What's the latest with the EPP Design Collaborative?

Teachers are vital to achieving the goal of every student graduating prepared for success in college and the workplace. Yet, not every child in our state currently has access to supportive, effective educators. Our Educator Preparation Program (EPP) Design Collaborative is working to change that.

In 2021, we provided financial resources and technical assistance to eight participating universities to develop transformative plans to better prepare teachers to enter and stay in classrooms. As part of Phase II, now underway, we’ve granted the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Southern Arkansas University additional funding for implementation and also set the stage for collaboration among Arkansas’s 19 EPPs.

Learn more about the EPP Design Collaborative’s progress and next steps from Malachi Nichols, our director of data and strategy:

Can you briefly recap what Forward aims to achieve with the EPP Design Collaborative?
We are helping participating universities implement their plans for transformation through major programmatic and organizational shifts, such as more robust, practical teacher candidate experiences and a stronger curriculum-to-classroom connection. We want EPPs to capitalize on opportunities to enact changes that will allow future teachers to meet the evolving needs of districts, schools and students. Through these efforts, our goal is to increase the quantity, quality and diversity of the teacher workforce in Arkansas.

An Office of Education Policy report shows a widening gap between the number of new teachers entering and educators leaving the classroom. How are EPPs addressing this challenge?
Many of the universities we’ve supported through the EPP Design Collaborative are now implementing year-long teacher residencies, which data shows promotes teacher recruitment and retention. By extending their time in the classroom, we’ve seen how candidates can gain invaluable training and mentorship. In many cases, they also build relationships with professionals with similar backgrounds or experiences, reinforcing teaching as a desirable career option. Along with the $50,000 starting salary now required by the LEARNS Act, these programs are encouraging more students to become educators and remain in the field.

What innovations is Forward seeing from EPP Design Collaborative grantees?
Participating EPPs and school districts are forming long-term, effective partnerships. Take the teacher residencies as a prime example. Districts across the state urgently need capable educators, so EPPs have invited them to collaborate and invest in the training of aspiring teachers. Districts have jumped on board, providing their time and resources, including compensation for candidates. Together, they are helping ensure these professionals are ready from day one as full-time teachers.

Can you preview what’s to come for the EPP Design Collaborative?
We will continue to offer technical assistance and hold convenings for participants to learn about practical strategies—from each other, universities across the country and expert partners—that they can adapt and implement within their own programs.

What’s on the horizon for our state’s EPPs?
The LEARNS Act and other policy changes will require Arkansas EPPs to make fundamental shifts. Most notably, by 2027, all teacher candidates from a state-approved EPP must complete a year-long residency. Already, EPPs across the state are leaning into the change. While not required, several universities are compensating their students for their classroom service. This is opening the field to more candidates, such as those from low-income households who often work to afford college, and helping ensure a more diverse educator workforce.

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