Donation spurs ASU-Teach For America partnership

(2.5) Teach for America
RECRUITING EDUCATORS: Recruitment director Luke Livingston talks to marketing senior Kristen Whitaker about becoming a Teach For America corps member on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Nikolai de Vera)
Published On:
Friday, February 5, 2010
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After receiving a private donation of nearly $19 million, ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership is forging a new kind of partnership with Teach For America.

Teach For America is a national organization that trains recent college graduates from various backgrounds to teach in low-income schools for a minimum of two years. The program is known for its hands-on training and recruiting programs.

ASU has worked with Teach For America for several years, but this private investment will allow the University to investigate and adopt some of the program’s unique training and recruitment strategies, CTEL Dean Mari Koerner said.

Entrepreneur and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford made the investment to fund the project over the course of five years, with special instructions about the partnership with Teach For America.

“[Sanford] has worked with all of us to get a plan where we can use the materials and methodologies Teach For America uses, but adapt them so that the teacher education program can use them and scale them up to the huge number of students we serve,” Koerner said.

Pearl Esau, the executive director of the Phoenix branch of Teach For America, said the venture will result in a new method of education training.

“We’re really excited ASU has decided to take on this project,” Esau said. “Innovation is key in the process of education and this is the first time this is taking place in a large-scale, undergraduate college.”

Koerner said she’s unsure exactly what changes students and faculty will see until Teach For America’s programs have been more thoroughly examined, but she expects them to be related to recruitment and curriculum, among other things.

“We’re looking at the whole process of training teachers, from recruitment to job placement,” she said. “We’re going to be serious and thoughtful about how we get across what we need to for our students.”

ASU’s programs have been criticized for offering more education theory classes than necessary, but Koerner said this is not the case.

“We can’t leave out theory. When people don’t know what to do, they go back to theory,” she said. “You can go to the best professor in the world, the one with the most knowledge, but if they don’t know how to teach, and how to get that knowledge across, it doesn’t matter.”

Koerner did add, however, that the new partnership will look at condensing some of these classes in order to make room for additional arts and science courses.

Current and past students, including elementary education sophomore Leah Variano, agreed this is a good idea.

“I don’t think ASU has that balance [of theory and hands-on classes],” Variano said. “I don’t necessarily think that all classes should be labs, but I think there should be more classes where students are more active. I don’t think the program is perfect yet but I can definitely see improvements being made.”

Although Teach For America is very different than a typical four-year education degree program, Esau said the same ideas apply to training teachers no matter what, so incorporating some of Teach For America’s ideas into ASU’s program should be beneficial.

“We’re really exited about the opportunity to share our model of training,” she said. “Even though it has to be adapted into a college training all kinds of teachers for different subjects, ages and income levels, the same practices still apply. We’re just excited to offer support.”

Reach the reporter at keshoult@asu.edu