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Dr. Mike Trevisan

Dean's Perspectives

An update on the budget, with more to come

A.G. Rud

I’m eager to keep everyone at the College of Education, and our friends and supporters, “in the loop” about the impact of state budget cuts.  I’ll have specific information to share after Thanksgiving. For now, here is an update on the budget process as it affects our Pullman and Spokane programs, the text of an email I sent out this afternoon.  (Vancouver and Tri-Cities have separate budgets).

On Monday, at the request of Provost Warwick Bayly, we submitted a preliminary plan for a 10 percent permanent reduction and a temporary 8 percent reduction for this fiscal year. We also presented the administrators with a college realignment plan, which should position us for the next round of budget cuts — those expected for the 2011-2013 biennium.

Today I met with Provost Bayly and President Elson S. Floyd to discuss the College of Education’s plans just as all WSU deans are doing this week. The provost said that he would review what has been submitted over the coming week, and hoped to give us all “our figures” for the current year budget reductions perhaps before Thanksgiving.

On November 29, an all-day session is scheduled for the deans, the provost, president, and budget officers in central administration to discuss all the college and unit plans submitted and to decide on a final university plan. After that, the provost will release these data, perhaps as early as December 1. At that time, I am permitted to release our realignment plan.

To put all of this number-crunching and planning into perspective, I encourage you to read the Vancouver Columbian’s article “Washington higher ed panel: budget ‘a disaster.’ ”

Is ‘Superman’ not so super?

A.G. Rud

Diane Ravitch is doing some remarkably informed and incisive work. I was impressed and moved by her most recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, and now by her review of the documentary Waiting for “Superman.” Titled “The Myth of Charter Schools,” it appears in the New York Review of Books.

I have not seen the film as it has not been available to us yet, but we in the College of Education have talked about possibly arranging for a showing. What I’ve read about it greatly concerns me. I value the presentation of data by Ravitch debunking some of its central points, including its claim that 70 percent of eighth-grade students cannot read at grade level. “This is flatly wrong,” she writes, and goes on to prove it.

Ravitch is dismayed that the film downplays the problems outside of schools that are working against students, including poverty. She notes the difficulties of identifying “bad” or ineffective teachers, especially in light of a trend toward hiring administrators who have little or no education experience. She points out that the film decries teachers’ unions, while lauding the school system of Finland — a country with a completely unionized teaching force.

I am interested to hear reactions from others about the film, and Ravitch’s review.

FAQs: What people ask the new dean

A.G. Rud

In my first two months on the job, the people with whom I’ve talked have expressed hope, excitement and concern about the future of the College of Education, along with curiosity about this new fellow in the dean’s office.

Some of the questions I’m frequently asked:

What is your vision of the future for the college
?  The Washington State University College of Education will be a vibrant center of learning that is responsive to the educational needs of our state, country and world — but especially of our state. We will not lose sight of our land-grant mission to the people of Washington.

Details, please! The college will have a much larger and well-funded research agenda. That’s why one of my first actions was to create the position of associate dean for research and external funding, and appoint Mike Trevisan to fill it.  The college will also make the most of the strengths of each campus, including the residential Ph.D. programs in Pullman; the urban education expertise in Vancouver; the health science collaborations in Spokane; and the Hispanic-serving mission of the Tri-Cities.

How will you stay in touch with such a far-flung campus system?
Though based in Pullman, I plan to visit each of our regional campuses no fewer than four times a year.  And I rely heavily on our campus academic directors to keep me informed.

Will the role of teacher education diminish? Not on my watch. My WSU colleagues and I are adding our voices to the national conversation about the best ways to graduate competent, well-educated, socially responsible teachers whose students will succeed in the classroom and in life.

How will the college be affected by this latest round of state budget cuts that’s hit WSU? We don’t know yet.  President Floyd has asked for input from the deans, and my administrative team and I are working on that. I’ll keep everyone informed.

How are you settling in? My wife, Rita, and I are enjoying small-town, big university life on the Palouse. We have 100 boxes of books and some other important items yet to unpack, but we’re settling in well in the house we bought on Pullman’s Pioneer Hill. By the way, there sure are lots of hills here.  I’m starting to understand the concept of “Cougar calves.”

