'Way ahead of the curve'

U.S. Secretary of Education praises teacher-preparation programs in the School of Education & Human Development

June 15, 2015
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Rebecca Kantor and Jerry Wartgow
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, left, with Rebecca Kantor, dean of the School of Education & Human Development, and CU Denver Chancellor Jerry Wartgow. Photos by Trevr Merchant.
Tania Hogan, Arne Duncan and Linda Abeyta
Panelists included Tania Hogan, CU Denver alumna; U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Linda Abeyta, CU Denver student finishing the Student Teacher Residency program; and Tom Boasberg, superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Education & Human Development (SEHD) is “way ahead of the curve” in giving student teachers real-world classroom time and support– essential components to attracting and retaining the excellent educators the nation needs.

Duncan visited as part of an SEHD town hall discussion on “Partnerships & Pathways for Preparing Teachers” in the Terrace Room at CU Denver on June 9. He was joined by panelists Linda Abeyta, a CU Denver SEHD student finishing the Student Teacher Residency program in Denver Public Schools (DPS); Tania Hogan, a CU Denver SEHD alumna who is the Language, Literacy and Cultural Studies facilitator and teacher leader at Greenlee Elementary in DPS; and Tom Boasberg, DPS superintendent.

About 145 educators from across Colorado attended, including district officials, foundation leaders and Teach for America representatives. The panel discussion was followed by roundtable discussions on a host of education issues, including STEM preparation, special education and digital learners.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discusses teacher preparation and partnerships at CU Denver town hall.

In introducing the panel, SEHD Dean Rebecca Kantor, Ed.D., said the field of teacher preparation is in flux as educators face the urgent challenge of delivering the highest-quality education possible to an increasingly diverse student population. “Learning and therefore teaching also changes and will continue to change as our culture changes,” Kantor said. “This has been and continues to be our commitment here at CU Denver—to be responsive and engaged always in continuous improvement and transformation.”

SEHD’s Student Teacher Residency program as well as its NxtGEN, a first-of-its-kind undergraduate four-year residency developed in partnership with DPS, received praise from Duncan and other panelists for providing just what the nation’s education system needs: mentorship, support and early exposure to teaching in real-world classrooms. Both of the programs leverage a partnership with DPS to advance teacher training, offer support systems and try new academic approaches — such as teachers making home visits to students — that strengthen education in the 21st century.

While CU Denver didn’t have these programs when she was a student 16 years ago, Hogan said, SEHD was still “ahead of the game” in teacher preparation. “They’re always thinking of ways to change the program. Looking at where it is now, they’ve made lots of changes,” she said. “Now with this teacher residency they just keep changing the undergraduate program to benefit what is happening in education.”

Roundtable discussions
Following the panel presentation, educators from across Colorado addressed other topics in roundtable discussions.

Hogan noted that if it weren’t for the post-graduation support she received from her CU Denver professors, as well as guidance from DPS colleagues and leadership in her school, “I wouldn’t have kept going.”

Abeyta, who did her Student Teacher Residency at Denver’s McMeen Elementary, said the key to being an effective teacher is getting to know the “whole child,” and the only way to do that is to be in the classroom. “In my view, student-teacher preparation programs need to have teachers in the classroom as much as possible so that they’re comfortable, confident and ready to get to know that whole child.”

Town Hall discussion
Emily Davis, (standing) a teacher ambassador fellow at the U.S. Department of Education, moderates the town hall discussion on teacher preparation in the Terrace Room at Lawrence Street Center.

For too long, Boasberg said, student teaching has been a “catch-as-catch-can” proposition. He said educators should look to preparation programs of other knowledge-based professions for guidance. In health care, for example, it’s unthinkable to throw a new professional into the job without first being trained in a mentor/cohort group for a period of time.

“There needs to be such a profound increase of clinical opportunities for our teachers,” Boasberg said. “That’s going to require much stronger partnerships and willingness and training from districts, charters and employers who are willing to invest in aspiring teachers and in their training development.”

The U.S. Department of Education is “thrilled to invest” in the innovative partnerships taking place in Denver, Duncan said. “We believe in your vision, we believe in your leadership, and we believe in your willingness to try stuff that is so important but hasn’t been done before. … The challenge is the vast majority of young teachers today in the country tell us they are not prepared to enter the classroom, and that is heartbreaking. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to the children.”

The way programs like CU Denver are developing education leaders and getting teachers into the classroom early “has to be the norm, not the exception,” Duncan added. He said teacher preparation programs also need to embed technology as a teaching and learning tool as well as vigilantly measure whether the teachers they produce are effective in their careers.

Lack of support, not low salaries, is the main reason teachers leave the profession, Duncan said. He stressed that recruitment and retention of talented and committed young teachers is critical because about a million out of the 3 million public-school educators nationally are expected to retire in the next several years. “Our ability to attract and retain …. great talent over the next four, five, six years is going to shape public education in our nation for the next 30 (years). It really is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

The secretary said forward-minded communities are launching important partnerships and new teacher pathways that are part of the reform puzzle. “Our goal is to find programs in communities like Denver and then invest and let them scale and learn from each other,” Duncan said.