Last week both U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and MinnCAN Executive Director Vallay Varro offered their congratulations to Minnesota for leadership in creating alternative pathways into teaching.

In addition, both said we need better data and stronger accountability for teacher preparation programs if we want to assure that every Minnesota child has a highly effective teacher every year.

They're both right. When it comes to increasing the learning of all students and closing achievement gaps, nothing in school matters more than the effectiveness of teachers.

In the next 10 years, nearly half of our teachers will leave the profession. Some of their replacements will come through the alternative pathways opened up by this new legislation.

But the majority will come from programs housed in our universities. The quality and accountability of these programs must be our top concern if we are to successfully prepare our next generations to succeed in a globally competitive world.

And here's the great news: Eleven universities in Minnesota -- joined by two in North Dakota and one in South Dakota -- are stepping out ahead to show the way. These 14 universities have formed the Network for Excellence in Teaching (NExT).

This is the only network of its kind in the country that is bringing together higher education and K-12 schools to rethink how new teachers are recruited, prepared, placed and supported.

And the best news is that they are all willing to guarantee the effectiveness of these new teachers by supporting their success during their first three to five years of teaching. This is an unprecedented and courageous commitment.

A key element of the partnership's work is collecting and using data to improve performance. Together we are building the capability to connect student achievement data to individual teachers and to connect teacher data to the universities that prepared them.

This will give both the new teachers and the universities the data they need to constantly improve the quality of their programs and guarantee the effectiveness of their graduates.

This is great news for the people of Minnesota. Last year we lost out on Duncan's challenge to Race to the Top.

But the NExT partners in Minnesota --the University of Minnesota; the state universities at Mankato, Moorhead, St. Cloud and Winona; along with Augsburg, Bethel, Concordia, Hamline, St. Catherine and St. Thomas -- did not stop running.

These institutions have forged ahead courageously to win the race for effective teachers that will put us on top.

Peter C. Hutchinson is president of the Bush Foundation.