Published on December 7, 2000 by William Nunnelley  

The U.S. Department of Education has presented its first National Award for Effective Teacher Preparation to Samford University’s Orlean Bullard Beeson School of Education and Professional Studies.

Secretary of Education Richard Riley presented the award—part of the Department of Education’s effort to promote excellence in teacher preparation—to Samford education dean Ruth C. Ash Thursday, Dec. 7, in Washington, D.C.

Samford was one of four schools recognized after a rigorous examination in this prestigious and highly competitive new program. The others were Fordham University in New York, East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. and Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisc.

"These cutting edge programs will provide powerful examples for others seeking to ensure that their graduates make a measurable difference in the achievement of K-12 students," said Secretary Riley. "We looked at programs that could provide compelling evidence that their graduates were effective classroom teachers capable of advancing the learning of all students."

In keeping with the Department of Education’s priorities on reading and math, the first year of competition focused on spotlighting programs that prepare elementary teachers or secondary mathematics teachers.

Samford was recognized for its Elementary Education program, which has undergone extensive revision since 1993, according to Dean Ruth C. Ash. The new approach is based on a simple strategy: respond to the real needs of today’s schools.

"Since that time, the school of education has conducted extensive annual surveys of its recent graduates and their employers to learn how it can better prepare prospective teachers," said Dean Ash. "Formal advisory groups of superintendents, principals, teachers and education school graduates recommend new programs or curricular emphases that meet specific needs in the schools."

Of many changes produced by this intensive self-examination, Samford’s emphasis on collaborative problem solving and special education are especially noteworthy, said Ash. All Samford early childhood and elementary level teacher candidates must earn four certificates, including Early Childhood, Early Childhood Special Education, Elementary, and Elementary Special Education.

Schools considered for the National Award for Effective Teacher Preparation were asked to demonstrate the link between their teacher preparation programs and their graduates’ ability to improve student learning in reading and mathematics.

The U.S. Department of Education’s regional laboratories coordinated a rigorous review process that included a first round of evaluation by a non-federal panel of experts, comprehensive site visits of the most promising programs and final review by a blue-ribbon panel. The panel made recommendations to Secretary Riley, who selected the final honorees.

In presenting the National Award, Riley said, "More than half of the 2.2 million teachers needed over the next decade will be first-time teachers who need to be well-prepared to teach an increasingly diverse student population to high standards. The time is right to draw attention to those teacher preparation programs that are particularly effective in preparing teachers who can have a positive impact on learning for all students." He added that "identifying effective programs and studying and disseminating what we learn from them will significantly advance efforts to improve teacher preparation in America."

Ash called the award "a welcome endorsement" that confirms what key Samford education program statistics already suggest. In 1993, the year after Ash left public school administration to become Samford dean, 80 percent of the school’s graduates were employed within three months of certification. By contrast, 100 percent of the Class of 2000 met that goal. In addition, education school enrollment is 52 percent higher than when program revisions began in ‘93, and scores on national exams continue on the upswing.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.