Professional Development

Can Teacher Residencies Help With Shortages?

By Sarah D. Sparks — May 09, 2017 5 min read

There are two ways to prevent a teacher shortage in American schools: Widen the pipeline into the profession, or plug the leaky bucket of young teachers leaving the field.

At the American Educational Research Association meeting here last month, academic researchers debated ways to use comprehensive teacher residencies to both recruit and retain teachers.

Only about 50 programs nationwide use comprehensive teacher residencies, in which universities partner with local school districts to provide long-term student-teaching in exchange for teachers agreeing to work in the district for a period of time. Each of those residencies only produces from five to 100 new teachers a year—not enough to fill gaps in teacher pools nationwide.

But Roneeta Guha, a researcher with the Learning Policy Institute, and her colleagues found residencies were more likely to produce new teachers from minority backgrounds; 45 percent of residency teachers nationwide in 2015-16 were teachers of color, compared with only 19 percent of new teachers overall. Moreover,across the 50 residency programs studied, 82 percent of graduates were still teaching four years later, 10 percentage points higher than other new teachers.

The most effective teacher residencies, Guha found, were developed by strong partnerships between districts and universities, with preservice teachers’ coursework closely integrated with their student-teaching.

Candidates were recruited from diverse backgrounds but for specific fields, like math or special education, in which the district had shortages. The researchers found that most of the residency programs offered stipends—as much as $4,000 a semester in some—in exchange for residents committing to teach for three to five years.

Valuable Experience

Educators in those programs spent on average a full year teaching with an experienced mentor, often in “teaching schools” that modeled best practices for educating students with diverse needs and backgrounds. That means they received up to 900 hours of experience, 10 times as much as in a typical alternative-certification program and about 300 hours more than traditional teacher-preparation programs, Guha said.

“Residencies are really a tightlyintegrated system,” she said.

Finally, the residencies continued to provide mentor support for the residents a year or more after they graduated and began teaching full time.

Learning to teach in a particular school context can help new teachers develop better cultural understanding of their students, according to Peter Williamson, an associate professor of teaching at Stanford University’s graduate school of education.

“There’s a tension that’s inherent in many teacher-residency programs,” he said. While teachers need to learn to work closely with other teachers in the schools where they will be teaching, “there’s a risk that they will adopt the practices and beliefs of schools deemed to be underperforming. They need to swim upstream against the tide of deficit views of students in underperforming schools.”

To counter that, the San Francisco Teacher Residency—a partnership of the city’s school district and teachers’ union and Stanford University and the University of San Francisco—modeled its program on medical residencies that include “rounds” of experience with specific student populations. For example, teacher-residents observe classes in local juvenile-justice schools, then discuss and plan how they would teach the same group of students with their instructors.

“We want them to really see theschool-to-prison pipeline, not just read about it,” Williamson said. “We want them to develop an appreciation for what those kids can and cannot do. ...We’re pushing back on the idea that it is not the teacher’s job to help students in traditionally underserved settings.”

After five years, Williamson found, 92 percent of residency teachers were still working in the district, compared with little more than half of other novice teachers in the district and 20 percent of the new teachers who came through Teach For America. Nearly all the residents were teaching in high-poverty, high-minority schools.

Boston’s teacher-residency program took a different tack. Initially, the four-year program included one year of residency and three of continued mentoring, with teachers scattered in schools throughout the city.

But graduates initially scored low to moderate on value-added teacher evaluations, in which teachers’ effectiveness is gauged in part based on how much growth their students make on standardized tests. The lackluster results prompted the program to tighten its focus, said Jesse Solomon, a researcher for the Boston Teacher Residency.

Now, teachers are clustered in fewer schools, based on their content areas, to create networks of student-teachers. The district set up two “teaching academy” schools, which have more flexibility to adapt scheduling, staffing, and team-teaching to give teacher residents more experience.

Solomon compared 269 residency graduates with other new teachers in the district. Five years after they graduated, he found that more than 70 percent of the residency graduates were still teaching in the district, and their efforts had greater effects on student achievement than new teachers who did not come from the program.

Rural Resident Teachers

Guha of the Learning Policy Institute found only about five of the 50 high-quality teacher residencies supported rural districts.

“A lot of the [residency] structure stays the same, but shifting from urban to rural differs in how we engage with the community,” said Emilie Reagan, a co-principal investigator for the University of New Hampshire’s new Rural Teacher Residency, which launches its first teaching group later this month. The New Hampshire researchers did not present at the AERA.

“We have two communities in northern New Hampshire that are 45 miles apart and separated by mountainous regions. So coordinating everyone is very different from just getting everyone on a subway in New York,” Reagan said.

The 15-month residency provides a $28,000 stipend and a scholarship covering half of college tuition. It also starts the summer before the school year, when each resident has a mentor in the community who helps the teacher understand where to find classroom resources and social connections in the town.

“In some ways, [traditional teacher preparation] might have sanitized things too much, in terms of separating knowledge from the experiences that are a part of life for students and members in a community” where preservice educators will teach, said Leslie Couse, the education chairwoman at the University of New Hampshire and a co-principal investigator for the project.

By the time teachers leave the residency, “they will have spent four years in a rural community and we hope will be more likely to stay than if they were simply parachuted into a place that they don’t have any insider knowledge about.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 2017 edition of Education Week as Teacher Residencies Can Help Curb Shortages, Studies Say

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