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Federal officials encourage teachers’ colleges to follow Arizona model

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WASHINGTON – Education Secretary Arne Duncan cited Arizona State University as a school that is “raising the bar” on teacher education, as he unveiled a plan Tuesday aimed at strengthening training and better preparing teachers for the classroom.

In a conference call with state and local officials, Duncan announced that the department will change reporting requirements for teacher colleges to focus on outcomes as it works to reach the goal of “putting a great teacher in every classroom.”

“If we truly value education, we owe it first to our children to give them the best-prepared teachers possible, and we owe it to our teachers to give them the best preparation possible so that they enter the classroom with skills and knowledge they need to be successful,” Duncan said.

Duncan was joined on the call by Mari Koerner, dean of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, who said the school has increased the rigor of its teacher program and attracted more students.

Koerner, who testified on the issue before a Senate committee in March, said that Fulton’s revamped teacher-training program – with its “gatekeeper” approach – has weeded out those teachers who are unfit for the classroom. That makes room for student teachers who are in it for the long run, she said Tuesday.

“We actually screen many students out of our programs because we do not think, or we cannot predict, or we cannot guarantee that they will be good teachers,” Koerner said.

While that may seem harsh, Koerner said the move toward a stricter teacher-training program was necessary. Fulton graduates had told the school that they were not prepared well enough to enter the classroom as professionals.

Koerner said her response to that complaint was to regroup and “keep on trying.” Consequently, the school came up with the reinvigorated approach the she said has paid off.

Duncan said other schools should look to ASU as an example for its teacher-training programs.

“If people sort of follow what Arizona State and so many others have done, I think that should be a huge step in the right direction for students, for teachers and very importantly for me for the teaching profession itself,” Duncan said.

Others on the call included Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Jim Cibulka, president of the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation, and Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell.

Duncan and the others stressed that states would have flexibility in how they designed their teacher-training programs and the standards they would use to measure progress, picking from plans like ASU’s or other schools.

The proposal unveiled Tuesday is subject to a 60-day public comment period and could take effect sometime in mid-2015, the department said.

Arizona State University is one of the largest institutions of higher learning in the country. Koerner said the university has close to 3,000 students in the teacher-prep program and has more than 1,000 that graduate each year.