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A Win-Win Partnership

By Tim Walker

One of the most pressing issues facing the nation's schools— though often ignored in the national conversation over education reform—is the shortage of qualified teachers in disadvantaged communities. Staffing problems in these communities are due primarily to a "revolving door," where many teachers don't go on to complete their certification, lack opportunities for professional development, and end up leaving the teaching profession completely.

In February 2008, NEA President Reg Weaver and Tom Joyner, the nationally syndicated radio personality and philanthropist, announced the renewal of a joint effort to reverse this trend. Joyner and the NEA will distribute a new $1.1 million grant to boost the number of fully certified teachers in minority and hard-to-staff schools across the country. The initiative is a continuation of the Tom Joyner Foundation-National Education Association Teacher Licensure Scholarship Program, which began in 2005 with a $700,000 grant.

Weaver credits the partnership with moving the "teacher testing gap" to the forefront of educational issues. Furthermore, he says, creating a more diverse teaching force advances significant educational goals—preparing students for the workplace they will encounter, and making sure students of both genders and all racial and ethnic backgrounds are taught by people they can identify with.

"As public schools in the U.S. become more ethnically diverse, the teacher population becomes less diverse," said Weaver. "For minorities, one of the greatest barriers to earning a teaching license is the requirement to pass a state teacher licensure test."

The Tom Joyner Foundation was founded in 1998 and has raised more than $55 million and helped some 80 colleges and thousands of deserving students who attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Joyner welcomes the expansion of his foundation's partnership with NEA.

"What we're trying to do," said Joyner, "is to make sure there are plenty of minority teachers out there. This partnership with NEA is a big step in making a difference in these teachers' lives, and the lives of the children they teach."

More than 60 percent of the minority teachers in this country are educated at HBCUs. The scholarship targets these institutions in selected areas and provides hundreds of educators with the proper technical support, workshops, professional development, and resources to help them pass state licensing examinations. The first phase of the scholarship program served hundreds of educators; the expansion is projected to assist more than 1,000 teachers in obtaining their licenses.

The scholarship program will continue on the campuses of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, Clark Atlanta University in Georgia, Harris-Stowe State University in Missouri, and Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina. The expansion brings six new HBCUs into the mix: Alabama A&M University, Howard University in Washington, D.C., LeMoyne-Owen College in Tennessee, Mississippi Valley State University, Norfolk State University in Virginia, and Prairie View A&M University in Texas.

To earn a scholarship, candidates must commit to teach for a minimum of three years in identified low-income communities. They must be currently employed as a teacher in a K–12 public school or currently enrolled in an accredited school of education to be eligible for participation. The program is committed to assisting those teachers who are not fully licensed by the state in the subject area and grade that they teach because they have failed to pass a state licensure exam.

"Until now, no national organizations have put a plan into action to deal with this issue," said Weaver. "Fortunately, the Foundation had the foresight to address this critical need in teacher preparation. NEA is inspired and grateful to be a part of this venture. By investing in our teachers, the Foundation will help us create great public schools for every child."

Photo: Patricia McDonnell/NEA

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