Of course, these are my elevator-speech answers.  I look forward to having in-depth conversations with many of you, and welcome suggestions from the alumni and supporters I won’t have the pleasure of meeting.  Leave your comments on this blog, or drop me a note.

Go Cougs!

Zeroing in on the actor… or the teacher

A.G. Rud

Note: This is the second of two posts also published on the National Education Policy Center website.

When I worked at The North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching years ago, I led a week-long seminar on film making and film criticism. One presenter helped me, and the teacher participants, move away from focusing on acting and toward a more nuanced and contextual way of seeing a film. Many of us found this jarring. Surely it was a great actor alone, a Pacino or a Streep, who made a film great. We came to realize there was much more to a moving and memorable film, and we explored theme, dialogue, direction, and many other facets of this art beyond just the acting that week.

I remembered that lesson learned in the mountains of North Carolina as I watched the Education Nation segment on how Bill Gates is funding research and inquiry into what makes a great teacher. The Measures of Effective Teaching project is ambitious, and hits many of the right notes. There are elements of good teaching that can be measured. We can “deconstruct” good practice by watching video of master teachers. We can laud ancient means of engaging young minds such as Socratic questioning and inquiry based learning, and encourage teachers to use these, and other means, to ignite learning.

But if we are talking about what makes a great education for our students, it is not simply a great teacher, just as a great film is simply not one with a great acting performance. There are many factors in education and in society that mitigate or support the efforts of valiant, persistent, and skilled, teachers. Such factors can be as unassailable as a safe home and neighborhood, free from want and the darkness of family and social dysfunction. Teachers, no matter how talented or experienced, can’t be effective if students’ lives outside the classroom are toxic.

So while I applaud the work of Gates and other enlightened benefactors, I want us all to see more widely what enables a young mind to be educated, and what is both inside the walls of our classrooms, and outside those walls, that help us achieve that end.

Learning from the Learning Plaza

A.G. Rud

Education Nation,” the NBC/MSNBC summit under way in New York, provides an excellent topic for my first blog post as WSU College of Education dean.

In fact, because the National Education Policy Center has invited me and two colleagues to blog about the summit, I’m taking the liberty of sharing my thoughts with you that were just posted on the center’s website:

I live far from New York City, and though I can view the Education Nation broadcasts this week, I cannot witness the transformation of Rockefeller Plaza into a “Learning Plaza.” It will be “an interactive experience that will explore some of the most innovative aspects of American education.”

From the pictures on the site the plaza does indeed look impressive, with curved posters and video monitors. The designers want visitors to be engaged in the information, and though I laud this effort, I wait cautiously to see if such does indeed happen. I am more intrigued by the “Teaching Garden” in the plaza, which will “explore the critical link between nutrition and learning.” This topic is pertinent to everyone, and the bodily aspects of learning are being explored increasingly in depth and interconnection in the neurosciences and in health and nutrition fields.

Nutrition and learning can also be a way of engaging participants in conversations about the social and cultural contexts of education. Poor nutrition and underperformance in school is also, obviously, linked to poverty. Let’s hope the visitors to the technically advanced displays in Rockefeller Plaza this week make that connection, as well as other links to the social contexts of learning in our schools.

There’s more to education research than you might imagine

By Phyllis Erdman
Interim Dean

When she started Washington State University’s doctoral program in counseling psychology, it hadn’t occurred to Ciara Christensen that she would end up studying hypnosis. But there she was at WSU’s 2010 Academic Showcase, in front of a research poster titled “Effects of an Affect Bridge for Age Regression,” explaining the value of hypnosis in treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

I wonder if the showcase visitors who chatted with Ciara about hypnosis were surprised to see that she and her faculty co-author, Professor Arreed Barabasz, were listed among the twenty College of Education researchers present.  Many people are unaware that our researchers delve into subjects outside the realm of classroom education.

Sometimes even I am surprised by the breadth of our research. Below are just a few examples gleaned from the presentation abstracts of the Academic Showcase in Pullman, the annual spring event at which WSU researchers explain their work. (Our college was also represented at WSU’s  Vancouver’s Research Showcase.)

