ASU boosts its year-long student teachers in AZ schools by 400 percent

May 30, 2013

In response to the repeated lackluster performance of Arizona’s pre-K-12 schools in national rankings, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University made a commitment. Three years ago, the college pledged to help change that paradigm by infusing state school districts with more teachers better prepared to enter a classroom. Key to its effort has been a year-long pre-K-8 student teacher residency for ASU education majors called iTeachAZ.

Since then, Teachers College has scaled up by 400 percent the number of iTeachAZ student teachers it places in Arizona’s pre-K-8 schools – from only 200 in fall 2010 to 1,000 aspiring teachers completing the 2012-13 academic year. At the same time, the college expanded its number of partner school districts statewide from seven to 35. Download Full Image

The ASU college rolled out iTeachAZ after more than a decade of assessing its professional development programs and making changes to intensify student experiences in the classroom, explained Mari Koerner, dean of the Teachers College. The college’s strong partnerships with Arizona school districts allowed it to scale up the program quickly to accommodate the number of seniors poised to begin the year-long residency.        

iTeachAZ also has caught the nation’s attention. In the past year, universities and state delegations from Iowa, Washington, Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, South Dakota, California and others have met with ASU educators and observed iTeachAZ future teachers in action. The acute interest is prompting Teachers College to host an iTeachAZ Conference, Sept. 25-27, 2013, in Phoenix. Information is available at

“We believe we share responsibility for Arizona’s schools,” said Koerner. “On the one hand, our faculty research contributes to ASU’s Research I status. On the other, we are hands-on innovators immersed in partner pre-K-8 schools with the express goal of helping all children reach their potential. iTeachAZ combines the best of both, equipping future teachers with the best research and best practices available and then placing them in Arizona classrooms for an entire school year.

“The scope of iTeachAZ is unprecedented, and it’s working.”

That Teachers College is graduating better prepared educators was borne out in a recent Arizona Department of Education report. When asked to evaluate beginning teachers on several core teaching skills, nearly 1,200 Arizona principals surveyed rated ASU’s Teachers College graduates above the state average on every indicator. More than 80 percent of the college’s individual graduates met or exceeded expectations for new teachers on all indicators.

Arizona received a grade of C- for its K-12 school performance compared to C+ for the U.S. average, according to Education Week’s 2013 “Quality Counts” report. Arizona also ranked 43rd out of 51 states evaluated (including Washington, D.C.) and 42nd the year before that. The annual report grades states by tracking six major education indicators: chance for success; transitions and alignment; school finance; K-12 achievement; standards, assessments and accountability; and teaching profession.

Principal Janet Tobias said having iTeachAZ teacher candidates for a full year at Kyrene de la Paloma Elementary School in Chandler benefits her students. With both ASU students and their mentor teachers in Paloma classrooms, it means more educators are on hand to meet the diversity of student needs.

“iTeachAZ brings young professionals into our schools who are passionate and dedicated to education,” she explained. “When you pair a teacher candidate and a mentor teacher, they become each other’s sounding boards. They become co-teachers and learn from each other as they move around the classroom to help students at different levels.

“We see a big impact from iTeachAZ at our school because it helps boost student achievement.”

Most states require a minimum of 10-14 weeks of student teaching, according to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification. ASU’s iTeachAZ program requires a full year of student teaching, more than double the national average.

Dubbed the “senior-year residency,” iTeachAZ graduates teachers who match the effectiveness of second-year teachers. That makes them sought-after hiring prospects; in fact, 100 percent of Arizona school principals surveyed by Sanford Inspire Program in January 2013 said they would hire an iTeachAZ graduate again.

“When I have teacher candidates here for an entire year, I know their work ethic,” Tobias explained. “They’ve been at staff meetings and we’ve looked at student data together. We’ve interacted informally during playground duty and in the teacher’s lounge.

“So when I’m hiring a new teacher, I’m much more comfortable hiring a teacher candidate from the iTeachAZ program – and I did that last year.”

Recent ASU Teachers College graduate and ex-Marine Ray Urquieta of Phoenix chose to pursue a teaching career after serving 20 years in the Marine Corps. He spent the past year working with Paloma third graders as an iTeachAZ teacher candidate and was recently hired to teach fifth grade at Kyrene de las Brisas in the same district. From setting up the classroom to attending Parents Night and teaching his own lesson plans, Urquieta said iTeachAZ takes the uncertainty out of the first year of teaching.

