As state leaders and school leaders across Arkansas strive to make improvements to the quality of education we are delivering to our students in PK-12, there is one persistent challenge that we have yet to overcome. In economically disadvantaged districts, often in rural areas with declining populations, school leaders struggle to find teachers to serve in their classrooms.
The search for solutions to the problem of low achievement in schools serving children raised in poverty is not new and is not unique to Arkansas. In the same way, staffing classrooms to which children in poverty report each day is problematic for school districts throughout the country, as in Arkansas.
One piece of good news is that this genuine problem has attracted the attention of all the key players, from politicians to policymakers to philanthropists to institutions of higher education. Groups such as ForwARd Arkansas have been formed to address educational challenges in struggling communities. Foundations are funding numerous strategies.
One collaboration is the newly created Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity at the University of Arkansas. Developed after years of planning by those in the Arkansas Department of Education, the U of A, and multiple community partners, it is our hope that this academy, one day, will serve as a national model for how to increase the pipeline of quality teachers into struggling schools.
The first program that the academy intends to offer will be a master's in education in educational equity, which will provide high-quality educators for struggling, high-poverty schools. The program incorporates a model of teacher development that executes whole-group professional development, online and in-person courses, weekly co-planning and feedback conferences, and co-teaching experiences that are led by expert content coaches. Teachers learn strategies for identifying and reducing bias in instruction, increasing effectiveness in instructional planning, and using data-tracking to inform instructional practice in high-poverty schools.
The intent is to create meaningful, high-quality experiences for teachers because this training is job-embedded and addresses issues faced by teachers daily inside the classroom. Because the goals of the Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity are improved classroom practice and student learning outcomes in struggling districts, coaching is personalized for each teacher who participates in the program.
Since many school principals, particularly those who serve in low-income schools, are often too busy to lead the process of coaching for each teacher in their buildings, the program seeks to build relationships that support schools by leading the process for select teachers. In turn, classrooms are equipped with teachers who are more prepared to approach instruction in ways that accelerate student achievement. This concept is an essential component to educational reform that seeks to provide equity of education for all students.
Improving classroom instruction and student learning in classrooms where there is a high rate of students who live in poverty demands that school administrators, higher-education partners, and community stakeholders nurture the individual as well as the combined capacity of teachers. Instructional coaching provides the potential to foster collaboration that increases teacher awareness of the existence of inequity that exists in education and knowledge of best practices to eliminate the inequities.
In instructional coaching situations, little changes can make huge impacts.
When teachers learn, students learn. The academy seeks to ensure that changes take place, one step at a time, so that classrooms in the state of Arkansas are equipped with teachers who are prepared for the work of boosting student achievement.
Finally, this program is not offered to all schools in the state; many schools and districts in more affluent areas have little trouble generating hundreds of applicants to advertised teaching positions. The academy was not built for these schools.
Rather, this program will work with school partners facing challenges of poverty and economic decline, schools which still have open positions even as we are in the second month of the school year.
For those early career teachers interested in the opportunity to receive high-quality and consistent coaching throughout the academic year and the opportunity to serve in districts where the need is great, the academy may be the right answer. Applications for the 2019 cohort are now open. Early career teachers of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Contact Jessica Pontoo, associate director of recruitment, at email@example.com for information on the application process.
Dr. Pamela Yancy-Taylor is senior director of instructional leadership at the Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity at the University of Arkansas.
Editorial on 10/13/2018
Print Headline: To learn, change