“Nice at Work in the Academy.”  The guiding question in Associate Professor Pamela Bettis’ study was: How do women academics, particularly those in research-oriented institutions, make sense of the concept of “nice” in their work lives? The 28 women interviewed all spoke to its powerful presence. Some worried about what might be construed as overly aggressive behaviors. They told of losing jobs or receiving low performance evaluations because they displayed too much or too little niceness. Dr. Bettis’ analysis revealed how, in her words, “the tightrope of appropriate femininity remains taut in a supposedly post-feminist era.”

“Legality of the LPGA’s Proposed English Proficiency Rule.” Professor Cathryn Claussen analyzed a 2008 attempt by the Ladies Professional Golf Association to impose a regulation requiring its international players to demonstrate basic proficiency in the English language. Dr. Claussen is a nationally recognized expert in sport law. She concluded that the language proficiency rule did not constitute discrimination that violated the Civil Rights Act, but she suggested changes in U.S. law that would remedy such situations.

“Preservice Teachers’ Perspectives on Characteristics of Effective Teachers and Successful Students.”  In the kind of research that helps shape our academic programs, Professors Tariq Akmal and Darcy Miller found that there are significant moments in a teacher preparation program when student beliefs appeared to change.  They found that the future teachers were nurturing, but also believed in the importance of strong professionalism and teaching skills. Classroom field experiences shifted the students from certain theoretical knowledge (research-based learning) to more narrative knowledge (practice-based/teacher-based learning). 

“Physical Activity across the Transition to Washington State University.” Assistant Professor Sarah Ullrich-French surveyed freshmen before they arrived at WSU, and halfway through their first semester, to determine which factors inspired them to exercise.  The survey asked about external influences (coaches, parents, teammates) and internal motivation.  Students reported that both their motivation and time spent exercising declined once they were on campus. Self-motivated students were more likely to continue their workouts.  The study, co-authored by Matthew Bumpus, assistant professor of human development, is a good example of the College of Education’s interdisciplinary research efforts.

To appreciate the broad spectrum of excellent work that goes on at the College of Education, I encourage you to browse our online list of research topics.

Change in the air: Spring semester updates

By Phyllis Erdman
Interim Dean

Olympia could almost be a fifth Washington State University campus, given how much WSU attention is focusing on our state capital these days.

The state deficit looms, and with it some painful decisions by the Legislature. As many of you know, the College of Education’s Pullman/Spokane budget was cut 11 percent in 2009, on the heels of a 2.5 percent cutback the year before.  (Our Vancouver and Tri-Cities programs face their own difficult decisions.)  The new year had barely begun when university administrators asked me to identify more areas of potential reduction. 

At the College of Education, we’re also following legislation that could have considerable impact on what we do.  That includes an education reform bill that would mandate that state colleges of education create alternate routes for completion of principal and teacher certification programs. We are concerned that the proposal, prompted by Washington’s pursuit of federal stimulus dollars, will cost colleges money we don’t have to fix problems that our state doesn’t have, namely many large, underperforming school districts with severe shortages of teachers.  Whatever the legislative outcome, we look forward to strong participation in Gov. Christine Gregoire’s ongoing efforts to reform education.

While the lawmakers propose and debate, our college is abuzz with interesting activities this semester. Among them:     

  • The search for a dean is well under way, and we expect to have a new leader on board by July. In anticipation of spring interviews with the finalists, at which the future of the college will be the prime topic, faculty and staff participated in a series of recent forums to discuss whether the college is organized in the best and most efficient way. Stay tuned…
  • We are also interviewing candidates for four faculty positions: two in educational psychology (for Pullman and the Tri-Cities) and two in educational leadership (for Tri-Cities and Vancouver).
  • The Northwest Land Grant Alliance—a consortium of five regional colleges of education that was championed by our late dean, Judy Mitchell—is planning its first joint research effort.
  • Speaking on a subject dear to our hearts, Enrique Murillo, author of Handbook of Latinos in Education, will be in Pullman on February 17 to discuss how to maintain a focus on diversity in times of fiscal stress.  Sponsors of his visit include the Education Graduate Organization, Future Teachers and Leaders of Color, and the Ellison Faculty Fellowship.
  • A college fund raiser has so far brought in several thousand dollars to aid the Chances for Children orphanage in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The effort was initiated by Interim Associate Dean Cori Mantle-Bromley, who visited the Ti Mache orphanage and school and found the zeal for education there to be “as strong as anywhere I’ve ever been.”
  • The college is sponsoring the sixth annual Globalization, Diversity and Education Conference. For the first time, it will be held on the Riverpoint campus in Spokane. The February 25-27 multidisciplinary conference will draw academics from throughout the United States and abroad. Events that are open to the public include a presentation by award-winning filmmaker Velcro Ripper, described as “a lot like his movies—friendly, hopeful, full of electrifying ideas.”

