Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Interview with Penn GSE Dean, Andrew Porter

In August 2007, Dr. Andrew Porter became Dean of Penn's Graduate School of Education, bringing in over 40 years of experience working in higher education.  As Dean and the George & Diane Weiss Professor of Education, Dr. Porter continues to serve not just as a pillar of GSE, but also as a beacon in the field of education. 

I recently had a chance to catch up with the Dean to ask him about his time at GSE, the growth and future of the school, and some of his thoughts on the current state of education:

MTW: You are finishing up your sixth year as dean. How has GSE grown since you first came on board? 

AP: During my five and a half years as dean, we have seen the biggest growth in our Master’s student programs. The quantity, quality, and diversity of our Master’s student body have increased. In terms of numbers, the growth is roughly 50%. In terms of quality, one indicator is GREs, and the average GRE score of Master’s students at GSE is up by more than 100 points. In terms of diversity, GSE has always been strong, but today roughly a third of our students are international. Of our domestic students, roughly a third are persons of color.

MTW: What are the biggest changes in education you’ve seen during this time? 

AP: Tough question. One thing that comes immediately to mind is the increased emphasis on online learning at both the higher education and the K-12 levels. Another challenge is the growing focus on teacher accountability—in other words, making teachers accountable for their students’ achievement as measured on state tests. Yet a third area concerns the Common Core State Standards in Reading and Mathematics. Until now, each state has had its own content standards for K-12 education. Now, well over half of the states have signed on to the new standards. At the same time, the government has funded two multi-state consortia to build tests that are aligned to the standards. At least in theory, this should create much greater efficiencies and much better standards and tests. Of course, implementing the standards will be a huge challenge.

MTW: What are the strengths of GSE now, and what do you foresee as the strengths going forward?

AP: The greatest strength of GSE is that it has a great faculty and a fabulous student body. The students at GSE at all levels are bright, articulate, passionate, and deeply engaged in their studies. GSE is part of a truly world class university. Not only that, but the University of Pennsylvania values the practical, just as its founding father, Benjamin Franklin, did. Other adjectives that come to mind in thinking about GSE’s strengths are nimble, entrepreneurial, urban, and international.

We have moved up consistently in the U.S. News and World Report rankings of education graduate schools, a sign of the increasing strength of our programs. Generally, when you’re on your way up, rankings trail behind by a couple of years, so we hope to continue to our ascent.

MTW: GSE is helping to groom the educational leaders of tomorrow. What challenges do future educators and educational leaders face? 

AP: There’s always an under-supply of quality leaders. GSE strives to be the place that produces the leaders of leaders in education. At the same time, GSE strives to be the place that people around the world look to for innovative solutions to our most pressing educational problems.

MTW: A major current discussion in education is how open learning, with innovations like MOOCs, will affect education. What should future educators and educational leaders keep in mind as open learning continues to gain prominence? 

AP: Through the leadership of Provost Vince Price, Penn is rapidly positioning itself as the leader among institutions of higher education in open learning and distance education. Provost Price has asked GSE to play a leadership role in research and development to identify the characteristics of excellence in teaching of MOOCs. We have enthusiastically accepted that challenge.


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