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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Curry School of Education: A Fieldwork-Filled, Five-Year, Dual-Degree Program

A triple threat of training: academics, teaching, and technology.
By Carol Guensburg
Related Tags: Teacher Development
Courtesy of Curry School of Education

The University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, featuring a five-year dual-degree program combining extensive subject-area knowledge, fieldwork, and pedagogy, "ranks among the top ten education colleges by any measure."

That's the view of Barnett Berry, founder of the independent Center for Teaching Quality, in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Curry has drawn similar accolades since revamping its four-year teacher-training program in 1986 and adding a fifth year leading to a master's degree.

A program hallmark is its close collaboration with the UVA's College of Arts and Sciences: Each student cross-trains in, and has an adviser from, both colleges. "We put an emphasis on connecting knowledge in the content area with practice in the field," says Dean Bob Pianta.

Curry's prospective teachers earn their undergraduate degrees in the liberal arts or sciences. In their second year (UVA eschews such labels as freshman or sophomore), most students enter the teaching sequence, observing in classrooms and other school settings. Third-year students focus on individual learners, tutoring children one-on-one. Fourth-year students complete coursework for their majors while studying and using whole-classroom management, instruction, and assessment techniques. Fifth-year students teach the entire fall semester, completing coursework and an education-research project in the spring.

The two colleges share a $5 million Teachers for a New Era grant, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Ford and Annenberg foundations, to strengthen teacher education and elevate the profession. Cooperation is not only "helping the education school produce more effective teachers but has also raised the College of Arts and Sciences's estimation of teaching," says Berry, who has researched the teamwork extensively. "That's an unintended but very powerful consequence."

Classes incorporate instruction on how to use the Internet, graphing calculators, PowerPoint, and other technology. "We try to get our preservice teachers to look at concepts numerically, algebraically, graphically, and visually, because it gives them different insights and understanding," says Joe Garofalo, who codirects Curry's Center for Technology and Teacher Education. The faculty push dynamic representations -- phases of the moon or commemorations of Civil War battles that move as data changes -- citing studies on how visualization tools improve learning. Curry also uses interactive video training (a homegrown system called CaseNEX) based on case studies to teach problem solving.

Critics have raised concerns about the practicality of spending the time and money on a fifth year when many schools face teacher shortages and when added tuition could deter students with limited finances, including some who might relate well to kids from lower-income homes. In addition, about four out of five Curry teacher trainees are white women. Pianta acknowledges this fact, and agrees there's a need to diversify.

Still, Stewart D. Roberson, superintendent of Virginia's Hanover County Public Schools and past president of the Urban Superintendents Association of America, vouches for Curry grads teaching in his district of nearly 20,000 students north of Richmond. Though Roberson (full disclosure: a Curry grad himself) has hired teachers from across the nation and the world, he believes Curry graduates "set the gold standard."

Carol Guensburg is a freelance journalist and former founding director of the Journalism Fellowships in Child and Family Policy. She lives in Arlington, Virginia.

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