Your support, our gratitude, their education

By Phyllis Erdman
Interim Dean

Fundraising, an increasingly vital function at the College of Education, is equal parts art and science, altruism and pragmatism. As interim dean, I find that asking for money requires confidence that we are worthy of support. It also requires humility. We are keenly aware that donors can choose any number of good causes to support.

With all of that in mind, this holiday season seems the perfect time to thank the many people who contribute to our college, and to acknowledge the reasons they do so. I can’t begin to name all of our donors here, but will mention a handful to illustrate the kinds of gifts we receive to the benefit of students and the future of us all.

Many people put their money where their passion is. The late Dr. Vitt Ferrucci, a veterinarian, saw the need for improved science and mathematics education. So he established a fellowship that each summer gives one exceptional high school teacher a paid sabbatical to work on a project with WSU’s expert educators. Inga Kromann, a retired Cougar faculty member whose specialty was children’s literature, established an award for teacher preparation students who create their own books for kids.

Some donors are eager to honor the important people in their lives.  Denny, Scott and Mary Rutherford established an educational leadership fellowship for graduate students, in honor of their parents.  Jennifer Tiegs paid tribute to Barbara Dunn, “my first genuine teacher,” by purchasing a leaf on our Legacy Tree.

Some money comes with only one awesome direction: to spend it on what we see as the college’s greatest needs.  Among those unrestricted funds is a recent endowed gift from Mark and Patt Suwyn.

Donors often ask us to give some examples of ways they can help. Here are a few items on our wish list:
• Money for travel, printing and other costs associated with recruiting students to our programs. State budget cuts have drastically diminished our recruitment efforts. We especially need to attract students to such high-need teaching areas as special education, English language learning, and science.
• Support for our Globalization, Diversity and Education Conference. This remarkable annual event draws educators from many disciplines, and from around the world, to Spokane.
• Graduate fellowships.  Many students are attracted by the opportunity to work with our world-class researchers, but simply can’t afford it. Likewise, our faculty need the best and the brightest in their master’s and doctoral programs.

Kim Holapa, our director of development, is a pro at matching the desires of our friends with the needs of the college. Please contact her if you have questions.  If you’d like to make an online donation to WSU, you can target your gift to the College of Education.

Again, our thanks to all for your support—financial, professional, and emotional—during the past year.

Teacher preparation at WSU: A class act


By Phyllis Erdman
Interim Dean

In two recent speeches, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan highlighted the need for improved teacher education. After the first speech, he no doubt heard from many of my colleagues in academia, because the second one included examples of programs that are doing an excellent job. He also listed the hallmarks of good teacher preparation, and I’m pleased to report that our undergraduate and master’s in teaching programs have all of those hallmarks, including being research-based and requiring subject mastery.

That’s not just the bragging of a proud WSU administrator. Our programs received high marks this year from both state and national accreditation teams. We’re especially pleased about the “exemplary” rating that state evaluators gave us for the quality of the student field experiences and clinical practices. Our students work beside mentor teachers in public schools throughout their programs, culminating in 16 weeks of student teaching, and all work with diverse and high-needs youngsters.

The following passage from the state report speaks to the success of our students’ experience:

“In interviews, cooperating teachers and principals lauded the WSU teacher preparation programs and candidates. A principal stated he’d want to hire WSU graduates because they are ‘experience-rich.’ Cooperating teachers expressed that the progression of the coursework and experiences (i.e., block practicum) facilitated a ‘maturity’ in the candidates; ‘they learn it, then see it.’ They were impressed with the candidates’ classroom management, ‘noticing the little things,’ ‘awareness and emphasis on actual learning’ and their ‘interest in teaching.’”

