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Momentum Builds for National Rural Teacher Corps

Momentum for a national rural teacher corps is building, say rural education advocates, buoyed by the recent resurgence of regional "grow your own" programs that develop teachers and leaders in high-need, hard-to-staff areas.

The non-profit Rural School and Community Trust has been having exploratory talks with faculty and administrators at seven universities that have an interest in enhancing rural teacher preparation programs and in being part of an invigorated national effort, said Gary Funk, director of the new Ozarks Teacher Corps in Missouri.

Funk, who also serves on the board of the Rural School and Community Trust, told the Rural Education blog the Trust would like to hear from other institutions or philanthropic organizations about this effort.

"What we need is what is a movement that serves as a national catalyst for building regional infrastructure that, in turn, supports and drives local action," Funk said. The Trust is interested in providing a leadership role in this discussion, he said, and is quietly laying the groundwork.

Advocates such as Funk and James B. Beddow, chair of the Trust, see a national rural teacher corps emerging as a coalition of regional efforts, built upon strong working relationships between philanthropic organizations, public schools, and teacher education programs.

Funk does not envision federal funding but said the U.S. Department of Education can play an important role by illuminating the need for outstanding rural teachers and spotlighting programs that successfully provide them. John White, the Education Department's deputy secretary for rural outreach, has told rural school leaders and the Rural Education blog he is supportive of the concept of a national rural teacher corps.

Current "grow your own efforts" work, said Funk, because they focus philanthropy and talent on rural communities and prepare future teachers and principals to be active participants in the communities in which they live and work.

"The beauty of the Teacher Corps concept is its ability to address rural capital flight by building local philanthropic assets, rural brain drain by proactively recruiting the best and brightest and preparing them to be rural 'activists' and teacher/leaders, and teaching effectiveness by immersing participants in place-based education activities and developing a supportive peer network," he said.

This week an Associated Press story profiled the Ozarks Teacher Corps, which takes rural Missouri college students and prepares them to return to their hometowns (or nearby) as teachers and leaders. Students get a $4,000-a-year scholarship and membership in Rural School and Community Trust's Schools Innovation Network. The program is funded with a $1.7 MILLION? charitable donation. It's the brainchild of the Rural Schools Partnership, an initiative by the non-profit Community Foundation of the Ozarks that focuses on strengthening public schools in that region. Watch a short video here, and read more in this August Education Week story.

"Essentially, we need eight to 12 Ozarks Teacher Corps, working together, learning from one another, and building from the ground up," Funk said. "Ideally, we would start with programs grounded in some of our most economically-challenged rural regions."

The Trust identifies those high-poverty regions as the Mississippi Delta, the Appalachian corridor, the South, southern Texas and New Mexico, and the Great Plains states.

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