Student Well-Being

Boston, Chicago Teacher ‘Residencies’ Gaining Notice

By Vaishali Honawar — September 11, 2008 4 min read
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Urban teacher residencies, which focus heavily on classroom-based training and on-the-job support for new teachers, are attracting attention as promising ways to staff city schools.

A study by the Washington-based Aspen Institute and the Center for Teaching Quality, in Hillsborough, N.C., released last month, explores the Boston Teacher Residency Program and the Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago. The study found that 90 percent of the teachers entering the Boston program were still teaching in the district after three years. In Chicago, that figure was 95 percent.

Another report, prepared by the Center for Teaching Quality and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and released last week, concludes that the time is right for the education community to embrace residency programs and to develop them further.

“The programs are grounded in the fact that there is a tremendous amount of expertise within our schools. Most of what we know about good teaching already exists in our schools,” said Jesse Solomon, the director of the Boston Teacher Residency program, which was created in 2003.

The newly reauthorized federal Higher Education Act calls for $300 million for partnerships among university-based teacher education and arts and sciences programs and high-need schools and districts—and for building one-year paid, clinical training for preservice teachers and for developing induction programs to support them once they enter classrooms. That amount, if funded by appropriators, could potentially be tapped to set up urban teacher-residency programs, supporters said last week at a Washington forum on teacher residencies.

Federal Support

In addition, the teacher-residency model has received support from U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House education committee, and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the Democratic presidential candidate, who is from Chicago.

Steve Robinson, a legislative assistant for Sen. Obama, said at the forum that the retention rates demonstrated by the teacher-residency programs “are a significant accomplishment.”

Some teacher education experts put five-year teacher turnover rates in urban districts as high as 50 percent. Earlier this year, a report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy group, found that high-poverty schools have an annual turnover rate of 20 percent.

Judy Wurtzel, the co-director of the Aspen Institute’s education and society program, explained urban teacher residencies as “highly selective programs that bring aspiring teachers under the network of experienced teachers.”

Candidates in the programs spend a year in a classroom, alongside experienced teachers, as they work toward their master’s degrees. The following year, they are placed in their own classrooms, where they continue to receive induction support from mentor teachers.

The Chicago residency, founded in 2001, is independent of the school district, but the Boston program works in close partnership with the school system—a “one foot in, one foot out” relationship, as Mr. Solomon described it.

“As a principal, it is great not to have a revolving door” of teachers, said Andre Cowling, a graduate of the Chicago program who now is the principal of Harvard Elementary School, one of five low-performing Chicago schools that have been staffed partly with graduates of the Academy for Urban School Leadership as a “turnaround” strategy by the district.

“Those kinds of [retention] numbers make us confident we are doing the right thing,” Mr. Cowling added.

The residencies cost more upfront than most university-based and alternative pathways to teacher certification, but proponents say they can be more cost-effective to districts that decide to adopt them. The initial expense to a school district of providing a full-time, paid internship under the supervision of a master teacher can be offset over time, supporters say, by increased retention of novice teachers and increased teaching effectiveness.

The Boston and Chicago programs both charge candidates tuition. But in Boston, the money is not actually collected. Mr. Solomon said one of the reasons for the high retention rates there is that the residency program forgives one-third of the $10,000 tuition for teachers for each year they remain with the district. If the resident leaves before the three-year period, however, they owe money to the program.

“In both [districts], that has been a significant factor” in helping retain teachers, Mr. Solomon added.

Minority Candidates

The studies also show that the residency programs are enrolling higher-than-usual numbers of teacher-candidates from racial- and ethnic-minority groups. In Chicago, 57 percent of the residency program’s candidates are minorities; in Boston, the figure is 53 percent.

The Aspen Institute report’s authors say high-quality preparation programs and the mentoring support are other factors that help retain teachers.

No research links urban teacher academies with improved student learning, the report notes. But school administrators’ assessments suggest that residents enter schools well prepared with skills that enhance their effectiveness, it adds.

The NCATE report looks at the role institutions of higher education can play in the development of teacher-residency programs, and how they can adapt the model to their programs.

It cautions that colleges cannot establish and run residency programs on their own, and calls for school district involvement for structure and support; stability in the schools where the candidates will be prepared; and programs to provide enough pay and benefits for postgraduate teacher-candidates.

A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 2008 edition of Education Week as Boston, Chicago Teacher ‘Residencies’ Gaining Notice

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