Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Programs which emphasize less lecture time and more outside of class learning are more enriching for students.

According to a US News & World Report ranking of teaching programs, to become the best middle or high school teacher, educators need to get out of the college classroom.

The Western Governors University, an online school based in Salt Lake City, took the No. 1 spot on the list of best secondary education training programs. The university’s top ranking “surprised even the National Council on Teacher Quality, the advocacy group that worked with US News on the rankings,” Libby Nelson of reported. “The high marks are not, however, a surprise to the nonprofit online university's many fans.”

Its online format is not only what makes Western Governors different from traditional brick and mortar schools. The education programs employ a competency-based education model, devoid of lectures, midterms and final exams.

“Instead, students take a pre-test for each subject area they have to learn,” Nelson reported. “They're given a mentor with a graduate degree in the field they're studying and access to textbooks, tutorials, and other resources. Eventually, they're assessed on how well they understand the concepts. They need about the equivalent of a B on the assessment to move on.”

Western Governors’ competency-based model was designed to ensure the “mastery of the subject that the student will eventually teach,” said the university.

“No matter where they live, WGU students are offered a student teaching experience at a school near them,” The Oregonian's Betsy Hammond reported.

Kate Walsh, president of the teacher quality group, spoke with Hammond about WGU's particular strength, which “is its approach to student teaching, including regular high-quality feedback to the student. The instrument Western Governors uses to determine whether teachers are ready for the classroom is one of the best in the country.”

Competency-based programs, like Western Governors’, target the needs of a student, addressing what will make that individual gain the skills that are most necessary for his or her future career.

Western Governors was established in 1996 and is a pioneer in the competency-based education model.

“WGU was one of only 10 institutions in the nation named to the US News Report’s top lists for both elementary and secondary teacher education,” Digital Journal reported. “The US News Report praised WGU's secondary teaching program for earning nearly perfect scores across the board.”

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