In his second speech, given at Columbia University, Secretary Duncan applauded a 14-state pilot program in which teachers and university faculty will evaluate student teachers’ classroom performance using a nationally validated performance instrument. Washington is one of those states, and our Department of Teaching & Learning is leading that statewide effort.

It is telling that our peers often invite us to participate in national efforts to improve teaching and educational leadership programs. The most important indicator of our success, of course, is how well our graduates do their jobs. Among those alumni are Danyell Laughlin (B.A., ’92), who teaches English at Klahowya Secondary School in Silverdale, and Michelle Kelly (M.Ed. ’97), who teaches a third and fourth grade class in the highly capable program at Kent Elementary. Both women were named regional teachers of the year in the 2010 Washington Teacher of the Year competition.

Danyell’s principal praises her ability “to locate that one ember that a student hides from other teachers and she stokes that ember until the student catches fire with a desire to learn.” Michelle is known for accommodating the unique needs of every student while maintaining high expectations.

After receiving the award this fall, Michelle wrote us to say:

“My master’s program at WSU was one of the most influential professional experiences of my career. I still think about it fondly. The professionalism of the faculty in my program inspired me to achieve at a higher level than I thought possible.”

Inspiring students to surpass their own expectations may be the most important hallmark of an exceptional teacher preparation program.

Embracing the future


By Phyllis Erdman
Interim Dean

Unbelievable. Surreal. These words echoed throughout the College of Education and all the WSU campuses this summer when news spread of the sudden deaths of Dean Judy Mitchell and Associate Dean Len Foster. Their passing, only six days apart, left us in shock.

On a personal level, we mourned the loss of two special friends. As colleagues, we mourned the loss of two great leaders. 

In reflecting on the last two months, I, as interim dean, and Cori Mantle-Bromley, as interim associate dean, believe the best way to honor two such forward-looking leaders is to embrace the future. So that’s what we’ve been doing. Our first task was to reassure everyone that the college will keep moving forward, both within the university system and in tandem with Washington communities, schools and other partners. 

Provost Warwick Bayly has appointed a committee to conduct a national search for a permanent dean, expected to be on board by next July. The committee is chaired by Eric Spangenberg, dean of the College of Business, and includes education faculty members Pamela Bettis, Brian French, Gail Furman, Stephen Kucer, Liza Nagel and Kelly Ward; Kim Holapa, College of Education director of development; and Paul Sturm, superintendent of Pullman schools.  The university will hire a search firm to facilitate the process.

Professors Darcy Miller and Mike Trevisan have graciously accepted interim chair roles, filling in, respectively, for Cori in the Department of Teaching & Learning and me in the Department of Educational Leadership & Counseling Psychology. Darcy and Mike also co-chair the ad hoc Futures Committee, which will review the college structure and make recommendations to prospective deans during the search process.

This fall’s other activities include:

  • Updating our five-year strategic plan so that it will be closely aligned with the new WSU Strategic Plan. We’ve invited input on the draft 2010-2015 plan, and the college leadership team expects to deliver a final plan to the provost for his approval by January.
  • Hiring new faculty.  Searches will soon be under way for full-time educational psychology positions in both Pullman and the Tri-Cities, and an educational leadership position in Vancouver.  We are also advertising post-doctoral research positions in educational psychology and exercise physiology.
  • Focusing on research funding. Cori is leading the effort to increase the number of research grants and gifts coming into the college, which is vital to enhancing scholarship.

The excitement that comes with the start of an academic year is felt on all of our campuses. In Pullman, our Learning & Performance Research Center is officially open, housed in the lower level of Cleveland Hall. In Vancouver, our faculty and staff have moved into the bright new Undergraduate Classroom Building. In the Tri-Cities, the college has welcomed new faculty members Maria Moscatelli and Jennifer Johnson. In Spokane, Assistant Professor Janet Frost has just landed a second state grant to expand the Riverpoint Advanced Mathematics Partnership with area schools.

I look forward to keeping you informed about the search for a dean, and about the accomplishments of our students and faculty. We were all reminded this summer of the need to live each day fully, and to cherish our relationships with family and friends. I wish you all a wonderful year of sharing ahead.