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UNG teacher preparation program exceeds national standards

Alexandria Herrin, a student in the University of North Georgia's College of Education, works with students at Lumpkin County Elementary School in Dahlonega, Ga. By the time they earn their degrees, student teachers at UNG will have completed 50 percent more field work than is required for certification.

National and state concerns about K-12 education and student success have placed the teaching profession and college and university teaching preparation programs at the forefront of public and political agendas in recent years. The University of North Georgia (UNG) has responded with innovative instructional programs and strengthened partnerships with area K-12 schools.

“Teachers are one of the most important factors in the successful education of our children,” said Dr. Bob Michael, dean of the College of Education at UNG. “We are committed to ensuring our teacher preparation program meets and exceeds the high expectations of families and the American public.”

One such program improvement is UNG’s professional development community (PDC) model that puts university students and their professors in area public schools in a two-year, full-immersion model that translates into at least 50 percent more field experience than is required for teacher certification. Additionally, student teachers in the program take their college courses at the public school, providing a more integrated experience that includes pre-planning activities and parent-teacher conferences.

The university earned full accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) for its undergraduate- and graduate-level teacher training programs this past fall. The national accreditation includes a seven-year review of its programs and effectiveness measures, as well as a site visit.

In their final report, NCATE reviewers called the school's approach to teacher training notable and commended faculty for their collaboration with pre-K through 12th-grade partners throughout the region, giving the highest rating possible in the area of best practices in service.

Despite the college’s success, Michael and many other educational leaders are concerned about a new report produced by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and published in U.S. News and World Report that paints an inaccurate and misleading picture of the university’s teacher preparation programs. The report includes a grading of academic programs at approximately 1400 institutions nationwide that prepare K-12 teachers, including 22 within the University System of Georgia. NCTQ is an organization that is advocating for change in teacher training programs, state-level education policy, and district-level teacher contracts.

“We continually seek data and information that will help us improve our programs, including this report; however, because the rankings expressed in the NCTQ report were based on limited measurements, like syllabi descriptions of content and credit hours, it is an inadequate evaluation of the state’s teacher preparation programs,” Michael said.

Dr. Susan Brandenburg-Ayers, associate dean for teacher education, added that, contrary to the report’s assessment, UNG’s education program emphasizes common core content to ensure teachers are well-versed in subject matter as well as education theory and practical teaching skills.

“UNG’s early childhood education students are required to take a rigorous sequence of literacy and science courses, for example,” she said. “This ensures that teachers have knowledge about the subjects they teach and the skills to apply that knowledge and be successful in the classroom.”

That content knowledge is tested each year as teacher candidates must pass the Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE) before they can become certified for professional licensure. UNG students have routinely surpassed state averages for the overall pass rate for the GACE exams and the most recent year’s data indicates a 98.5 percent pass rate. (See GACE data)

"Our graduates are in high demand because superintendents and principals know that teachers who earn a degree from UNG are well-equipped to help students succeed," Michael said. “These are dedicated young professionals who are committed to quality education, and they are well-prepared to impact student success and achievement.”

This spring, more than 300 UNG students graduated with plans to enter the teaching field.

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