Friday February 24, 2006

No Teacher Left Behind

The University of Dayton has been invited to join a major reform effort to improve the quality of teaching in the nation's classrooms.

Research confirms that the most important factor in student achievement is the competence of the teacher -- even in the poorest school districts and even if parents are uninvolved.

The University of Dayton has been selected to join an elite network of 49 colleges and universities dedicated to radically changing the way students are prepared to teach. The reform initiative, called the Teachers for a New Era (TNE) Learning Network, is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Annenberg Foundation. Under the No Child Left Behind law, states are required to have a high-quality teacher in every classroom. The institutions in the network will serve as national models for the way they prepare effective teachers.

The network includes such schools as Boston College, Vanderbilt University, Stanford University, Michigan State University and Teachers College, Columbia University. The University of Cincinnati is the only other university in Ohio invited to join the reform effort.

"There is grave concern nationally among policymakers and the general public about the poor achievement of children on even basic math and reading proficiency tests," said Anne Rogers Poliakoff, senior program officer for the Academy for Educational Development that is coordinating the reform effort. "Seen through the lens of teacher quality, strengthening teacher preparation is most fundamentally a strategy intended to ensure that every school child has a teacher who can help him or her achieve and succeed."

The network is an extension of Carnegie Corp.'s 2002 "Teachers for a New Era" program, comprised of 11 schools that are focusing on three design principles: grounding all elements of the teacher education program on sound evidence, including measurement of pupil learning gains; engagement of arts and sciences disciplines in teacher education; and understanding teaching as an academically taught, clinical practice profession.

"Schools of Education nationally have failed in lots of regards," said Thomas Lasley II, dean of the School of Education and Allied Professions at the University of Dayton. "They've not paid sufficient attention to academic content, and they've admitted some candidates who lack the basic skills for ensuring content mastery for the students they will teach. There needs to be more rigorous preparation of teachers. Nationally, we need to attract and recruit more intellectually gifted students, and we need to better educate them with clinical experiences. These schools are on the cutting edge of making teaching a more academically rigorous endeavor."

Before selecting the additional schools to join the initiative, the Carnegie Corp. weighed such factors as "the status of teacher education reform at the institutions, their participation in reform networks and their capacity to influence other institutions," according to Poliakoff. "The University of Dayton is widely recognized for its work in teacher education reform, including its leadership in the use of research to shape the preparation of teachers and the enhancement of clinical practice settings for prospective teachers, notably the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), recognized by the Gates Foundation."

All secondary education majors work with students and teachers at DECA, a nontraditional public high school for students in the Dayton Public Schools. It's been named one of the five most innovative high schools in the country by the Gates Foundation. In addition, all early childhood education majors receive professional development experience at the Bombeck Family Learning Center, a child care and education center that serves as a demonstration school. Other reform efforts undertaken at the University of Dayton include:

* Higher enrollment standards. College entrance test scores of education majors mirror the University's average ACT and SAT scores, an enrollment initiative launched a decade ago.

* Greater use of research to shape programs. The University of Dayton, University of Cincinnati and The Ohio State University are leading a multi-million dollar groundbreaking study that is examining the preparation, in-school support and effectiveness of Ohio teachers. All 50 of the state's colleges and schools of education are involved in the study.

* The development of specialized programs to equip teachers for diverse settings. The Urban Teacher Academy prepares teachers for urban classrooms. Students in the Lalanne Program teach for at least two years in a Catholic school, live together in a faith community and receive free tuition for master's degree courses taken during the summers.

In a 1996 study, researchers William Sanders and June Rivers at the University of Tennessee tracked thousands of elementary students' test scores and used them to rate the quality of teachers. The students with the better teachers scored an average 50 points higher on standardized tests.

"Teacher quality overrides family background," Lasley said. "It's especially true when students have multiple effective teachers."

Contact Tom Lasley at (937) 229-3557 and Anne Poliakoff at (202) 884-8190.