Student Well-Being

Teacher Residencies Make Strides, Encounter Obstacles

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 08, 2011 9 min read
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Federal investments in teacher “residency” programs are illuminating both promising developments and growing pains for the schools of education implementing the hands-on approach to training.

Funded in part through the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Partnerships grants, the residency programs apprentice teacher-candidates to a mentor teacher in a high-need school for a year. Residents receive a stipend for the on-the-job training, which is supplemented with a streamlined set of coursework. The intensive, yearlong approach is supposed to better align coursework with practical experience than traditional student-teaching, which typically comes during the last semester of the teacher-preparation program.

Successes of the new ventures so far include engaged teacher-candidates and stronger relationships with the local school districts in which the residents are placed.

“We’ve heard from residents that it’s been an amazing experience,” said A. Lin Goodwin, the associate dean for teacher education at Teachers College, Columbia University, which began its residency program in June 2010. “They’ve been in schools working with kids, experiencing all kinds of situations and circumstances and learners and content areas.”

But the programs’ officials also outlined challenges they’ve faced, such as finding high-quality mentors and meshing the residency model with existing teacher education regulations.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Therese A. Dozier, the director of the Richmond (Va.) Teacher Residency, at Virginia Commonwealth University, describing challenges in adapting the training model to the secondary school teacher-preparation rules in her state. The program she oversees launched this summer.

“I’ve never seen the faculty more excited and committed, but they can’t just waive the state-approval requirements,” said Ms. Dozier, the 1985 national Teacher of the Year and the first official teacher-adviser to a U.S. secretary of education. “It’s really like putting together a puzzle, and it can only fit a certain way.”

Meeting Needs

Through $43 million total in annual funding for the winners of a 2009 competition and $100 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Funding, the federal government has supported the establishment or expansion of 26 residencies. Grantees match that on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Each program, in consultation with the receiving district, selects the grade level and content areas in which the new teachers are needed.

Though meant as seed funding, the five-year grants have taken on high stakes for grantees to prove the worth of their projects. With lawmakers toying with other ideas for reforming teacher education, prospects for additional federal funding look increasingly grim. (“New Rules for Ed. Prep Are Mulled,” March 9, 2011.)

The new projects are also significant because a majority of them are housed at universities—a change from early examples such as the Boston Teacher Residency, which grew out of a venture headed by a nonprofit organization.

Apprenticeship Programs

Under residencies supported through the federal Teacher Quality Partnership, a candidate apprentices to a mentor teacher in the classroom for three to five days a week. Education coursework is typically provided on Fridays or in evening classes. Upon completion of the 12- to 18-month programs, residents earn a master’s degree and commit to teach in a high-needs school for a minimum of three years. Programs include:

TQP grant: $6 million
Partner districts: Norfolk, Portsmouth,Va.
Content areas: Secondary science, English, social studies, and math
No. of residents (2010-11): 10
No. of residents (2011-12): 10
Special Features: The program requires its residents to take 18 credit hours of content-based courses in addition to education classes so they can eventually teach dual-enrollment classes. It also requires candidates to complete an internship related to their content.

TQP grant: $9.75 million
Partner district: New York City
Content areas: Special education, English-language learners
No. of residents (2010-11): 20
No. of residents (2011-12): 20
Special Features: In the fall semester, students spend three days in K-12 classrooms and one day each week in a community-based organization. In the spring, they are in classrooms four days a week. Program includes focus on use of technology tools.

TQP grant: $13.5 million (includes funding for undergraduate program reform)
Partner districts: Atlanta, Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Ga.
Content areas: Secondary math and science, P-12 special education
No. of residents (2010-11): 9 at Georgia State, 5 at partner HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities)
No. of residents (2011-12): 13 at Georgia State, 5 at partner HBCU
Special Features: The program places residents in schools in cohorts where possible, and they are networked with candidates in other teacher residencies. Partnerships with a HBCU and a community college facilitate selections of candidates from underrepresented groups.

TQP grant: $2.7 million
Partner district: Indianapolis
Content areas: Secondary science, technology, engineering, math, special education
No. of residents (2010-11): 10
No. of residents (2011-12): 5
Special Features: The program builds on a Woodrow Wilson Foundation project. Teachers prepared using TQP dollars will earn dual certification in special education and in a STEM field. Teachers are placed in middle school classrooms during the fall semester and high school classrooms during the spring semester, so they work with students at both secondary levels.

TQP grant: $5.8 million
Partner district: Richmond, Va.
Content areas: Secondary science, English, social studies, math
No. of residents (2011-12): 9
Special Features: Residents receive follow-up training after completing the program in the fundamentals of teacher leadership.

SOURCE: Education Week

Where the Boston program had the freedom to use instructors from a variety of schools and to design its own master’s degree, universities have, in effect, had to retrofit existing programming to meet criteria in their state or institution for granting degrees.

Nevertheless, each of the newly funded programs has sought to put its own stamp on the basic concept of the residency by emphasizing needs particular to the districts in which they operate. The increased cooperation with local districts is paying off, intensifying even existing relationships with them.

Districts have been involved in selecting the teacher-candidates, helping to identify top mentor teachers, and even helping to design the streamlined coursework.

“A lot of times a university gets a grant and the school system may or may not be full partners. In our case, they were,” said Ms. Dozier, who added that district officials took part in selecting residents. “They were fighting over them!”

Gwendolyn T. Benson, the associate dean for school and community partnerships at Georgia State University, in Atlanta, also praised the specialized training for the classroom teachers with whom residents are paired in schools, another feature of the new programs.

