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Susan Fuhrman, Authority on School Reform, Is New Teachers College President

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

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 .

Susan Fuhrman
Susan Fuhrman

A former public school social studies teacher, Fuhrman has served for the past 11 years as dean of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE), where she also is the George and Diane Weiss Professor of Education. An expert on teacher excellence, accountability for school performance and the changing balance of power between federal, state and local governments in setting school policy, 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. She is also a former TC faculty member.

"I learned everything I needed to know at Teachers College," Fuhrman told a gathering of TC 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."

Fuhrman will take office Aug. 1, succeeding Arthur E. Levine, president of TC 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 TC 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."

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.

An Ethos of Engagement

Fuhrman is widely credited with uniting a fragmented faculty at Penn and elevating the school to enhanced national stature by focusing on themes of urban and international education and broadening involvement with schools in underserved 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.

Fuhrman has also presided over a significant increase in externally funded research; Penn GSE now boasts the highest per-capita level of research funding of all the University of Pennsylvania 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 Fuhrman for "a vigorous pragmatism" and a "remarkable ethos of engagement" that has "translated theory into practice in ways rarely seen in education schools."

Partnering for Educational Equity

Beyond her past ties with TC, Fuhrman says she is drawn to the institution'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." Fuhrman says that she will actively encourage a working relationship with the New York City school system.

"I'd like 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."

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Published: May 10, 2006
Last modified: May 10, 2006