Nicholas Clement


Education reform continues to be a hot button issue from the White House to the State House.

One common finding in the hundreds of reports and studies is that the quality of the teacher makes the biggest difference in student achievement. We know that intuitively because we have all had great teachers who trumped less than ideal learning environments.

We also had teachers whose poor skills could not be improved with any of the highly touted innovations like a longer school day and a longer school year. This is equivalent to having a bad surgeon and thinking we can improve the doctor's skills by merely leaving the patient on the operating table longer.

Understanding the critical role teacher training has in improving K-12 education in our region, the Professional Preparation Board (PPB) recently conducted a study to determine the quality of University of Arizona new teacher graduates after they had been hired and working for a year.

The PPB was created in 1999 for the purpose of improving teacher training by advising the UA College of Education dean and faculty. The PPB is an independent committee comprising 40 professionals representing the community and public, charter and private schools.

The study involved surveying and interviewing members of the Southern Arizona School Personnel Administrators, administrators directly involved with selecting and evaluating new teachers. The board recently reported the following results from this study:

• Local school districts hired 629 new teachers during the 2012-2013 school year.

• 168 (27 percent) of these new teacher hires received their training and degree from UA.

• Local districts hired approximately 60 percent of the available UA new teacher graduates.

• New teachers had strong knowledge and skills in classroom instruction, classroom management and team building.

• New teachers were willing and motivated to grow professionally and be part of the school culture.

• Only 1 percent of the new hires were not going to have their contracts renewed for inadequate performance.

These results are encouraging considering a similar study that was conducted in 1997 reported that principals found new teachers to be weak in classroom management and their ability to deliver instruction.

Why the difference? The UA has made considerable changes to teacher training including providing earlier and longer field service along with a more academic teaching approach.

Programs like Teach Arizona have been implemented. Teach Arizona is a master's degree program that includes a yearlong experience where the teacher learns, practices and is mentored and coached by an expert experienced teacher much like the medical intern model.

Teacher training has become much less isolated and more interdependent in their relationship with K-12 schools.

In my opinion, the most important finding of this new PPB study is that the UA College of Education is seeking feedback as it moves into a continuous improvement model. The college is are very serious about addressing a number of weaknesses reported in this study, including helping teachers strengthen their understanding of the Arizona Common Core and improving soft skills like ethics and legal obligations.

Bottom line: UA now anxiously awaits the publishing of school grades every year; our A is their A.

Nicholas I. Clement is the superintendent of the Flowing Wells School District and co-chair of the Professional Preparation Board.