Grasmick to overhaul teacher training at Towson University

Several months after Nancy S. Grasmick left her job as state superintendent of schools, Michelle Rhee, the former schools chief in Washington, spoke in Baltimore and let a secret slip.

She told the crowd at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall that Grasmick had said she wanted her next job to be helping to revamp the way teachers are prepared for the profession. Rhee, a hard-line education reformer, was pleased that Grasmick might help improve the training that Rhee thinks is so lacking in teacher colleges.

On Tuesday, Towson University announced that Grasmick would become a presidential scholar and begin a broad overhaul of the programs at the university that now trains more teachers than any other in the state.

University President Maravene Loeschke said she wanted Grasmick to help make Towson "one of the major places you look at for teacher education innovation" in the nation. Two of the university's priorities, she said, are focusing more attention on teacher education and preparing teachers to teach science, technology, engineering and math, subjects in which U.S. students lag.

Grasmick, a Towson University graduate who is returning to her alma mater after a long career in education, said she wants to make the education department at Towson less insular and more interdisciplinary, stressing collaboration between the School of Education and other departments. She said she will work to build bridges with outside organizations, such as the Kennedy Krieger Institute, which has expertise in students with learning problems.

Grasmick said she is most interested in training school leaders, improving special education, integrating the arts into lessons and emphasizing early childhood education. Advances in the field of neuroscience, Grasmick said, provide more information on how students learn, which should be taught to educators.

She will organize a series of seminars to look into recent issues in education, including teacher and principal evaluations, science and technology education, and curriculum development. In addition, she will help produce a book on teacher education.

William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the state's university system, said the idea of bringing Grasmick into the university system began soon after she announced more than a year ago that she was leaving the Maryland State Department of Education after 20 years as superintendent. Towson was an obvious spot, because Grasmick lives in Baltimore County and Towson has a strong focus on producing K-12 teachers, he said.

"I think she can be just a phenomenal bridge," he said, not only between colleges and the education system but between national foundations that could provide funding to support some of the new ideas coming out Towson.

Schools of education across the country are coming under fire for not adequately preparing graduates and are being pressed to give students a better grounding in what they will face when they begin teaching. Recent education reforms have focused on improving teacher quality, including how teachers are prepared, evaluated and supported in their earlier years.

While other countries choose their teachers from the highest-achieving students, critics of teacher training programs in the United States note that the best and brightest college graduates do not go into teaching, citing lower SAT scores for education majors.

Towson University, which had been known for years as a public teachers college, has grown to 22,000 students. Each year, about 3,300 undergraduates pursue a degree in education. About 450 students are seeking a master's and 50 a doctorate in education.

In announcing Grasmick's new association with the university, Loeschke called it "one of TU's finest hours" and praised Grasmick's "tenacity, wisdom, insight." Loeschke, who became president in January, said the university had never stopped caring about its mission to educate teachers but that the former president's interest had been in research. Her focus, she said, "is research from a much larger perspective."

Grasmick is not being brought in to teach classes or be an administrator "telling us what to do," but to "guide, mentor, enlighten, support and raise resources," Loeschke said.

She will be paid $89,000 a year, and all of her salary will be covered by private contributions.

Edward St. John, a Baltimore developer and philanthropist, and Vince Talbert, a PayPal executive, have agreed to donate money for the overall program. St. John, a friend of Grasmick's, is giving $300,000.