Teaching Profession Opinion

Public Schools Need the Equivalent of Teaching Hospitals

New teachers in high-poverty schools don’t have enough support
By Suzanne Donovan & Bruce Alberts — July 13, 2020 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

We are in the midst of a national outcry for reform of a policing and criminal justice system that has had devastating consequences for many Black Americans. Though outrage has been sparked by current events, a broader reckoning with the deep roots of racism is also being demanded from many quarters. One of those roots is a sharp inequity in K-12 education.

Evidence amassed by the Learning Policy Institute makes the case that schools in low-income neighborhoods, particularly those with majority Black and Latinx families, are disproportionately staffed by teachers who are new to the profession, many of whom are underprepared for the challenges they face. Research shows that teachers are least effective when they are new to teaching and that several ineffective teachers in a row make it nearly impossible for a student to catch up to peers who have had more effective teachers. While not the only inequity in schooling, it is one with profound implications.

The fault does not lie with teachers. Throughout the United States, we have failed to give new teachers the intensive support they initially need—perhaps explaining why 1 in 10 teachers leaves the profession after their first year. In a country with the prowess of the United States in higher education and research, we have neglected the challenges that prevent us from effectively educating all our students, particularly those who are most reliant on education as a path out of poverty.

What can be done to create fundamental change—a change that is built into the functioning of our education system? We propose the creation of education’s equivalent of teaching hospitals, the places where the most advanced practices are developed and where new professionals are trained under the guidance of experts.

More specifically, we propose that school districts close to universities designate a set of schools in the most underserved area of the district as an Innovation and Induction (i2) Cluster. Master teachers would be recruited to these schools and specifically trained in mentoring and in research-based teaching practice. They would be attracted not just by premium pay but also by the opportunity for professional growth and advancement.

All evidence suggests that during the first two years of teaching, both teachers and their students suffer."

New teachers would be placed as residents in these master teachers’ classrooms for an entire year. They would receive regular mentoring the following year when they would have an independent classroom in close proximity to their mentor before moving to schools elsewhere in the district in Year 3. Importantly, researchers from neighboring universities would support mentor training and work collaboratively with the teachers in these schools to develop and test innovative practices that support students’ success. A network that links the i2 Clusters in different districts would help spread what works.

What would such an investment get us as a nation? It would put two teachers—one a master teacher—in classrooms that are now often underserved. It would ensure that new teachers are not on their own during the first two years of teaching when all evidence suggests that both they and their students suffer. And it would create school sites where many of our most accomplished teachers would work in partnership with university researchers to design solutions that will give students in our lowest-performing schools a high-quality education—solutions that would then be shared.

Each element of our proposal exists somewhere now: Teacher-residency programs increase new-teacher support, innovations in practice spring from charter schools, and research-practice partnerships engage researchers in solving problems of practice. But i2 Clusters would provide much more than the sum of these parts—integrating teacher induction, evidence-based innovation and evaluation, and attention to equity into a coherent whole. Our proposal could channel the energy invested in many different valuable initiatives into a stable nationwide effort capable of continuous improvement.

The i2 Clusters would be initiated by school districts since they are responsible for the education of students and the quality of teachers. Moreover, it is district and school leaders who feel the strain of high teacher turnover and poor performance in these schools year after year. The funding would also support a local i2 Center responsible for coordinating the whole, including nonprofit organizations that would share in the work.

What would such an initiative cost? The answer depends on the scale of the enterprise. The Chula Vista Elementary school district in California serves 30,000 students and hires 30 to 40 first-year teachers annually. It has begun planning for an i2 Cluster in three of its lowest-performing schools. That estimated cost, assuming a modest number of innovation and evaluation initiatives, is $5.7 million a year. Rough estimates for a district twice the size in another urban area exceed $20 million annually because the proportion of new teachers is much higher. Were we at some point in the future to have i2 Clusters in 150 districts spread across all 50 states and costing on average $20 million each, the annual cost would be $3 billion.

We might compare such an investment with the $16 billion dollars in annual federal funding to subsidize the training of new doctors. Smartly, Medicare and Medicaid were identified as stable mechanisms through which that funding flows to teaching hospitals year after year. Titles I and II of the Every Student Succeeds Act could similarly serve to fund the training of new teachers and innovations in practice in high-poverty schools. Estimates by many economists suggest that increasing teacher quality would give taxpayers a high return on investment in the form of increased future tax revenues—as better educated students become employed adults and as costs are reduced for social services and incarceration. And an expected drop in teacher attrition by half, because of increased support during the first two years, would reduce the investment required almost immediately.

When students return to school, we should expect that those who have the least will have lost the most ground during the COVID-19 pandemic. We see the disparity in summer learning loss and we have now greatly magnified that effect. It will be no surprise if the primary changes in schools are the distance between desks and the presence of sanitizing wipes. But if we are serious about addressing the inequities that are now so visibly on display, we should invest in more fundamental change—change that tugs at one of the deepest roots of the inequality in our education system.

Follow the Education Week Opinion section on Twitter.

Sign up to get the latest Education Week Opinion in your email inbox.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Stronger Together: Integrating Social and Emotional Supports in an Equity-Based MTSS
Decades of research have shown that when schools implement evidence-based social and emotional supports and programming, academic achievement increases. The impact of these supports – particularly for students of color, students from low-income communities, English
Content provided by Illuminate Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Meet the Four Finalists for the 2022 National Teacher of the Year
The four finalists hail from Colorado, Hawaii, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and were recognized for their dedication to student learning.
5 min read
National Teacher of The Year nominees
From left to right: Whitney Aragaki, Autumn Rivera, Kurt Russell, and Joseph Welch
Teaching Profession What Happens When Teachers Are Out of Sick Days?
We asked EdWeek's social media followers to share their school policies on COVID-related sick leave. Here’s how they responded. 
Marina Whiteleather
2 min read
Female at desk, suffering from flu symptoms like fever, headache and sore throat at her workplace
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teaching Profession Explainer: Why Are Chicago Schools, Teachers' Union Fighting?
The issue that caused the most chaos in the roughly 350,000-student district was when and how to revert to remote learning.
3 min read
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and supporters stage a car caravan protest outside City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday evening, Jan. 5, 2022. Chicago school leaders canceled classes in the nation’s third-largest school district for the second straight day after failing to reach an agreement with the teachers union over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols. (Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Teaching Profession Some Teachers Are Running Out of Sick Days, and Administrators Are Hesitant to Help
With a shortage of substitutes and pressure to stay open, administrators are reluctant to extend paid time off for teachers with COVID.
13 min read
Professional male social distancing or self quarantining inside a coronavirus pathogen.
iStock/Getty Images Plus