U.S Secretary Of Education Briefed On Texas A&M STEM Programs

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: April 30, 2010

During a visit to Texas A&M University Friday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lauded the institution's efforts to help meet the educational needs in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), both with its own students and with future students from Blinn College and area public schools.

Duncan also said he was encouraged to learn of programs within Texas A&M that require hundreds of hours of classroom experience before graduation.

"It seems like such a common-sense thing to me, yet in talking to young teachers around the country, they express unhappiness with their college experience and their lack of hands-on experience," Duncan said. "I see you all have taken care of that concern."

Texas A&M leads the state in the number of math and science teachers produced, and those teachers' retention rates are high, Duncan was informed by Doug Palmer, dean of Texas A&M's College of Education and Human Development.

Karan L. Watson, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Texas A&M, said elementary teachers from Texas A&M are "more interdisciplinary than many secondary teachers from other colleges."

"We prepare our students not only to do well academically, but also to communicate, innovate and critically think," Watson said.

Timothy Scott, associate dean for undergraduate programs and development in the College of Science, described efforts to "grow teachers" by encouraging freshmen to take an introduction to education course. He said future teachers leave with more than 600 hours of field experience, including assignments with top secondary math and science teachers.

"We have a responsibility to our students to ground them in content and give them the classroom management skills they need," Scott said.

Duncan called "extraordinarily impressive" Texas A&M's various partnerships with Blinn College, such as the TEAM program (Transfer Enrollment at A&M) that allows for co-enrollment at both institutions for two years, followed by transfer full-time to Texas A&M. A contingent from Blinn, along with Texas A&M President Bowen R. Loftin and several local public education leaders, met with Duncan Friday morning.

Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin told Duncan he attributes Texas A&M's success to its focus on "selfless service" in addition to academics.

"While we're a major research institution, teaching is our passion," he said.

Loftin said the partnership with Blinn benefits both institutions.

"Oftentimes, four-year colleges are viewed as being antagonistic toward community colleges, but this way we ensure a truly seamless transition into college - and we have the data that shows that success rate," he said.

Blinn President and CEO Daniel J. Holt said he concurred with Loftin's assessment.

"We have had a strong partnership with Texas A&M for over 45 years, and since he became president of A&M, Dr. Loftin has talked to me about building and even stronger partnership," Holt said.

Duncan called the partnership "absolutely a model of collaboration," and he encouraged both institutions and the public school representatives to pursue new grants and other funding that is becoming available. He described his technique for continuing to improve education nationwide: "Demonstrate what's working and take it to scale."

"It is easy to say, ‘Let's collaborate,' but it is messy and it's hard and it doesn't come easily," Duncan said. "It takes a lot of hard work, and you all have clearly put that work in to make it happen. You give me great hope for education in this country. It is a breath of fresh air."

Robert Wilson, a middle-school teacher in the largely poor, majority-minority Hearne school district, said he credits Texas A&M with his success. "If it wasn't for the training in the College of Education, I would not be in the classroom where I am today," he said. "I will always be grateful."

Wilson also does his part to help train future teachers, particularly graduate students who help him teach sciences classes and labs - and he carries on that tradition of hands-on experience. He said he thinks the experience not only benefits the fledgling teacher, but also him and his students.

"I believe when Texas A&M sends people to my classroom, I need to put them to work," he said, then described a letter of gratitude he recently received from one of those future teachers.

Duncan was appointed U.S. Secretary of Education by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate on Jan. 20, 2009 - Obama's inauguration date. Duncan was previously CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.

U.S. Representative Chet Edwards helped coordinate Duncan's visit and had intended to attend, but remained in Washington, D.C., Friday for a key vote, officials said.