WASHINGTON — U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige and Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt on Monday officially launched the first truly national teachers college, which is a new part of the 6-year-old Internet-based Western Governors University.
Paige hailed the new WGU Teachers College, which awards teaching degrees online based on competency rather than time spent in a classroom, as a key to help achieve the goals of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act passed by Congress.
Under that act, "By the end of 2006, all teachers of all academic subjects must be highly qualified. In order to reach this goal, we're all going to need to do something differently. We cannot continue to go as we've always gone," Paige said at a press conference in his office.
"This is a giant step in the right direction," Paige said about the new college. "This is a college that teaches you what you need to know. . . . You can learn it wherever you are" via the Internet.
The new WGU Teachers College has been under development for the past 18 months, using a $10 million grant from the Education Department awarded on Sept. 10, 2001.
The online university, which has its headquarters in Salt Lake City but is a consortium of 40 universities in 19 states, worked to ensure that its degree, licensing and certificate programs will meet standards of the many states. The new online college's catalog offers 1,200 courses from 45 partnering institutions.
While the college was officially launched Monday, WGU President Bob Mendenhall said 50 students had already signed up and had begun classes, and another 250 were enrolled in a previously offered master's degree in learning and technology.
Leavitt, who proposed and helped create WGU, said its new Teachers College "is driven by the vision of governors across the country to have a place where teachers can be trained on the basis of their competency, and it is national."
Leavitt said it will allow teachers, teachers aides and others who want to switch careers into teaching to do so without going to a traditional university full time. They can study on the Internet at their own pace and earn credit for skills they have already developed — while still working to support their families.
Leavitt said a typical candidate for the new school would be, for example, a single-mother who has worked as a teachers aide in inner-city schools. She could not afford to go back to school on a full-time residency basis, but the new online program would give her credit for skills learned on the job and the ability to earn the rest at her own pace.
The new online college will also work with local school districts to help online students perform their student-teaching requirements, the one part of the degree programs that cannot be done entirely online.
Among offerings are associate's degrees, designed mostly for paraprofessionals; bachelor's of arts degrees in teaching fields; post-bachelor's teacher licensing programs for people switching professions; and master's degrees in teaching fields.
Paige said it especially will help more midcareer adults to become teachers.
"We need to open the classroom door to the thousands of midcareer professionals who could make excellent teachers. The Teachers College will be invaluable in that effort because a Web-based program offers working adults the flexibility to pursue standards-based coursework at their own pace and schedule," he said.
"This is a winning program. States benefit; current and future teachers benefit. But the biggest winners are our nation's children, and that is the best news of all."