December 4, 2007

turner.jpgTo say that SMU is in the business of education may seem to be stating the obvious. But today we are more deeply invested in education as an interdisciplinary area of study. We are strengthening programs that educate the educators, and bringing more research to bear on effective teaching methods. Our efforts will accelerate with a $20 million gift from Harold and Annette Simmons of Dallas to endow the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. Education programs have been a part of SMU’s curriculum since its early years, but now we will have resources to magnify our impact. This gift also supports SMU’s goal to increase endowments for academic purposes.

The needs in education are enormous. According to the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the percentage of eighth-graders rated as proficient or better in reading is 31 percent, an increase of only two percentage points since 1992. The rate for fourth-graders rose to 33 percent, up from 29 percent in 1992. In some states, the rates have remained flat or have fallen.

Recognizing that lack of reading ability equals low performance in schools, SMU is conducting programs and research focusing on literacy. The Institute for Reading Research is an important part of the Simmons School. SMU studies are showing, for instance, that reading can be improved among struggling students through early identification and intensive intervention. The School’s new Ph.D. program will develop researchers in literacy, language and learning; other programs address bilingual education, English as a second language and reading disorders.

Our programs also target the nation’s growing teacher shortage. As schools face a rise in enrollment and in teacher retirements, more than 2 million teachers will be needed in the next decade. At the same time, turnover is a problem, with some 20 percent of new hires leaving the classroom within three years.

Along with preparation for teacher certification, the Simmons School provides specialized training for master teachers in math, science and reading. Through research on how students best learn, we can give teachers the tools not merely to survive, but also to succeed – for their students and for themselves. We must support those who pursue the high calling of education. And through programs in human development – including counseling, wellness and dispute resolution – the Simmons School nurtures the fulfillment of human potential in many ways.

Harold and Annette Simmons are models of support for high achievement. They show us that educational values endure and inspire from generation to generation. Harold Simmons’ father was a school superintendent and his mother was a beloved teacher. Annette Simmons (’57) recalls with gratitude the impact of caring teachers on her life. It is indeed an honor for SMU to name the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development in honor of an alumna who majored in elementary education and became a teacher. Harold and Annette Simmons are investing their trust and generosity in the family of current and future educators – further evidence that there is a strong multiplier effect when it comes to education.

R. Gerald Turner

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