Teaching and Learning

January 26, 2000 5 min read

Mississippi To Receive $100 Million Gift for Reading: Mississippi’s 2-year-old reading initiative has received a big boost with a $100 million donation for teacher education, professional development, and instructional materials.

James L. Barksdale, a Mississippi resident and former chief executive officer of the Internet company Netscape, and his wife, Sally, donated the money, which will be used to establish a reading institute at the University of Mississippi and other state universities.

The gift, announced this month, will allow the state to expand its reading program—which emphasizes systematic phonics instruction, as well as other teaching methods—from the 41 schools now piloting the plan to hundreds more throughout the state over the next five years.

“This is a shot of adrenaline we really needed to step up our efforts,” said Richard Thompson, Mississippi’s superintendent of public instruction. “Most of the things we’ve been doing we feel really good about, but the problem has been having the amount of resources we need to take [our efforts] to a different level and get in every school in the state that needs extra help.”

Quality Attraction: The U.S. Department of Education had to scramble this month to accommodate the 1,000 people who attended its first National Conference on Teacher Quality. The turnout was so overwhelming that the department had to book a second Washington hotel for the two-day event, a follow-up to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley’s meeting last fall with college and university presidents.

The secretary, who has made improving teacher preparation a major theme, encouraged the presidents to send teams from their institutions to Washington to learn more about how entire campuses can get involved in strengthening teacher education programs. Clearly, the message got through.

Terry Knecht Dozier

“This really is an indication that people are taking seriously that the preparation of educators is a universitywide responsibility,” said Terry Knecht Dozier, the secretary’s senior adviser on teaching. “We can’t get over the response.”

There’s certainly nothing new in the assertion that entire institutions—and not just education schools—must take seriously the mission of producing well-educated, qualified teachers. That message, for example, was central to the work of the Holmes Group, a consortium of leading universities, in the mid-1980s.

But the highly publicized estimate that the nation will need some 2 million teachers over the next decade, combined with sustained attention to the quality of public education, appears to have driven it home. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the department last summer distributed $43 million in grants to enhance teacher quality and reduce shortages in high-need areas.

The Jan. 9-10 Education Department meeting focused on the need to recruit, prepare, and support high-quality new teachers. The 166 teams that attended—made up of presidents, provosts, and deans of both education and liberal arts schools, along with union leaders and other partners—split up to attend sessions highlighting promising practices. Among them were the Latino and Language Minority Teacher Project at the University of Southern California, the efforts of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia to infuse technology into teacher education, and New Jersey’s Montclair State University Center of Pedagogy.

The teams’ assignment: to write “action plans” for improving teacher education in their communities.

Marshall Goodman, the dean of the college of arts and letters at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said his institution had created a new position in the science department for a faculty member who works closely with public schools. A similar position is planned for chemistry. Both have their own tenure criteria, which will reward them for the work they do helping teachers deepen their subject-matter and pedagogical knowledge.

The university also has a center for science education that sends a van staffed by a former teacher to area schools to help teachers with their lessons.

“Teachers said, ‘This is what we need,’ ” Mr. Goodman said. The science teacher then lets college faculty members know what issues classroom teachers are facing, he said.

For William Muse, the president of Auburn University, the need to prepare classroom teachers came through loud and clear. “This is perhaps an area that has not been given adequate attention in the past,” said Mr. Muse, who attended the meeting with his provost and deans of the education and liberal arts schools.

The Education Department plans to host four regional conferences this summer to help the teams craft strategies to put their plans into action.

Ad Blitz: By now, many television viewers may have already spotted them: a small cluster of young students swirling through the air above their teacher in the middle of an open field.

The National Education Association chose the uplifting—if fantastic—image for its new $1 million TV-advertisement blitz aimed at building support for public schools and the professionals who work in them. The 30-second spots began airing Jan. 17 on such outlets as CNN, the History Channel, the Fox News Channel, and the Black Entertainment Television. The commercials will run for five weeks.

The ad’s narration makes a subtle plug for the NEA’s stance that educators need a solid background in pedagogy before entering the classroom, a view disputed by some who believe that new teachers only need subject-matter training.

“Before we can teach,” the voiceover says, “we must learn—learn what makes every child unique, and reach them in that special way.”

The spot wraps up by directing viewers to the nea’s World Wide Web site,, where the union has posted information on efforts under way to improve the nation’s schools and on ways in which parents can assist in their children’s educations.

“It’s simply a restatement of our commitment to the success of every child, and to the idea that public education is the best way to achieve that success,” said Kate Mattos, the NEA’s communications director.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Ann Bradley, and Jeff Archer

A version of this article appeared in the January 26, 2000 edition of Education Week as Teaching and Learning