“Being able to take the classroom from July, before the kids arrive, to the very last day, we know what to expect when we’re on our own,” Urquieta explained. “And since we also meet on site for our ASU classes, we can take what we learn in class and start practicing those methods the very next day. It’s the most invaluable experience we could have.”

On a Tuesday morning, the value of “clinically embedded coursework” was on full display in a classroom where ASU future teachers from throughout the Kyrene District were helping Paloma fifth graders simulate the eight phases of the moon using Oreo cookies. ASU’s iTeachAZ Site Coordinator Cindy Ballantyne had just instructed the education majors about choosing activities and materials that support lesson objectives and engage students.

“We can teach a concept to our iTeachAZ teacher candidates, and they can walk down the hall to a fifth grade classroom, interact with those students, then come back to our ASU class and reflect on how to use that concept in their own classrooms,” she said. “It offers them an authentic learning experience.”

Ballantyne added that teacher candidates undergo four performance assessments during the year based on the same TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement rubrics used by most school districts. Their TAP scores also are tied to their ASU grade for student teaching. Additionally, Ballantyne trains mentor teachers and works in tandem with all of her iTeachAZ principals to pair ASU students and mentors: “They do a really good job of explaining different personality types and academic strengths so I can match them up.”

According to Tobias, as parents become more familiar with ASU’s iTeachAZ presence at Paloma, they are asking on the school’s Parent Environment Form that their students be placed in an iTeachAZ classroom the following year.

“This year, it was my delight to come across lots of parents requesting that their children be in a classroom that has a teacher candidate from the ASU program,” she said. “That to me spoke very loudly that it’s out there in the community, that parents want their children to be included, and I was very proud of that.”

The school principal added that the “cool” college students wearing their ASU garb and backpacks who are studying to be teachers and interacting with her students on a daily basis energize the Paloma campus and serve as important role models for her kids.

“For some kids, college might not seem attainable,” Tobias explained. “They might not be hearing at home that it’s something you can do. But when they’ve worked with teacher candidates all year, and they actually see them taking ASU classes and they are there at the end for their graduation ceremony at our school – it has an enormous impact.

“The pride my students feel is so immeasurable, I can’t put words to it. But I see it on their faces every year.”

Improving juvenile corrections focus of criminology graduate

May 30, 2013

The route Melanie Taylor took to earning a doctorate from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University included a couple stops that would help define her career. She worked as a juvenile correctional officer at the Orange County Probation Department prior to enrolling at ASU, a stark contrast from a previous job at a private school for well-to-do kids in Las Vegas.

“It was kind of odd that those were the kids that I did not prefer to work with,” said Taylor.  “But the juvenile delinquents, I felt like they had real stories. And I felt the issues they would complain about, there were real reasons why they had those issues.” Melanie Taylor Download Full Image

It helped that Taylor had a firm grasp of criminal justice concepts after earning a Master’s degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. But Taylor felt she had more to learn, so she asked her professors from UNLV about PhD programs to attend. She applied to ASU and the University California at Irvine.

“I had been hearing from a lot of my professors about Arizona State and the good things they were doing,” said Taylor, who had applied to graduate school at ASU three years earlier. “That was really something that was pulling me in.”

It was while writing her statement of purpose for the ASU doctoral program that Taylor realized she really wanted to focus on juvenile corrections and juvenile delinquency.

“I felt that I needed to learn more about them and understand their backgrounds,” Taylor said. “I knew they weren’t bad kids. I mean, some of them were the nicest people I’d ever met. And so, for me, I never looked at them as being bad people. It was just something had happened in their lives that made them go down a different path.”

Taylor said she was immediately attracted to ASU’s doctoral program because of the school’s faculty. Plus, she liked that ASU’s doctoral program was small, but growing. The school welcomed its first cohort of PhD students the year before. Taylor also felt she would be able to work well with the other students she met.

