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Editorial: UNM, new dean hope to raise teacher training bar

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With a new dean, a new syllabus of goals and a new enthusiasm for change, the University of New Mexico is striding toward the forefront of turning out teachers who are better prepared to improve New Mexico students’ success.

More than a year after Provost Chaouki Abdallah announced UNM was going to overhaul its College of Education, the pieces are in place to start the process.

On Monday, Salvador Hector Ochoa took over as dean of the college, which is the university’s second largest with nearly 2,000 students. He comes to UNM from the University of Texas Pan American near McAllen, where for the past seven years he was a professor and education dean.

Ochoa brings with him a lofty goal: “I think we can become a national model for the rest of the United States.” And he’s got a strong vote of confidence from Abdallah: “The more I discussed our institutional goals and challenges with him, the more confident I became that he is the right person at the right time to lead our college as we redouble our efforts to become a national leader in education and research.”

Here’s what Ochoa has in mind: more internal review and accountability and working more closely with the state Public Education Department and other stakeholders such as parents and community leaders.

The changes at UNM come a year before the state plans to begin giving out report cards for New Mexico’s colleges of education, which will be based in part on how well their graduates perform on teacher evaluations.

According to a study of teacher colleges by the National Center for Teacher Quality, there is lots of room for improvement in the Land of Enchantment. UNM received the highest overall scores among New Mexico’s universities, but none broke into the national top-ranked list. UNM was ranked 242 for its undergraduate elementary program and 29 for its graduate special education program. New Mexico State University was ranked 312 for its elementary undergraduate program.

The other universities’ colleges of education were not ranked, nor were the secondary teacher training programs at UNM and NMSU. And while the study has been criticized by some deans and others for lacking data on the ultimate benchmark – how well students learn – Ochoa seems open to exploring how to do that.

New Mexico isn’t alone in its poor performance in educating teachers, but at the urging of Abdallah and President Bob Frank, it is moving aggressively to address the problem.

A new dean with new ideas represents a good move if New Mexico is going to ultimately raise the bar for teachers and students.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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