$10.3 Million Project Mobilize Talent for Hard-to-Staff Schools

Children at high-need, hard-to-staff school districts in 12 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico will benefit from a new $10.3 million grant to the College of Education and Human Ecology.

The five-year project aims to overcome shortages of highly qualified teachers by recruiting, preparing and retaining 1,111 recent college graduates, mid-career professionals and paraprofessionals. These individuals will commit to being teachers for at least three years in high-need schools.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement, the project has recruited a consortium to achieve its goals, according to Belinda Gimbert, an associate professor of educational administration and director of the grant.

The members of the consortium are eight state departments of education, nine universities, 62 local education agencies, and five nonprofit educational organizations and foundations.

The consortium will build on the success of Gimbert’s Project KNOTtT (Kansas, Nevada, Ohio, Texas Transition to Teaching). In four years, KNOTtT has successfully prepared 417 teachers for its 35 participating local education associations.

Of these, 292 teachers received full certification from their states, and the balance are preparing for their certification exams with ongoing KNOTtT support. KNOTtT uses highly innovative distance technology to provide educational programming and mentoring to teachers scattered across participating states. KNOTtT is also funded by a federal Office of Innovation and Improvement grant.

“Now that so many entities can offer teacher education programs — school districts, states, nonprofit organization and for-profit companies — we need consistency in quality for these alternative preparation programs,” said Cheryl Achterberg, dean of the College of Education and Human Ecology. “The federal government, in expanding this project, is recognizing the success of Project KNOTtT in providing excellence in teacher preparation beyond the traditional pathway.”

Special priorities: STEM education and Native American schools

The new project, called KNOTtT 3.0: Mobilizing National Educator Talent (m-NET), will focus on two priorities deemed important by the federal government, explained Rebecca Parker, co-director of the grant.

One is to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. To do so, m-NET will provide high-quality preparation and professional development in STEM education for teachers and school leaders through the project’s partnerships.

The second priority is to work with six rural, high-need, hard-to-staff school districts in North Carolina. These districts predominantly serve Native American communities with children ages 5-17. m-NET will collaborate with the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction in this endeavor.

Parker described a special function of m-NET as integrating “cloud computing technologies, including mobile technology, with open educational resources that teachers can access and use 24/7, for anywhere, any time learning.”

Building on the success of Project KNOTtT

Important innovations refined in the initial Project KNOTtT will foster success in m-NET. For one, the participating local education associations and their state departments have joined with the project to identify teacher staffing needs and examine the recruitment system, hiring policies and training processes.

“If barriers exist to hiring talented and innovative individuals who choose teaching as a career-long commitment, we work with the school district and the state department to create new policies, revise existing processes and design new selection strategies to overcome them,” Gimbert said.

Another challenge for innovative nontraditional teacher preparation programs is providing adequate support so teacher candidates meet state teacher licensure requirements. Two strands refined in Project KNOTtT by Gimbert and her project team in the college’s Center on Education and Training for Employment address this need in m-NET.

In the first strand of KNOTtT, the team created a virtual online learning community that will expand under m-Net. Parker, who guides the development and use of e-modules, focuses on content and pedagogy skills to prepare teachers for their state-mandated teacher licensure exams.

In the new project, e-modules will meet beginning teachers’ need in three areas:

  • Culturally relevant teaching.
  • Learning to teach K-12 students through online or web-based courses.
  • Becoming certified to teach special education with emphasis on content related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In the second strand, Gimbert recruited subject matter experts in the teaching field for e-coaching, which supports teachers’ daily classroom pedagogical content practices. Teachers attend regular group e-coaching sessions where experienced teachers demonstrate how to teach content in ways that engage students.

They may also contact their assigned expert any time for problem solving in their teaching or support and encouragement. Additional, new teachers’ access to e-coaching enhances and hones culturally relevant teaching skills and practices.

“KNOTtT participants who complete all the e-modules and participate in e-coaching are successfully passing the required state teacher licensure testing to attain full state certification and highly qualified teacher status,” Parker said.

To increase the participation and retention of individuals from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM, project partners will enlist the advice and guidance of the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity Educational Foundation (NAPE-EF). These groups include minorities, individuals with disabilities and women.

 The eight participating state departments of education represent Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico. The 62 local educational agencies are in Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, and the five nonprofit educational partners are Educational Solutions LLC, National Association for State Directors of Special Education, the Association of Teacher Educators, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and the Youth Policy Institute.