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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Emporia State University: Rigorous Assessment Makes for Hall-of-Fame Teachers

Practice makes perfect, and so does quality assurance.
Grace Rubenstein
Former senior producer at Edutopia
Related Tags: Teacher Development
Courtesy of Emporia State University

Emporia State University's teacher-education program is simultaneously one of the oldest and one of the most modern in the country.

Founded in 1863 as the Kansas State Normal School, Emporia was, more than a century later in 1990, among the first universities to join forces with local schools to create professional-development programs.

Emporia's Teachers College has also pioneered the use of a universal student-assessment system to replace the myriad standards and grading schemes of various professors typically used to measure student success. Faculty use the results to pinpoint the program's strengths and weaknesses and ensure each graduate has the skill set required of teaching.

The college works with dozens of partner school districts, ensuring that candidates get their first taste of a real classroom in their sophomore year. Elementary school educators-to-be begin with observations, then work up to teaching individual and small-group lessons, and finally spend their full senior year as interns in two local schools. (Secondary school candidates do the same, but students teach only for the spring semester.)

All the while, professors observe them in the field and provide feedback. Class discussions and readings revolve around candidates' experiences in the schools. Seniors receive weekly evaluations from their mentor teachers (who in turn receive training and support from Emporia).

Tamara Cassidy, a 2006 graduate, recalls that when she started work, "it felt like I'd already taught for a year. I felt prepared for a lot of the basics, so I was able to focus on more nitty-gritty things, like how to adapt my lessons to meet the needs of all my students."

Assessments at Emporia emphasize skills that reflect the college's essential concept of a teacher: critical thinker, creative planner, and effective practitioner. Candidates must pass muster at multiple checkpoints, starting with entry into the teaching program as sophomores (11 percent are rejected there); grades, test scores, faculty recommendations, mentor teachers' evaluations, and demonstrations of technological competence all factor in. A capstone is the Teacher Work Sample, a series of assessments illustrating how well a student teacher delivers an entire unit of instruction.

Disposition matters, too; any faculty member from the Teachers College, the university at large, or K-12 partner schools may raise concerns about a candidate's personal traits, leading to counseling or even expulsion from the program. All told, about 5 percent of students per semester fail to meet the benchmarks.

"Not everybody gets to be a teacher here who wants to be," says Teachers College dean Tes Mehring.

The rigor appears to have a payoff. Emporia surveys show that principals consider them well prepared on a range of knowledge and skills. More than 90 percent of graduates are still teaching after three years; one in six Kansas teachers is an alum.

And that's how Emporia wants it. Beyond the Teachers College, the whole university makes teacher preparation an avowed priority, and it's no coincidence the campus is home to the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.

Comments (10)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Carl L.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It's a shame that ESU's Teachers College is forbidden by the Kansas Board of Regents from offering doctoral-level work due to jealousy from Kansas State University and the University of Kansas. Quality education should not stop at the master's level.

Jill Wood's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I got my undergraduate degree in elementary education 10 years ago and will graduate from ESU's Instructional Design and Technology program in 3 weeks. I can honestly say that going to Emporia State University is the best decision I have ever made. The professors, the programs, and the rigor of the courses has made me a better, more reflective, and innovative teacher. Way to go, ESU!

Joyce Hoelting Ratcliff's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Amen! Emporia State University has excelled in the education realm for decades but seems to get lost in the BIG regents schools network. We are working to get the Hornets recognized in the schools, encouraging students to give it a try. They won't be sorry. I am proud to be an ESU alum.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Without the guidance and expertise of the professors to supervisors throughout the program the comments above would not be recognized. So I will stand before all of you and take my hat off to you.

Thank You!!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm very glad that ESU's education program ranks so high and gets so much recognition. It deserves it. However sometimes I feel that other wonderful departments and programs at ESU get overlooked by everyone because of the "giant" that is the education program here. I wish people would give more credit where credit is due. ESU is a wonderful school not just in it's education of teachers, but in other fields as well. I'm proud to be a Hornet.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a Junior at ESU and I am proud to say that I am going through the teaching program! Yes it is rigorous, but getting my degree from here will be the best thing I have ever done! Teachers that have graduated from ESU are very well prepared for their careers and have a very high success rate! All my hard work will be worth it once I start putting my knowledge into hundreds of students! Teachers do not get enough credit for all their hard work into building our students for the future. Without teachers this country would be without doctors, lawyers, presidents, etc. We are shaping the lives of children for everyone's future!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree completely!!! The regents should give the education doctorate-level degrees to the University who excels in education!!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I hesitate to trash talk on the internet, but for those who are considering moving to Emporia solely for their education program I'd think again. I did not grow up in Emporia, but I did grow up in Kansas (Lawrence, specifically). I found this website through googling a teacher program that I was interested in, and I was surprised to see that Emporia came up on the list.

Although their school of education might be very good, as someone who has moved from a college town to the east coast, I would *not* consider moving back to a place like Emporia. It is isolated and fairly rural. Before making a commitment be sure to look up more information on Emporia and make an informed decision about whether it would be a location that best suits you. If you come from Western Kansas, this might be an excellent fit. If you're coming from NYC, Boston or DC--maybe not so much. This is especially important if you want to work with urban or minority students. Although I have been told that there are pockets of minorities in Western Ks, mostly hispanic, that most people are unaware of, the reputation of Kansas as 95% white is still generally true.

Please note that I'm not making these comments out of allegiance to KU, although I did grow up there. If Emporia has such a great education program, then they should have a doctoral program as well. Although the fact that the debate so far seems to employ terms like "jealousy" makes me question how well informed the public is about the reasons why Emporia does not have a doctorate program. If you're considering Emporia, all the power to you, just make sure you know what you're signing up for...

gms's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a Lawrence resident you must surely know there are districts in Eastern KS serving high poverty areas and/or urban areas. The Kansas City, KS district springs to mind. KU is a great school, but you are right, they are training teachers for the suburban schools not the challenges of urban education. If you are looking for a program that will truly prepare you for an urban experience, I would recommend Emporia State.

As far as the doctorate issue, you will find that most educators do not seek advanced degrees until they have completed some time in the classroom. And, since Emporia is a small town with a small school district, it would not make a lot of sense for them to offer a PhD prgram there. KU and UMKC are commutable distances from dozens of districts and both have outstanding ed programs.

Julie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Interesting that ESU is recognized for its assessments when other schools require similar, rigorous assessments. Mention of the "Teacher Work Sample" makes it appear as though this is an ESU requirement only, when in fact it is a requirement which came out of a state level effort. The state of Kansas, along with several other states, worked collaboratively to create the assessment in order to put quality teachers in the field. The Teacher Work Sample was modeled after the state assessment titled Kansas Performance Assessment, a former requirement to earning a professional teaching license in the state of Kansas. Because Kansas graduates, from across the state not just ESU, performed well on this assessment, the state removed the requirement for earning a professional license within the first two years of teaching. While this assessment has been an integral part of teacher education programs in Kansas in preparation for completing the KPA during the first two years of teaching, the assessment is now an essential part of teacher education programs in the state of Kansas (as the state decided it was better suited in those programs rather than during a teacher's first two years of teaching).

I earned a master's degree from ESU so there is a special place in my heart for the Hornets. The professional development experience is certainly a level of hands-on not found in many teacher education programs and the community is more diverse than compared to the state as a whole.

Best of luck finding your program of choice! We need more teachers!

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