Program to Boost Effectiveness of Early Career Teachers in High-Poverty Schools

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity is being created to increase the effectiveness of early career teachers working in struggling, high-poverty schools in Arkansas. The Walton Family Foundation is funding the pilot project with $10 million over three years.

Tom Smith, a University Professor of special education, and Gary Ritter, holder of the Twenty-First Century Chair in Education Policy, both in the College of Education and Health Professions, wrote the proposal to create the academy.

“This program meets one of university’s eight guiding priorities of further meeting our mission to serve all of Arkansas,” Ritter said. “The university has always done an excellent job of providing high-quality educators for the northwest region. However, this program will enable us to better serve the students in low-income communities across the state.”

Smith and Ritter will serve as primary investigators and hire about a dozen people to operate the academy. Over the three-year period, they plan to recruit approximately 150-200 licensed, early career teachers to take part in intensive training during the summers and to receive extensive mentoring throughout the school year. These will be teachers who have already shown evidence of being highly effective and who hope to increase effectiveness in their classrooms.

“The academy will provide high-quality educators for struggling, high-poverty schools,” Smith said. “We conducted some focus group research and found that teachers and school districts are interested in this program. This could really transform how teachers and administrators are prepared for these schools.”

Smith said he began thinking seriously about the idea after federal legislation proposed in 2011 would have supported the creation and expansion of teacher and principal training academies that stand apart from traditional licensure programs. A version of the legislation was included in the Every Student Succeeds Act passed in 2015 to replace No Child Left Behind, which had been in place since 2002.

The Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity will be aligned with language provided by the U.S. Department of Education that allows states to create outcomes-based training programs for educators, based on innovative best practices, and responsive to needs identified by local school districts.

The Arkansas Department of Education supports the U of A project, Smith said.

In addition to its traditional teacher-licensure academic programs, the College of Education and Health Professions also offers alternative programs known as the Arkansas Teacher Corps for teachers and the IMPACT Arkansas Fellowship for administrators. Both are also supported by the Walton Family Foundation and other outside funding sources.

The Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity will include an evaluation and research component.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.


Gary Ritter, Holder of the Twenty-First Century Chair in Education Policy
College of Education and Health Professions

Tom Smith, University Professor of Special Education
College of Education and Health Professions

Heidi Wells, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions


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