“Melanie Taylor entered the PhD program as a bright, motivated student with a lot of interests,” said Scott Decker, foundation professor and director of the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. “During her time in the school, we helped her to broaden her knowledge and focus her interests. “

Taylor was immediately exposed to a large scale research project her first semester. Decker invited the first-year doctorate student to assist with a national study on federal immigration enforcement by local law enforcement agencies.

“My strategy with PhD students is to find out what they can't do, and challenge them with new and more complex tasks,” said Decker. “Melanie rose to every occasion, and her current work reflects a sophistication of problem formulation and problem solving that should enable her to have a long and productive career in research and teaching.”

“That was something that I really appreciated - that he would allow me to work on a big project that he had already worked so hard on by himself,” said Taylor. “It was a nice way to really get involved in the field instead of starting off grading papers.”

Taylor did grade papers, but for classes she taught, including Intro to Criminal Justice; Gender, Crime & Criminal Justice; and Discretionary Justice. She said her experience in the classroom and in the field made her more confident about her career choice.    

“I didn’t even realize how much I’ve gained since I’ve been here until I started teaching and students would ask me questions,” Taylor said. “And it made me realize ‘I actually do know these answers now.’”

Taylor also appreciated what she learned through the one-on-one relationships she developed with professors like Danielle Wallace, Justin Ready or Charles Katz, who is director of the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety.

“Melanie was nothing but easy to work with,” said Katz. “She was hard working, intelligent and self-motivated. She worked well with those in the field and had a natural tendency of putting people at ease when she was around.”

Katz also served on Taylor’s dissertation committee with Decker and assistant professor Kate Fox. Titled “A Case Study of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act: Reforming the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections,” Taylor’s dissertation examined attempts by the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections to reform its policies and procedures to ensure better outcomes for the kids it has served.

“I was looking at how the agency reformed suicide prevention, medical care, mental health, education and juvenile justice in general,” said Taylor. “And so I examined how the agency was able to sustain change to those areas in the long term.”

Taylor found the agency’s own survival depended upon reform. Like many juvenile corrections agencies in the United States, the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections (ADJC) had its share of problems. One of the most troubling was a rash of suicides in 2002 and 2003 that resulted in the Department of Justice finding “serious deficiencies” with ADJC facilities, policies and practices.

As a result, some Arizona counties expressed reluctance to send their juvenile offenders to ADJC. Then, during the economic downturn several years later, the Arizona Governor’s office proposed eliminating the agency altogether to save money.

“They had to make the changes in order to keep their legitimacy or they would lose their resources,” Taylor said. “They had this reliance on counties who would send them kids and a governor who would give them funding.”

ADCJ instituted measures to improve safety and security at its facilities, but Taylor found reforming the agency’s culture was paramount. That culture change began to happen after a new director with a law enforcement background incorporated police tactics and accountability. Taylor said staff members realized they needed to change or face the consequences if they didn’t.

“So it really set this tone for the staff that ‘hey, if we don’t reform then we’re going to end up like them,’” said Taylor. “‘We’ll either end up going to jail or prison or be fired because we’re not following these policies.’”

Taylor will formally present her findings to ADJC administrators this summer.

“Her dissertation was not only timely but will have a profound impact on discussions revolving around juvenile corrections in Arizona,” said Katz. “There has been very little thoughtful discussion on an institution that has had long and protracted problems.”

Taylor will continue her research at the University of Nevada, Reno where she will be an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice. She plans to focus on the conditions of confinement and treatment of juveniles, crowding in juvenile institutions and institutional safety, among other topics.

Taylor also can’t wait to teach. She became a favorite of many ASU undergraduates because of her teaching style and ability to engage students. Taylor credits her experience at ASU for making her a confident instructor.

“I’ll start a lecture and a student will say something and I’ll go off on a tangent,” said Taylor. “And I’ll think to myself ‘how do I even know all of this stuff?’ I didn’t even realize how much I’ve gained since I’ve been here until I started teaching.”

As Taylor looks back at her time with the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, she appreciates the friendships she developed with faculty and other graduate students.  She also has a word of advice for the next cohort.  

“Don’t expect to sleep very much, but it will have a good payoff in the end,” said Taylor. “I feel like I was really lucky to get into this field. And I feel very blessed about how much I’ve gotten out of the program.”

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions