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Education project aims to raise the bar on education, use entrepreneurship for transforming students into excellent teachers
Hailed as groundbreaking and a breakthrough in commitment to education, the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has partnered with Teach For America, thanks to an $18.85 million grant from philanthropist and entrepreneur T. Denny Sanford.
The resulting project, aptly named the Sanford Education Project, is a vehicle to infuse some of TFA's best practices to raise the status of teaching and education careers and serve as a model for teacher's colleges in Arizona, Andrea Stouder said. Stouder serves as the executive director of the Sanford Education Project.
“Our job is to help facilitate a change within the entire college," Stouder said. "If we win, everybody wins. If we do what we hope to do, we will leave a legacy on the Teachers College that will last, not run a program that will go for a few years and then disappear.”
The project is based on establishing five key pillars, borrowing from techniques and methods of TFA, an organization that has trained over 24,000 teachers since 1990. The grant, which will be spread out over five years, will be used to make key changes in how ASU prepares future K-12 teachers.
Among the five pillars include developing new ways of attracting and recruiting future teachers and preparing them with innovative and extensive curriculum, setting the bar of Teachers College graduates to be the standard of excellence in Arizona. The Project also aims for creating a vast research base to refine recruitment and preparation, allowing it to continually adapt and improve.
For Nikki Gusz, a 2008 TFA alumna and a 2010 graduate of the Teachers College, the project is what she calls an example of a "game changer" in bringing the power of entrepreneurship to the field of education.
Gusz described the new project, which will fuse TFA's entrepreneurial teaching philosophies with the nation's largest teachers college, an amazing opportunity for ASU to redefine teaching education and act as an entrepreneur in the field of education. “These kinds of partnerships bring tremendous resources to problem-solving,” Gusz said. “That’s precisely what entrepreneurs do.”
Pearl Chang Esau, TFA's executive director in Phoenix, said the organization is excited about the partnership that will elevate the prestige of the teaching profession.
"We know that recruiting, selecting and preparing more highly effective teachers is critical to ensuring that all children have access to an excellent education," Esau said.
Stouder describes the partnership as an important step in the education field.
"The education achievement gap and current results and American education are not what they should be, and I think everyone who is working within education should be working together and collaborating to solve this problem," Stouder said. "The Sanford Education Project is a great example of two institutions that are not typically thought of together, coming together to build the best teachers that we can.”
Now, she says, the work of the Project will be to influence and bring in resources to embolden the Teachers College with the philosophies of Teach For America.
Stouder said that many misperceptions of teachers colleges exist today, including the notion that they are artifacts of the past, or designed for students who could not get any other degree, ideas she considers mistaken beliefs.
"A college of education and an education degree should be for our best and brightest students," Stouder said. "It should be a very rigorous program that prepares future leaders to take on the bold and very important leadership role of being a classroom teacher and a leader within the field of education at a moment in our nation’s history when education has never been more important.”
Next year, Stouder hopes the project will help attract a freshman class of future leaders, setting the stage for a four year program that creates extraordinary teachers, something that the Teachers College has always done well.
“A win would be attracting a freshman class next year of future teachers who are absolutely committed to the idea that all children can learn and who are excited for a reformed curriculum. That our teachers are more marketable, more ready and known widely as excellent within the Arizona community compared to other graduates from other institutions," Stouder said.
Considered a facilitator of change within an already excelling college, the Project will help amplify the importance of leadership in education.
“If we are successful, four years from now the teaching profession will be viewed a little differently in Arizona, and the major of education will be viewed a little differently at Arizona State University – not as a backup degree or a degree that you only consider if you have wanted to be a teacher your entire life but as a leadership degree.”
Gusz says that part of that leadership package will be learning entrepreneurial skills—something new to teacher training in universities, nationwide. In fact, the Teachers College is currently creating social entrepreneurship curriculum for a course offered to undergraduate and graduate students next semester.
"As a teacher it's your job to think about how do I make sure that every single student in my classroom, who is a different person with different skills and knowledge levels, is learning as much as possible,” TFA alumna Gusz said. “Sometimes you have to really think outside of the box to do that—and you also have to think outside of the box about how to garner the resources you need to make that change happen.” That’s where entrepreneurial skills come in, Gusz added.
ASU President Michael Crow will be leading a panel discussion focused on transforming the education system through entrepreneurship. Highlighted in the discussion will include the approaches TFA and ASU use to solve the nation's biggest challenges in education.
The event will be held Nov. 4, from 5 p.m. - 7 p.m. on the second floor of Old Main in the Carson Ballroom. For more information, click here.
Submitted by Kyle Patton, Writer, Office of University Initiatives