competitors on globally benchmarked exams,” said Scott Ridley, Teachers College associate dean and associate professor, who wrote the grant proposal. “We know that key institutions in Arizona have not worked together with a coordinated sense of urgency to improve student achievement, and we will change that through this important award.”

Ridley noted that, like other states, Arizona’s students perform at both the highest and the lowest levels on standardized tests and pointed to research that the performance gap is thought to be associated with a gap in teacher effectiveness.

“Arizona students from the highest-need urban and rural communities perform least well on standardized tests,” he said.  “That’s where this school-university partnership for educational reform will begin.”

The university-school partnership model created by Teachers College, with districts across Arizona and led by Ridley, has been recognized as a national example and awarded $97.2 million in federal and private gifts over the past two years to support its objectives. In 2009, Teachers College was awarded $35 million in DOE grants, and entrepreneur and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford made an $18.8-million investment in the school to create the Sanford Education Project to expand the relationship between Teachers College and Teach For America.

The Ready-for-Rigor TIF grant is part of a campaign to simultaneously reform schools in high-need communities and ASU’s teacher education programs.

ASU Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth D. Capaldi said, “Producing better teachers is a key element of improving the pipeline of students qualified for college. This is the only way we can achieve our goal of increasing the number of college graduates and thereby producing economic development in Arizona.”

“ASU, in partnership with high-need communities and school districts, plans to improve teacher education programs in these communities by creating schools which provide these future teachers with strong mentors, and show them how to use data to foster students’ academic achievement,” said Mari Koerner, dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “We believe that using good classroom teaching models and data-driven student achievement results, this statewide initiative will simultaneously transform partner schools and improve ASU’s previous teacher preparation programs.”

The most recent award to the Teachers College is part of a five-year $1.2 billion federal program that seeks to strengthen the education profession by rewarding excellence, attracting teachers and principals to high-need and hard to staff areas, and providing all teachers and principals with the feedback and support they need to succeed.

The winning applicants were selected by a group of 60 independent, expert peer reviewers. They were judged on their comprehensive plans to develop, reward and support effective teachers and principals in high-need schools, based on evaluations that include multiple measures, including student growth.

Applicants also were required to demonstrate a high level of local educator support and involvement and a plan for financial sustainability after the five-year grant award period. Applicants received additional points for using value added measures, attracting effective teachers in hard to staff subject or specialty areas, and for being a first-time applicant.