Teacher Preparation

Charter Network Taps Alumni to Grow Teacher Pipeline

February 25, 2014 4 min read
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Amid plans to expand its charter operations in the Chicago school district, a charter-management group is taking a novel approach to building a pipeline of highly qualified, and racially diverse, teacher-candidates. The Noble Network of Charter Schools, which currently operates 14 schools in the 404,000-student district, is recruiting its alumni to start on the path to the classroom.

The charter network has teamed up with the Relay Graduate School of Education—an accredited teacher education program that operates campuses in New York City, Newark, N.J., and New Orleans—to help Noble graduates with a college degree get a master’s degree and prepare for teacher certification.

The move comes as the wider charter sector struggles to amass a pool of highly qualified teachers, experts say.

The Noble network has already had success hiring a handful of alumni as staff members, said Michael Milkie, the co-founder, chief executive officer, and superintendent of Noble charter schools, which opened in 1999 and serve about 9,000 students. With many of the network’s 3,500 alumni still in college, Mr. Milkie believes that those who commit to teaching at Noble schools will relate well to their students and become effective role models.

Some researchers question a recruitment strategy that relies on new and inexperienced teachers, and charter schools in particular have been criticized for their tendency to employ novice teachers who leave the profession within a few years. But Nina Rees, the president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said charters should embrace innovative approaches to hiring and recruiting teachers.

“This is one of the things we’ve always wanted charters to do—grooming our students to come back and work in our space and become advocates in our charter schools,” she said.

The Noble charter school network serves a student population that is98 percent minority and 89 percent low-income. About a third of its current teachers represent minority groups, a proportion Noble officials hope will grow with the help of the program.

The network of schools, which is known for its high expectations and strict discipline policies, has consistently outperformed district-run schools in Chicago in terms of act scores and academic growth on state tests.

The Chicago board of education recently voted to approve two more Noble campuses, as well as five other charter schools—a controversial move in light of the board’s decision to close 49 regular public schools this school year, citing budget and enrollment issues.

Getting in Gear

Through its partnership with the Relay Graduate School of Education, which was co-founded by members of three different charter-management organizations as an alternate education-certification program, 40 students will be chosen for the first cohort.

Classes are expected to start in July, pending approval from the Illinois board of higher education for Relay to operate as an out-of-state institution and grant master’s degrees to teachers in the state. (Relay is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education to operate in its other three locations.)

Although any student with a bachelor’s degree can apply to the program, Noble alumni will be given preference in the application process, said the network’s Mr. Milkie.

Students will then spend a year as a student-teacher while taking classes and earning a stipend. During the second year, students will transition into a full-time position, getting paid a salary and continuing to take courses through the Relay program. Classes cover core instructional practices such as lesson planning, pedagogy, and assessment of student progress, as well as how to teach a specific subject area.

Lamanda Silva, an alumna who is teaching in the network, always knew she wanted to teach. After she graduated from college, Noble offered her an internship that soon became a full-time teaching position.

Her experience as a Noble student, she said, has helped her relate well to the students now in her charge.

The new program “will be an opportunity that my principal paved for me that will now be there for everyone,” said Ms. Silva, who has been teaching for three years.

Turnover Concerns

But Marisa Cannata, an associate director of the National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., says that relying on a hiring strategy that continually employs new, inexperienced teachers is potentially problematic.

There is a steep learning curve for teachers within their first three years, she said, and new teachers experience higher turnover rates than their veteran counterparts.

That’s particularly true in charter schools, which typically pay less than regular public schools, and employ younger, less-experienced teachers, said Ms. Cannata.

While many charter networks pull teachers from programs like Teach For America or TNTP (formerly the New Teacher Project) other charter school networks are also exploring ways to beef up the teacher pipeline.

“The pipeline of talent that enters charter schools is not diverse, so we really need to focus on these types of activities,” said Ms. Rees, from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “No one is going to be more committed [to teaching these students] than people from the same community who are also the same color as the students they’re serving.”

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A version of this article appeared in the February 26, 2014 edition of Education Week as Charter Network Finds New Teachers Among Its Graduates

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