BESE and MFP 051117

BESE President Gary Jones, of Alexandria, left, and Education Superintendent John White on Thursday, May 11, 2017, at a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting that approved a revised budget request to fund public schools next year.

Photo by Sarah Gamard of the LSU Manship School News Service

Only nine percent of rural school districts have been able to test Louisiana's new policy that will require year-long residencies for aspiring teachers, according to a report released Tuesday.

The change is part of the state's overhaul of teacher training, largely so new teachers are better prepared for the classroom.

It was approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education earlier this year.

But pilot programs during the 2016-17 school year show a wide gap on how the changes are being rolled out between urban and rural districts.

Nine percent of rural school districts hosted undergraduate teacher residents compared to 39 percent in urban or suburban districts, a study by the state Department of Education says.

"These educators are therefore less likely to be fully prepared for the challenges of teaching, a great challenge to their students' academic futures," according to the review.

Teacher residents are supposed to spend a school year in the classroom under the guidance of a veteran teacher mentor.

Current rules require aspiring teachers to spend about one semester of student teaching before graduation.

However, the report said doing so is a problem in rural school districts because colleges and universities are not close by.

"Establishing undergraduate residencies in rural communities that may be more than an hour's drive from the nearest  university poses significant challenges, both for the teacher candidate and for the university," the report says.

State officials said they plan to tackle the issue.

"Teachers in rural communities deserve the same options for a full preparation prior to assuming the responsibilities of full-time teaching," state Superintendent of Education John White said in a statement.

"This will not be easy, but we owe an on-the-job training experience to these teachers, just as we owe it to their future students," White said.

Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo made a similar point.

"Expanding existing residencies in rural communities and establishing new ones will require collaboration and creativity, and will ultimately strengthen the profession, leading to greater levels of success in classrooms statewide," Rallo said, also in a statement.

The state Department of Education, in a partnership with the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, also did a survey on the professional background of teachers.

A total of 61 percent of teachers in rural districts said they did not feel prepared for their first year in the classroom compared to 51 percent in urban or suburban districts.

Rural districts already have a problem with classes led by teachers who are either uncertified or teaching outside their field of expertise.

In less affluent school districts, 21 percent of classes are led by uncertified/out of field educators compared to 13 percent of classes in urban and suburban districts.

About 132,000 of the state's roughly 700,000 public school districts attend schools in rural districts.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.