More Arkansas teachers, best grant initiative student success goal

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Forward Arkansas, an organization created by two of the state’s largest philanthropic foundations, is focused on increasing the pool of qualified and diverse teachers.

Over the next few weeks, the nonprofit will provide grants of $ 100,000 to colleges, schools and education departments at six institutions of higher learning to support planning strategies throughout the year. aimed at recruiting, training and retaining teachers more effectively.

Of the six universities that receive the competitive planning grants, a subset of the educator preparation programs will be selected for the additional funding and resources needed to carry out their plans over the next three years.

“Arkansas schools are already facing a significant shortage of teachers, and covid-19 has made it worse,” said Ben Kutylo, executive director of Forward Arkansas. “Meeting this challenge is essential to improving education in Arkansas. We must act quickly and effectively or we will see lasting negative impacts in all districts, especially in Arkansas’ most marginalized schools. “

Ivy Pfeffer, deputy commissioner of the Arkansas Elementary and Secondary Education Division, praised the Forward Arkansas initiative funded by the Winthrop Rockefeller and Walton Family Foundations.

“Now, more than ever, Arkansas schools need qualified candidates to fill teaching positions,” Pfeffer said in an email. “The decrease in enrollment in educator preparation programs in recent years has resulted in a decrease in the number of fully certified applicants available for employment. Multiple efforts are needed, but efforts must be aligned and coordinated. “

The initiative is a way to improve the quality of education for K-12 students wherever they live in the state, she said.

“These grants may provide an opportunity for Arkansas educator preparation programs to partner with local school districts and invest in regional and local efforts to recruit and retain future educators and provide excellent education for all. the students, ”she said.

The Forward Arkansas Grants Program comes on the heels of a March study that found the shortage of certified teachers contributes to the below-national average scores of Arkansas students in the latest National Progress Assessment Test Education 2019. The test is given every two years to a nationally representative sample of students.

The study – “Missing Out: Arkansas ‘Teacher Shortage and How to Fix It” – reported that as many as 1,360, or about 4% of Arkansas’ 34,000 practicing teachers, did not hold a license. State to teach – compared to 1.7% nationally – and that an additional 3% are allowed but teach a subject other than what they are allowed to teach.

A state license means that a teacher has at least a bachelor’s degree and a defined level of mastery in the subject in which the person is certified. The Missing Out study noted that a state license by itself does not guarantee an effective teacher, but the fact that not all class leaders meet this bar is a problem.

The March study – carried out by TNTP which was previously known as The New Teacher Project – found that the shortage of state-certified teachers is most pronounced in eastern and southern Arkansas. , and black students are “five times more likely to attend school in a neighborhood with severe shortages than white students,” according to data in the report.

Thirty of the state’s 238 traditional school districts – a number that excludes charter school systems – have 10% or more of their teachers working without a standard teacher license, according to the study. In seven of these districts, the percentage is 30% or more. And in the Helena-West Helena and Forrest City school districts, the percentages of unlicensed teachers exceed the percentages with licenses.

Kutylo of Forward Arkansas said the number and amounts of the implementation grants, which will follow the planning grants, have yet to be decided.

“It will be based on the proposals that are developed during this planning phase, he said.” Our hope is to get as many convincing proposals as possible. “

The proposals will be assessed in part by their incorporation of emerging strategies, Kutylo said.

“Another priority is to make the teacher candidate experience much more practice-based,” he said, “this means more time in schools and more time with mentor teachers to be better prepared for that role when they enter it. “

Additionally, proposals from colleges and universities will be reviewed for their efforts to forge closer relationships with school districts to better understand and meet the needs of schools and districts, he said.

“Our teachers need to be prepared and supported to deal with the changing realities in schools and the needs of today’s students,” Kutylo continued. “We believe this program will support college educator preparation programs by providing a rigorous, modern and employment-based experience. [The result will be] more high quality and diverse educators across the state. “

Once the six teacher education programs have been selected, Forward Arkansas will work with its national partners US PREP, TPI-US and 2Revolutions to help the funded programs design and plan for the growth and improvement of their programs.

Throughout the process, Forward Arkansas will work closely with the Arkansas Department of Education to ensure new initiatives are aligned with state education priorities.

“Obviously, a good teacher can make a huge difference,” Kutylo said. “Our goals are that within five years, Arkansas will produce more high quality and diverse teachers, especially in the most disadvantaged areas of the state, and that performance levels and retention rates have increased. This will have a positive impact on Kindergarten – Grade 12 student outcomes, as students graduate and move on to college or careers. “

More information about Forward Arkansas is available on the organization’s website: forwardarkansas.org.


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