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Susan H. Fuhrman, Authority on School Reform, Is TC's Next President

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Susan Fuhrman

Susan Fuhrman, Former NYC public school teacher led University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

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Former public school teacher led University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

Succeeds Arthur Levine on August 1; passion for "excellence and equity" seen as "ideal fit" with College's historic goals

Susan H. Fuhrman, a leading authority on school reform and an early analyst of the state-level school standards movement, has been named the 10th president of Teachers College, Columbia University.

A former public school social studies teacher, Dr. Fuhrman has served for the past 11 years as Dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE), where she also is the George and Diane Weiss Professor of Education. An expert on issues of teacher excellence, accountability for school performance, and the changing balance of power between the federal, state and local governments in setting school policy, Dr. Fuhrman earned her doctorate in political economy at Teachers College in the 1970s, mentored by future U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala. Dr. Fuhrman herself is a former faculty member of the College.

 "I learned everything I needed to know at Teachers College," Dr. Fuhrman told a gathering of the College's faculty, staff and trustees on the eve of her formal appointment. "Walking the halls where John Dewey, Edmund Gordon, Lawrence Cremin, Maxine Greene and others walked, you couldn't fail to understand the power of ideas to change the world." She said that her agenda for the College will be about "living up to the legacy" by "engaging directly with policymakers and practitioners as they do their work, to ensure that we not only build knowledge but put it to use."

Dr. Fuhrman will take office on August 1, succeeding Arthur E. Levine, TC's president for the past 12 years, whom she praised for "unparalleled work in strengthening the College on every front and bringing glory to TC." She will become the first woman to serve as President of Teachers College.

"We are absolutely delighted with the selection of Susan Fuhrman as the next president of Teachers College," said John W. Hyland and William Rueckert, co-chairs of the College's Board of Trustees, in a joint statement. "In Dr. Fuhrman, the College is getting not only a proven leader but also a scholar of the first rank who has focused her studies on real-world issues that stand front and center in the debate over public education in America. Her passion for raising the performance of public schools to help all children, together with her firsthand knowledge of government, policy and the classroom itself make her an ideal choice to further the historic goals of Teachers College."

 Dr. Shalala, now President of the University of Miami, echoed that assessment. "Susan Fuhrman is one of the most distinguished scholars in education today and a brilliant choice as the next leader of TC," she said.

At Penn, an "Ethos of Engagement"

As Dean of Penn GSE, Dr. Fuhrman is widely credited with uniting a fragmented faculty and elevating the school to enhanced national stature by focusing it around the themes of urban and international education. Penn GSE was listed as seventh in the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings.

Dr. Fuhrman also broadened Penn GSE's involvement with schools in under-served communities in West Philadelphia. Under her leadership, the graduate school created the Sadie Tanner Mosell Alexander School, a pre-K-8 public school of some 500 students. Named for the first African-American woman to receive a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania, the school sends most of its graduates on to selective high schools. Following the state takeover of the Philadelphia school system, Penn GSE also set up partnerships with three low-performing schools in its West Philadelphia neighborhood, where it has been able to drive significant gains in student achievement.

Dr. Fuhrman has also presided over a significant increase in externally funded research at Penn GSE, which now boasts the highest per capita level of research funding among all of the University of Pennsylvania's schools. She also significantly expanded its faculty, more than half of whom were hired during her tenure

In a statement that called her departure "a great loss for Penn," University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann and Provost Ron Daniels praised Dr. Fuhrman for "a vigorous pragmatism" and a "remarkable ethos of engagement" that has "translated theory into practice in ways rarely seen in education schools."

Dr. Fuhrman "leaves GSE more vital and relevant than ever before," the statement said, describing her as "a true educational entrepreneur" and adding that "the depth and breadth of GSE's engagement with other disciplines and schools has also grown tremendously during Susan's tenure."  

"Shoring up the Research Base"

In the worlds of education policy and research, Dr. Fuhrman is nationally known as a pragmatist who has called upon education schools to set more rigorous standards for research that can answer real-world questions.

"We cannot demonstrate that we have a sound knowledge base for teacher education, that we know how to prepare teachers well, and that our preparation is essential for good teaching," she said in a keynote speech given in 2005 at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. "We must take responsibility for shoring up the research base, for providing evidence about effectiveness that will enable us to assure that our practices are sound."

Dr. Fuhrman has advanced this perspective in books such as Redesigning Accountability Systems for Education (Teachers College Press, 2004), co-edited with Richard Elmore; Designing Coherent Education Policy (Jossey Bass, 1993), and her forthcoming The State of Education Policy Research, co-edited with David K. Cohen and Frederic Mosher (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates). And as founder and leader of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE), a joint venture of Penn GSE, Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison that seeks to improve elementary and secondary education through research on policy, finance, school reform and school governance, she has vigorously practiced it.

 In 1985, Dr. Fuhrman -- then at Rutgers University at the Eagleton Institute of Politics -- founded CPRE as the first federally-funded center created to evaluate the spate of state and local school reforms enacted following the publication of "A Nation at Risk," the report that famously highlighted the failure of American students to keep pace with their counterparts in Japan, Germany and other countries. 

Comprising an extraordinary group of scholars and policymakers that, along with Dr. Fuhrman, included future U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, Richard Elmore (now the Gregory R. Anrig Professor of Educational Leadership at Harvard) and Marshall Smith (later Undersecretary of Education), CPRE determined that the reforms of the 1980s were fragmented and largely ineffective. In a series of articles and policy briefs, the CPRE group articulated a theory of standards-based reform that called for directly tying text books, teacher preparation and testing to statewide standards for student learning.

That vision was adopted by the National Science Foundation, which began funding state systemic initiatives in the late 1980s and 90s, and became the basis for many state reforms. It was ultimately underscored by federal reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  

CPRE has increasingly shifted its emphasis to research on the interplay between policy and classroom instruction.

"We've recognized that policy can only take you so far -- that much of what happens in the classroom is beyond the reach of policy, and that instruction is what makes it all happen," says Dr. Fuhrman. CPRE currently is conducting a nationwide study of the way teachers use assessments of student performance.

Partnering for Educational Equity

Beyond her past ties with the institution, Dr. Fuhrman says she is drawn to Teachers College's mission of educational equity "because it has the potential to address the most pressing problems related to the gaps in education achievement, resources and teacher quality -- and to unite the faculty of the College."

As TC's president, Dr. Fuhrman says that she will actively encourage a working relationship with the New York City school system.

"I'd to see TC become a much bigger presence," she says. "I'd like us to engage in much more holistic, concerted, comprehensive efforts to help city schools and, to the extent that New York City is willing, be a partner. We have an enormous amount to offer and an enormous amount to learn."

For more information about Dr. Fuhrman, pleasee visit http://www.tc.edu/fuhrman.

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