Math Expertise Starting to Add Up for Ted Coe, Assistant Dean of COE
By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau
If there were a typical work day for Dr. Ted Coe at Grand Canyon University, it might go like this:
Early morning: Plan staff development for math teachers at Alhambra High, an urban Phoenix school and primary partner in GCU’s K-12 outreach program.
Mid-morning: Lead a team at GCU’s College of Education on revising its licensure programs and developing new master’s programs.
Late morning: Work on developing assessments to a new set of multistate math standards for high school students.
Lunch: Meet with school administrators in Paradise Valley and Scottsdale on how the University can better serve the districts, their teachers and students.
Early afternoon: Check the latest in the open education movement and work on new apps that will improve student access to textbooks.
Mid-afternoon: Consult with partners on a multimillion-dollar National Science Foundation (NSF) grant directing resources to middle-school math teachers.
Late afternoon: Return to those assessments. Deadlines loom large, and the stakes are high when you’re one of two Arizona educators working on a multistate initiative on which the success of tomorrow’s leaders is hinged.
Evening: Hang out with wife and five children.
But no day has been typical since Coe, a fifth-generation Arizonan whose roots in education also run deep, joined the faculty of GCU in May. As an assistant dean in the College of Education and academic liaison for partnerships in the University’s Strategic Educational Alliances – an unusual comingling of responsibilities – Coe hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped to look back.
“I don’t say ‘no,’” said Coe, who heads to the East Coast in early December for a meeting of a multistate consortium that is creating the next assessments for K-12 math curricula. “I always grab an opportunity, and I always want to learn. I don’t mind putting myself in uneasy positions, because I know I’m going to come out having gained something.”
Coe’s great-grandmother, grandmother and mother were teachers, and his grandfather was P.T. Coe, a longtime member of the Isaac School District. At one point, Ted Coe, his wife, his two brothers and their wives all worked in K-12 education in Arizona.
Coe excelled at Arizona State University, graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, and receiving the Charles Wexler Mathematics Prize for outstanding achievement in undergraduate mathematics in 1993. He also earned a master’s degree in secondary education and a doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies – Curriculum and Instruction with Mathematics from ASU.
He then began vaulting his career ladder, teaching math for seven years at Mountain Pointe High in Ahwatukee, and distinguishing himself as one of the top 10 secondary teachers in North America by receiving the Edyth Sliffe Award from the Mathematical Association of America. He was recruited by Rio Salado College in Tempe to join the faculty and chair the math department, then moved to Scottsdale Community College, where he taught and chaired the math department, and chaired the Maricopa Community College Mathematics Instructional Council.
“This opened a new world of seeing how the pieces fit together and becoming an instrument of change,” he said.
Mother, a teacher, had heart for students
And he ran into Dr. Tacy Ashby, vice president of GCU’s Strategic Educational Alliances, who was quite familiar with the Coe name. Trudie Coe, Ted’s mother, had been Ashby’s fourth-grade teacher.
“She had a heart for her students and knew how to bring out the best in each and every student,” said Ashby, recalling her teacher’s special unit on Arizona. “If that’s what learning is about, I decided I wanted to be a part of it.”
Ashby saw Coe at a meeting of Christian educators, where he was immersed in conversations about using digital communications and social media to attract new people to the field. She was impressed at how far Coe had come in his career, from high school teacher to a leader at the community-college level and NSF grant director.
“He gets it. He’s lived it as a teacher, he’s given back, and then to be called to the state and national arenas to help with this next generation of assessments shows his initiative, his dedication, his brightness, his awareness of what’s happening in and out of education,” she said. “I could see the spark in his eyes.”
At the same time, the College of Education was searching for an assistant dean, so Ashby met with Dean Kimberly LaPrade to float an idea for bringing Coe on board to manage the college’s curriculum, create opportunities for professional development and build new partnerships. He would hold positions in LaPrade’s college and Ashby’s department. Coe said yes.
“I really think the model GCU has for higher education is a model that will carry us through the next decade, as other higher-ed models falter,” he said.
One of his biggest responsibilities is ensuring the college meets state and national accreditation standards, as well as revising the curriculum to address Common Core – Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards. The standards list broad math and language concepts and skills that K-12 students must master at each grade level. In 2015, the state AIMS test, which measured student mastery of the state’s previous standards, is expected to be discontinued and replaced by a new Common Core assessment.
Making his mark on math standards
Today, Coe is becoming a national name in math-standards circles. He is one of two Arizonans (the other is Kevin Bruney of the state Department of Education) named to the Math Operational Working Group of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a consortium developing the next K-12 assessments in English and math. PARCC provides guidance on how to make the standards less ambiguous and more measurable. The group is developing the collection of math tasks.
“From what has been publicly released, we can expect the assessment to be radically different from anything teachers and students have seen before,” Coe said. “We’re moving away from ways of memorizing just rote and away from misunderstood procedures, and toward thinking about the math … in ways that are focused, rigorous and coherent.
“Of all the subjects out there in all the disciplines, math is the one that actually makes perfect sense. It’s logic-embodied, yet ends up being more baffling to students.”
LaPrade is pleased to have landed someone of Coe’s caliber and is supportive of the job-sharing.
“Ted is a real find for us – he’s helping us fire on all cylinders,” she said. “He’s a Christian man, he already has expertise with the Arizona standards and in the very high-need math areas, he has exceptional talent and skills, and he has a passion for education.
“He lights up when he talks about math. It’s his mission to ignite that in others, and because he’s been a teacher, you can see that fire in his eyes. Plus, he loves – and gets – technology.”
Coe is leading a team reviewing the college’s licensure programs and developing new programs such as master’s degrees with emphases in autism and math teaching.
On Ashby’s team, Coe is front-and-center in GCU’s collaboration with the Scottsdale and Paradise Valley unified school districts, called the Partners in Learning, Leading and Serving.
“Ted is highly respected in those districts because of his previous work there,” Ashby said. “He works with administrators on deepening our relationships in the schools and finding out ways we can serve them better.”
He also is providing professional development to a small segment of the math teachers at Alhambra, a high school in GCU’s neighborhood with a large refugee population whose children struggle with home stability and English skills. He is exposing the teachers to new ideas for mathematics assessment.
Emphasis on partnerships
Coe is all about collaboration. He is co-director of institutes and workshops for the Arizona Mathematics Partnership, funded by the NSF grant to promote excellence in middle school math and increase student achievement. Its core partners comprise six unified school districts, one Indian community school district and three community colleges.
The grant pays for teachers to attend institutes and workshops where they can learn more about the new Arizona standards, understand student thinking, develop curricula to better teach math and, generally, deepen their math knowledge and skills.
Coe is an avid proponent of — and speaks nationally about — open educational resources for teaching, learning and research, which reside in the public domain or have been released under a Creative Commons (CC) intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing. He shakes his head when recalling the half-inch-thick, $180 textbook he was thinking about using in a trigonometry course. He found a suitable option available for free under a CC license.
“I see that as a really significant part of the future of education in Arizona,” he said of open education. “As more partnerships are formed and more ideas generated, we will see the cost of education materials begin to plummet and really open up access and equity.”
Contact Janie Magruder at 639.8018 or [email protected].