U.Va.'s Curry School of Education Recognized as National Model

September 18, 2006

Sept. 18, 2006 -- The U.Va. Curry School of Education’s teacher education program is cited as a national model in "Educating School Teachers," a report that was released today and is the second from the privately funded Education Schools Project.

The Curry School’s five-year B.A./M.T. program, the high quality of its students, the balance between theory and practical experience and the reputation of the faculty are among the elements given high marks in the study, which was conducted by Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University and now president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

U.Va. Vice President and Provost Gene Block, who spoke at the press conference on Levine’s report, held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., earlier today, applauded the mission of the study. “All of us in education should be focused on how to provide excellent teachers for American children. … We thank the study for honoring U.Va. as exemplary,” he said.

One of the report’s five recommendations is making five-year teacher education programs the norm at the university level.

“The Curry faculty and administration are wedded to the five-year teacher education program, which is rooted in the belief that providing a broad liberal arts education with an arts and sciences major and ensuring extensive field work experience and pedagogical education cannot be done in four years,” the report says.

 “We’re extremely proud of our Curry School [of education], but beyond our Curry School, the entire University of Virginia is engaged in teacher education in new and innovative ways, and I think that’s making a difference,” Block said. Scholars from several other fields and practitioners are involved in teacher education.

“We think the close interplay is critical. Research informs teaching and teaching informs research, and they’re inseparable,” Block said.

U.Va. education dean David Breneman echoes the importance of the Curry School’s relationship with other schools and departments at the University, which was recommended in an influential report in the 1980s Then-Curry School dean James Cooper adopted the recommendation and enlisted the faculty in designing the five-year program.

When he was dean, Cooper, an alumnus of the Stanford program that is also praised in the study, issued a “new teacher warranty” to all school divisions in Virginia: if a school hired a Curry graduate and wasn’t satisfied with that teacher’s performance, Curry would do what it took to improve the situation. “I likened myself to the Maytag repairman who sat around waiting for a call,” he said.

The study also recommends preparing teachers with practical experience in elementary and secondary schools and recognizes the Curry School’s strength in this area:“By the time Curry students complete the fourth year of the program, they have had as many as six field experiences and up to 90 hours in the field.” Those practical activities precede the traditional semester of student teaching, which Curry students undertake in the fall rather than spring of their final year, so they can see how a school teacher begins the year, the report points out.
Breneman said the program’s outstanding faculty and students in a smaller environment than many other schools — 120 to 130 teacher education students graduate each year — contribute to the program’s quality. Curry draws its students from the top-notch University population after they apply in their second year.

The students, who praised their faculty in the report, have opportunities to work with faculty in research on teaching and other areas, as well as with faculty on their field experiences, which include presentations and tutoring in their subject areas in local schools.

Block named several interdisciplinary projects that show the Curry School’s high quality. Being part of the first cohort of teacher education programs the Carnegie Corporation chose four years ago in its “Teachers for a New Era” project has enabled U.Va. to conduct continuous assessment of our teacher education students and induction of newly minted teachers in their first jobs. The new Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, led by Robert Pianta, “is becoming a local focus for our best scholars” from several U.Va. schools.

“CASTL is helping to shape the body of evidence at a national level," Block said. The evidence-based research is showing that if you combine analysis of pupil performance with empirical analysis of what teachers actually do in classrooms, you can produce information that can be fed back into improved teaching.

Block noted that while being pleased for the recognition, “we believe many schools have strong programs, and if you look at [them], even ones that certainly need improvement have meritorious aspects. We need to focus on them and build them, so that we can have the group of institutions the nation really requires.”

The report also describes Stanford University, Alverno College in Milwaukee and Emporia State University in Kansas, whose teacher education programs are structured differently, as “exemplary” schools.

Reporters: VP and Provost Gene Block can be reached through his office; call Pat Hartsook at (434) 982-2814.

Also contact: David Breneman, who is at a conference in Aspen, Colo., via cell phone at (434) 409-8272 or e-mail at dwb8n@virginia.edu.