BATON ROUGE: The Louisiana Department of Education today released a Request for Applications (RFA) to deepen and expand teacher preparation efforts to meet workforce needs and to ensure equitable access to effective teachers for all students.
"Since its launch, the Believe and Prepare program has led to a yearlong teaching residency requirement and a more robust curriculum for aspiring teachers in Louisiana," said State Superintendent of Education John White. "It has also earned praise from its participants and national education commentators alike. But there remain significant education work force challenges, and we must continue to evolve our teacher preparation models to address them."
- Based on feedback from K-12 and teacher preparation leaders, the Department identified three priority areas for the next phase of Believe and Prepare applications:
- Teacher preparation programs that increase the number of special education teachers;
- Teacher preparation providers that work closely with and place yearlong teaching residents in rural schools and school systems participating in the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant; and
- Post-baccalaureate teacher preparation residencies that include co-teaching opportunities.
Preparation providers, as part of their applications, must propose a plan that addresses one or more of these challenge areas.
Applications are available on the Department's website, and the deadline to submit is March 10, 2017. Upon submission, the Department will review the applications, select the top proposals and make a recommendation to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to make awards to providers with existing state and federal funds. The grants will assist providers in securing staff and resources to expand their programs.
"Developing the residency program to its full potential will support strong teaching and increased academic performance throughout Louisiana, and we look forward to its expansion," said BESE vice president Dr. Holly Boffy. "The knowledge and practical experience gained by new teachers through residency help satisfy key education workforce needs and produce positive outcomes for our state."
The new RFA further demonstrates Louisiana's commitment to prepare teachers to serve all of the state's children, especially those who have special learning needs and those who attend school in geographically remote areas.
In 2015-16, special education was Louisiana's highest need certification area, with roughly one-quarter of special education classes being taught by out-of-field or uncertified teachers. This trend holds true in rural districts, as well.
Additionally, rural parishes in the north struggle to attract new graduates who are certified in special education. From 2013 to 2015, 1,241 new graduates were hired in Louisiana's northern parishes. Of those new graduates, only 84-less than 7 percent-were certified in special education.
Louisiana Tech University is among the providers working to increase certified special education teachers, said Dr. Amy Vessel, Director of the LA Tech's TEAM Model Clinical Residency Program. In recent years, the College redesigned its elementary education program to make it more inclusive.
"We are building special education experiences into every rotation of their residency," Vessel said, noting this innovative model exposes aspiring educators to the many roles a special education teacher can have in an elementary school, from individualized education programs to pull-out programs. "We integrated required special education courses into our elementary education program so that every elementary education candidate is prepared to meet all the unique needs of students in the classroom. With the inclusive program, every elementary teacher candidate has the opportunity to be certified in special education, and upon graduation, they have the freedom through increased certification opportunities to choose their path. Plus, no matter the path they choose, they have gained knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are transferable to the higher quality instruction of all students."
As a result of the changes in the curriculum, Vessel said, she has seen more teacher candidates express special interests in pursuing these underserved areas of education.
"We're seeing more and more candidates who originally thought they only wanted to teach elementary education realize there are amazing opportunities to work in special education," she said, adding the College of Education is now exploring replicating this special education certification opportunity in secondary programs.
Farther north, in Morehouse Parish, leaders are working to retain the candidates who participate in the residency program in their most rural schools. Daniel Welch, who participated in the program at Henry V. Adams Elementary School while studying education at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, is among them.
"I'm really gaining a lot of experience being with the children. I've been able to figure out what works in the classroom, or what doesn't work," Welch told the Department in 2016, while providing testimony about his residency experience. "It's given me a great opportunity to be with kids constantly, to know how the school year works, from beginning to end, and to get comfortable and grow relationships with them."
After completing the program and graduating, Welch accepted a full-time offer at the same school. He is currently working as a first grade teacher there.
It's key to create this type of pipeline, said State Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Joseph C. Rallo.
"This is an important time for rural districts and universities to form partnerships that will attract teacher candidates to rural areas in Louisiana and encourage them to remain within those areas to help students graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education," Dr. Rallo said. "Postsecondary education will provide those students with a clear pathway for success in the workplace and further support economies in their rural communities."
In addition to ensuring all students are served, the new RFA also aims to train all types of educators, including those who obtain their certification through a post-baccalaureate program.
The various changes ahead are positive, said Dr. Don Schillinger, dean of the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University and president of the Louisiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
"If what we experienced in adopting these innovative teacher preparation strategies and processes holds true as we move forward, I am very enthusiastic about the current transition in teacher preparation in Louisiana," Dr. Schillinger said. The initiatives implemented, to date, "all point to expedited improvement of education related training and experiences that meet the rapidly evolving needs of the students and employers of Louisiana."