“We always talk about wanting our partners to inform us how to best prepare our teachers, but we’ve never had an opportunity to try to train mentors to this extent,” she said. “When you think about having a teacher [candidate] in your classroom for an entire year, it’s a different kind of relationship” than traditional, student-teaching.

Streamlined Coursework

In fits and starts, the programs have also whittled down what is traditionally a two-year degree program into as few as 14 months.

With not enough time to change what are often strict content guidelines for university-based preparation, most grantees have changed how courses are delivered. They threaded key topics through several meetings rather than offering, for instance, an entire course dedicated to multicultural education.

Leaders of the Indianapolis Teacher Residency, for example, combined separate courses in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—teaching methods and secondary education methods, using faculty co-teaching to streamline the requirements.

“We really had to come to the table to examine what we needed students to know and understand,” said Patricia M. Rogan, the executive associate dean of the school of education at Indiana University, the higher education partner. “It was a full curriculum mapping.”

Programs also have experimented with alternative delivery models: Georgia State supplemented some in-person classes with online courses.

And as it begins its second year, the residency program at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Va., will offer more of its coursework over the summers so that residents can spend an additional weekday at their school placements.

“One thing we’re really pleased with is that all of these residents love being in the classroom,” said Sharon A. Judge, the associate dean for graduate studies at Old Dominion. “On the Fridays when they have their education courses, they don’t like leaving school. They want to stay.”

Some of the foundational ideas behind teacher residency have proved difficult to implement.

For one, the applicant pool hasn’t always been as strong as programs had hoped. Several programs require applicants to have a 3.0 GPA, higher than is typical in teacher education. That bar, combined with difficulties in recruiting for shortage fields, has posed problems.

“We had over 50 applicants, but a lot of them didn’t meet our criteria,” said Ms. Judge, ticking off four exams prospective teachers must take, among other requirements. “To pay for them out of pocket can be quite costly.”

Ms. Dozier of VCU faulted some of the regulations governing teacher education in Virginia. For instance, she said, some candidates with excellent credentials were barred for not meeting specific prerequisites. She recounted losing a Cornell University-trained sociology student because the state doesn’t recognize that field under social studies.

“It has been a nightmare trying to make everything align,” she said. “This is a new approach to training teachers, but we’re functioning within the traditional structure of how programs get changed and approved.”

Finding Mentors

The teacher educators also pointed to difficulties finding effective mentor teachers in the appropriate subject areas to help the residents translate their coursework into high-quality teaching.

“High-needs schools are categorized as such for a reason. Quite often, you’re talking about schools with high turnover and about [mentor] teachers who don’t have a lot of experience necessarily,” said Ms. Goodwin, the Teachers College associate dean. “You can be a great teacher, but working with an adult and trying to articulate what you know to an adult learner—that is a separate process completely.”

While many of the mentor-candidate matches were successful, working to make sure that mentor teachers fully understood their duties—say, attending planning meetings—posed some problems, said Georgia State’s Ms. Benson.

The residency programs typically pay mentor teachers a stipend, too, but Ms. Benson said the $1,000 her program awarded might not have been enough of an incentive for teachers to take on the rewarding, but delicate, task of sharing their classrooms for a full year.

“If we had to write this grant again, we’d probably try to do more for our mentors,” she said.

Ms. Rogan added that depending on applications, one year’s cohort of candidates may have more residents in science and the next in math, making it difficult to establish a critical mass of effective master teachers.

“It’s that variability that has made it a little more challenging to have readily available mentors we can use again and again,” she said.

The challenge of funding also looms large for the programs.

Projects first funded in the 2009 competition are now in their third of five years of federal funding; their remaining continuation grants remain uncertain. (Projects financed through the economic-stimulus legislation, by contrast, received the five-year award all at once.)

Drawn-out federal budget negotiations have flat-funded Teacher Quality Partnership financing for the last two years, but even the Obama administration has proposed combining the program into a new funding stream.

Federal appropriations notwithstanding, several of the new projects’ leaders say they will likely need to rely on additional grant funding to keep going.

Though teacher residencies are meant to save districts money by reducing turnover, the programs are generally more expensive for universities than traditional teacher education programs, the projects’ managers said.

“Traditional candidates don’t get a dime, unless they’re awarded a scholarship. And yet the resident stipend has been the carrot for top-notch career changers,” said Ms. Rogan of Indiana University. “The second thing is that it has been more labor intensive, and there’s a higher faculty-student ratio than in traditional programs.”

Enough Experimentation?

There are signs, though, that the projects funded beginning in 2009 have already begun to learn from the first year in action, and to tweak their projects accordingly.

The program at Teachers College, for example, is lengthening its mentor-teacher training by an additional day. Old Dominion University plans to do more up-front training on practical issues like lesson-planning and classroom management before placing residents in classrooms.

Observers, meanwhile, praised the new projects, but also questioned whether they go far enough in playing with the fundamental structure of teacher education.

“The only real variation people have built into these programs is where they fall on the spectrum of theory and practice,” said Ellen Condliffe Lagermann, a former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Ms. Lagermann recently chaired a National Research Council panel that reviewed the literature on the impact of teacher preparation.

“I think we need really to think more deeply about what are some of the other variables that can be experimented with,” she said.

Coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession is supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at
A version of this article appeared in the July 13, 2011 edition of Education Week as Teacher Residencies Encounter Problems While Making Strides


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