Teacher Preparation

Report Offers ‘Lessons Learned’ From Teacher-Residency Programs

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 18, 2014 4 min read
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Teacher “residency” programs are among the most-discussed models for preparing new teachers to enter the classroom ready for its daily challenges. Now a new report outlines what makes certain residency programs stand out, offering specific lessons both for other residency programs and the teacher-preparation field as a whole.

The report, released by Urban Teacher Residency United, a nonprofit membership group that works to support and sustain residency programs across the nation, focuses on two particular programs: the Denver Teacher Residency, which prepares candidates for Mile-High City schools, and the Aspire Teacher Residency, which is run by the Aspire charter school chain.

In general, residency programs are built on the theory that candidates should get at least a full year working on schools before assuming their own classes and that the coursework should closely align and respond to the challenges first-year teachers face. They are typically carefully crafted in partnerships between local universities and school districts.

First, let’s look at the effectiveness of the 23 UTRU-supported programs from 2013-14. Notably, those programs have recruited many candidates of color, or 34 percent (the figure among U.S. teachers is just 17 percent). They also have a very high retention rate in placement schools, according to the report. Among the network, programs have a three-year teacher retention rate of 87 percent, and at five years it is 82 percent.

The programs’ effects on actual teaching quality is somewhat less clear. In a 2011 study, the Boston Teacher Residency’s graduates did less well in their first year in schools than other novices, but improved much more quickly and were outpacing other new hires by year five. (The Boston program has made a number of changes since then.)

The new report shows that graduates of the Aspire residency tended to fare better on the charter group’s teacher-evaluation framework than other new teachers (probably not a surprise given their additional time being steeped in Aspire schools’ culture). In Denver, residency participants outpaced other novices on the components of the district’s teacher-evaluation system, though they were generally below the average of all teachers in the district.

Standout Findings

The heart of UTRU’s report outlines the “lessons learned” from the Denver and Aspire programs. In general, the report says, high-quality programs have five key features:

  • Rigorous and intentional recruitment and selection practices;
  • Relevant coursework and seminars;
  • Structured coaching and feedback of residents while they’re student teaching;
  • Assessment and evaluation focused on continual improvement; and
  • Working with a host school system and schools that share the values of the residency program.

Those may seem sort of ho-hum on first glance, but the report is clear that the practices end up looking very specific when investigated in depth.

For instance, although all of the network’s residencies use some kind of tailored selection model, Denver and Aspire go even further. Denver requires applicants to work in a group looking at achievement data and make suggestions for student interventions. Aspire actually gives feedback to each candidate’s demonstration lesson and asks him or her to re-teach it shortly after. And key for both of them is selecting teachers who don’t just show promise but also are willing to receive feedback on their teaching, rather than becoming defensive.

What’s particularly interesting about the report is the extent to which it underscores obliquely how far much of current teacher preparation has to go to embody these practices. In fact, some of the recommended structures actively challenge the way many teacher-preparation programs work.

For instance, regarding coursework, the UTRU report says that the standout programs actually use educators from school systems, rather than university faculty, to teach the bulk of courses, largely because the educators tend to have more recent K-12 teaching experience. It also makes it easier to ensure that the coursework can be immediately applied during student teaching.

“The innovation sites were only able to take this approach because they are paired with flexible university partners who have developed trust in the residencies and because the residencies achieve results—their teachers get hired,” the report states.

Similarly, giving teacher candidates precise, tailored feedback is one of the things that many traditional programs have struggled to do well. In student teaching, for instance, candidates are supposed to be observed using common protocols, but there’s not a lot of evidence that that happens with any consistency in most teacher-prep programs. (Some universities, like Arizona State University, have in fact made consistency of feedback a focus of their teacher-preparation efforts.)

There’s a lot here to look at, so dig into the report and let us know what you make of the report’s suggestions.

The report was supported by funding from by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (The Gates Foundation also provides support for Education Week‘s coverage of implementation of college- and career-ready standards.)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.