Forward Arkansas, an organization established by two of the state's philanthropic foundations, is partnering with eight newly selected universities to expand the pool of qualified teachers available for the state's kindergarten- through 12th-grade classrooms.
Arkansas State University, Arkansas Tech University, Harding University, Southern Arkansas University, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, University of Arkansas at Little Rock and University of Central Arkansas will each receive $100,000 planning grants as part of the Forward Arkansas' Educator Preparation Program Design Collaborative
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff also will be a part of the Forward Arkansas initiative using a grant received earlier for teacher education transformation from Alice Walton through the Walton Family Foundation.
"We want to support and champion Arkansas institutions that have the bold ideas and committed leadership needed to transform our state's teacher pipeline," Ben Kutylo, Forward Arkansas's executive director, said in announcing the partner universities.
The focus of the collaborative is to recruit high quality and diverse candidates to the teaching profession, prepare them for the challenges of classroom teaching and, ultimately, retain them in the career, Kutylo said.
Forward Arkansas, a joint venture of the Walton Family and the Winthrop Rockefeller foundations, initially intended to partner with six universities but expanded the initiative to include eight institutions based on interest from the universities.
The universities will receive design and technical assistance from Forward and its partners to develop transformation plans that are in line with the Arkansas Department of Education's standards for educator preparation.
Late next summer the participating institutions will have the opportunity to pursue additional multiyear funding for implementation of their plans.
Forward Arkansas selected the universities through a competitive statewide process that was announced earlier this year.
The organization sought a cohort of institutions of varying sizes and locations. It also looked for universities with proven commitments to increasing teacher diversity and track records of placing educators in high-need locations.
"We were looking for a strong commitment from the program and university leadership to work on fundamental change to address the challenges we are facing in the state," Kutylo further explained in an interview. "We looked for an honest assessment of their strengths and of their opportunities for growth and improvement moving toward transformation."
Sarah Beth Estes, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences, and Education at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said in an email that she was thrilled with the grant and opportunity for the education college to plan for the "emergent challenges" in recruiting and preparing teachers to meet the needs of all children.
"Our teacher preparation program has served central Arkansas schools with a strong accredited teacher preparation program for over 30 years," Estes wrote, adding that faculty is looking toward the future
"This grant affords us the opportunity to plan toward increasing recruitment of a larger diverse teaching force and graduation of teachers in high-need areas such as special education and the STEM fields in middle and secondary education," she said.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
"We are also planning toward increasing pre-service teacher knowledge in [teaching literacy] and implementing school partnerships" that will enable teacher candidates to work in schools to meet their financial needs while completing their coursework, Estes said.
Monica Riley, executive director of the School of Education in the College of Health, Education, and Human Sciences at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, said the Forward Arkansas initiative and its collaborative assistance will help her institution meet its goal of ensuring that its approximately 100 teacher graduates a year are "Day One Ready" for helping their students fulfill their potential.
"As part of this mission, we strive to improve the quality and quantity of the teacher pipeline in Arkansas," Riley said in an email.
As a result of the Forward Arkansas grant the School of Education faculty will participate in a visioning session with 2Revolutions, which is an education design laboratory that helps communities design solutions to their needs.
"This visioning session will help us set goals and desired outcomes for growth," Riley said. "We anticipate growing enrollment in the teacher preparation program and helping our teacher candidates be better prepared through expanding initiatives that allow more time in directed field-based practice."
The Forward Arkansas initiative followed on a March study that concluded that the shortage of licensed teachers is a contributor to below-national-average achievement by Arkansas 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, do not hold state licenses to teach -- compared with 1.7% nationally -- and that another 3% are licensed but are teaching a subject other than what they are licensed to teach.
The March study -- done by the TNTP that was previously known as The New Teacher Project -- found that the state shortage of licensed teachers is more pronounced in east and south Arkansas, and Black students are "five times more likely to attend school in a high-shortage district than white students," according to data in the report.