UA plans to trim offerings from Education College
Budget ax may hit high school PE, history, English
The UA's College of Education plans to stop training undergraduates to be high school English, history and physical education teachers in a budget cut that some worry may exacerbate a shortage of qualified educators in Arizona.
The decision to eliminate the bachelor's-degree programs — also including secondary education training in social studies and foreign languages — comes after the University of Arizona lost roughly $76 million in state support this year. Students were notified of the decision by e-mail earlier this week.
The closures have not been finalized, though the programs' end seems all but certain as official plan to admit the last group of students next fall. Those students would finish their degrees over the next couple of years.
Eliminating the undergraduate degree in secondary education — which graduates about 30 students a year — concerns one of the state's top education organizations, whose leader worries that the UA might be adding obstacles to future teachers looking to be certified in a particular subject. That ultimately could lead to fewer qualified educators teaching students.
But officials with the college say they'll encourage students interested in secondary education to participate in an existing graduate program in a move they say will lead to better-qualified teachers.
The graduate program, known as Teach Arizona, allows students to graduate with a degree in their specific field — be it history or English — and earn a master's in teaching while being certified, said Bruce Johnson, head of the teaching and teacher education department.
The demand for the graduate program is greater than that for the undergraduate program, Johnson said.
"We think it will be a stronger program, and budget-wise, we really have to do it," he said, though he couldn't provide figures on how much money the closure would save.
John Wright, head of the state teachers' union, the Arizona Education Association, said the graduate program will give teachers more knowledge in their subject area, but it also could deter students who can't afford an extra year of school.
"Arizona runs the risk of having fewer qualified secondary-education teachers," he said.
Figures kept by the union show that Arizona has one of the nation's highest student-teacher ratios — a figure advanced by advocates as a sign of a teacher shortage. And a study by an ASU public-policy group found that while the shortage isn't as dire as had been predicted, rural and fast-growing districts have problems filling their classrooms with qualified teachers.
Even the city's largest district — Tucson Unified — regularly has open positions just days before school.
While UA students won't be able to earn their bachelor's degrees to teach English, history, social studies or foreign languages in grades seven-12, they still will be able to earn similar degrees in math, science and fine arts, Johnson said. Those programs are taught in a different department in the college and aren't slated for elimination.
Additionally, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University have similar undergraduate programs.
Eliminating the K-12 physical education program — which graduates about 25 students a year — would leave ASU as the only public university in the state to offer a similar program.
It's a decision Ingrid Johnson, no relation to Bruce, the UA's physical education program coordinator, said is shortsighted and will only save roughly $200,000. The faculty members, who are not protected by tenure, are likely to be laid off, she said.
"All of our students who want to teach get jobs," she said. "It's not in as high demand as special education, but there are always different areas that are in demand."
Bruce Johnson said the reaction to the cuts among school districts he's spoken with has been positive. Many are excited about getting graduate-level teachers certified in subjects and don't believe there's a need for more PE teachers.
"They're not overly concerned with physical education being eliminated because it's not one of the high-need areas," he said. "Math, science and special education — those kinds of programs are much more high-need."
Students majoring in physical education said the closure means that UA is telling the rest of the state that their field isn't a worthwhile pursuit.
"Closing this program puts a bruise on my passion," said Carly Parsons, a senior. "They're basically saying that they don't support my vision as a teacher."
Parsons and about 20 other students in a class focusing on adaptive PE spent Thursday morning practicing their sign-language skills and talking about how to plan activities for students with disabilities and brain injuries.
Nearly all the students in the close-knit class said they planned on being teachers in Arizona, though some worried about finding jobs.
Brendan Downes, a junior in the program, said he found it ironic that at a time when childhood obesity and diabetes are receiving so much attention, a program designed to teach children lifelong health habits is being eliminated.
"They're cutting the program that's going to make things better," he said.
By refusing to fund physical education, policymakers are essentially deciding to saddle future generations with even greater costs associated with providing treatment to diabetics and the obese, said Daniel Grippaudo, a senior.
"Preventing it is much more cost-effective," he said.
Contact reporter Aaron Mackey at 807-8012 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get all the latest UA news by visiting go.azstarnet.com/campuscorrespondent