June 20, 2019
The School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University will launch five new undergraduate degrees this fall, preparing students for teaching careers in early childhood education, elementary and secondary education, health and physical education, and special education.
The programs are part of a statewide effort to address a critical shortage of teachers across Virginia.
“The big-picture goal of developing these programs is to address critical shortage areas in Virginia schools, and particularly urban, high-needs schools in the Richmond area,” said Andrew Daire, Ph.D. dean of the VCU School of Education.
VCU’s programs were approved Thursday, June 20 by the Virginia Department of Education and on May 20 by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. VCU is one of seven universities and colleges across Virginia that will initiate new undergraduate initial licensure degree programs. The School of Education will continue to provide a licensure path in secondary education at the master's level.
“I am pleased with the Virginia Department of Education and the State Council of Virginia’s decision to authorize establishment of undergraduate education majors in colleges and universities across the commonwealth,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “A quality K-12 education is transformational and the teacher shortage faced in Richmond and in many school districts across the commonwealth is critical. VCU School of Education — already home to a top-ranked graduate school — will excel in its preparation of future teachers dedicated to preparing our children with the quality education they deserve.”
VCU’s new Bachelor of Science in Education degrees will lead to teaching licensures in specified endorsement areas.
- The B.S.Ed. in Early Childhood Education and Teaching will prepare undergraduate students for roles as teachers and day care providers of infants, toddlers and young children in schools and community day care/preschool settings. The program will focus on providing students with a solid foundation in child development, educational psychology and the role of family and society in education.
- The B.S.Ed. in Elementary Education and Teaching will prepare undergraduate students for roles as teachers of young children in schools, grades kindergarten to six, and community preschool settings. The program will focus on providing students with a solid foundation in child development, educational psychology and the role of family and society in education. It will prepare graduates to be reflective educators who demonstrate an in-depth understanding of science, social studies and mathematics pedagogy and content, as well as a commitment to balanced literacy approaches. Students will develop skills to advocate for equitable learning opportunities for all children.
- The B.S.Ed. in Secondary Education and Teaching, with a concentration in Engineering Education, will prepare undergraduate students to serve as licensed engineering education teachers in grades six to 12, and to serve as educators and leaders in schools and community-based settings. The program will focus on providing students with a solid foundation in secondary education, engineering, mathematics and sciences to be successful when engaging and introducing engineering to the next generation.
- The B.S.Ed. in Health and Physical Education will prepare undergraduate students to serve as licensed health and physical education teachers in PK-12 schools, and to serve as educators and leaders in schools and community-based settings. The program will focus on providing students with the knowledge and experiences they need to implement national and state health and physical education standards. Students can combine their passion for health, student success and education in a program that will prepare them to be successful in a variety of learning environments.
- The B.S.Ed. in Special Education and Teaching/General will prepare undergraduate students to serve as licensed special education teachers in K-12 schools. Students will engage in academic and professional experiences that will help them serve as educators and leaders in schools and community-based settings to make a difference in the lives of children, youth and adults with disabilities.
Woven throughout the five new programs will be a variety of strategies that have been shown to be effective in addressing the needs of students with a variety of learning challenges, including those who live in poverty, students with disabilities, students who have experienced trauma, students who are English-language learners, and students who are racial, cultural or gender diverse.
The programs also will integrate experiential learning that provides opportunities for VCU students to apply the strategies and methods that they are learning, to receive feedback about their skill development, and to include those experiences throughout their teacher preparation.
The teacher shortage is not unique to Virginia. Yet despite the growing shortages, states like Virginia that have graduate programs leading to licensure have been seeing decreasing enrollment.
“The cost of graduate education, and the more limited availability of financial aid, have made it difficult for students to afford to go into teaching, particularly as teacher salaries have been stagnating,” Daire said.
In December 2017, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order to initiate emergency regulations creating an option for Virginia’s public colleges and universities to offer an undergraduate program with a major in education. Last year, Gov. Ralph Northam requested the Virginia Department of Education and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia have the programs implemented for students for fall 2019.
“Both offices provided guidance in early January 2019 for expedited reviews of proposals for new programs and faculty in the School of Education worked diligently and expeditiously over the semester break and throughout January to develop these proposals in collaboration with faculty from both the College of Humanities and Sciences and the College of Engineering,” said Colleen Thoma, Ph.D. associate dean for academic affairs and graduate studies.
Leading up to McAuliffe’s executive order, Daire was among policymakers, K-12 teachers, principals and superintendents, and representatives from Virginia colleges and schools of education who served on two state task forces to address needed diversity in Virginia’s teacher-education pipeline and the teacher shortage.
Both task forces — the Task Force on Diversifying Virginia’s Educator Pipeline and the Advisory Committee on Teacher Shortages — recommended removing barriers to diversifying and growing Virginia’s teacher workforce. Among those recommendations was to develop and implement four-year undergraduate majors in teaching.
While the undergraduate programs across Virginia are a new pathway to teaching licensure, the idea is not new. In the early 1990s, it was the norm for colleges and universities to offer undergraduate degrees leading to teacher licensure in a specified endorsement area. But that changed in the mid-‘90s, when legislative changes were made amid increasing concerns about academic achievement in public schools.
“At that time, it was believed that teachers needed more academic content, so initial licensure preparation programs were restricted to a major in the specific content area (i.e., mathematics, science, English or an interdisciplinary studies major, etc.),” Thoma said. “As a result, many program faculty, including that of Virginia Commonwealth University, believed that an undergraduate degree with a content major coupled with a graduate degree in teacher preparation would improve the academic achievement of our nation’s public school students.”
Under that model, Virginia schools provided graduate degree level coursework in pedagogy, assessment, classroom management, instructional methods and diverse options for experiential learning and application in classrooms. Yet, decades later, research has shown that this approach did little to advance academic achievement among public school students and may have contributed to the teacher shortages.
“As a result, and upon recommendation of various stakeholders, Virginia legislation reversed this decision made decades ago to allow undergraduate teacher education degree majors to once again reside in colleges and schools of education,” Thoma said.
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