Teacher Preparation

‘Residencies’ Set Up to Train Urban Teachers at School Sites

By Bess Keller — October 31, 2006 6 min read
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Three groups that use a yearlong practicum to prepare college graduates for some of the nation’s toughest classrooms recently invited educators and others to take a closer look at their model.

Advocates of the programs, which provide teachers for high-poverty schools in Boston, Chicago, and two districts near Denver, said in an Oct. 20 symposium here that other school systems could benefit from similar arrangements. Given the challenges and the teacher-turnover rates in many struggling schools, the record being compiled by the graduates of the three programs is compelling, they said.

“In some ways, this is a historic moment,” remarked Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University and a leading researcher on teacher education. “What’s going on here is the discovery and perhaps the beginning of the most necessary reform in teacher education.”

The three groups—the Urban School Leadership Academy in Chicago, the Boston Teacher Residency, and the Boettcher Teachers Program serving the Adams 12 Five Star Schools and Mapleton districts north of Denver—more than a year ago formed the Coalition of Urban Teacher Residencies. The oldest program, the Chicago academy, has graduated four classes of teachers. The youngest, in Denver, has graduated two.

Medical Model

One goal of the coalition is to share what the programs are learning. But another, realized last month at the first of what the coalition hopes will be an annual event, is to spread word of the programs’ promise so more districts will adopt the model, akin to the medical-residency idea.

The aspiring teachers—both recent college graduates and career-changers—are paired with accomplished veterans in a high-poverty school for a full school year of practice teaching. As a group, they also take education courses geared to their classroom experiences.

Coalition of Urban Teacher Residencies
Academy for Urban School Leadership
District: Chicago
Date of first graduating class: 2003
Cooperating university: National-Louis University
Number of graduates to date: 161
Financial support for residents: $30,000 stipend + forgivable tuition
Length of commitment: 6 years
Boston Teacher Residency:
District: Boston
Date of first graduating class: 2004
Cooperating university: University of Massachusetts Boston
Number of graduates to date: 88
Financial support for residents: $10,900 stipend + forgivable tuition
Length of commitment: 4 years
Boettecher Teacher Program:
District: Adams 12 Five Star Schools and Mapleton, Colo.
Date of first graduating class: 2005
Cooperating university: University of Denver
Number of graduates to date: 23
Financial support for residents: $10,000 stipend + forgivable tuition
Length of commitment: 5 years
SOURCE: Education Week

The “residents,” who are paid stipends of between $10,000 and $30,000, depending on the district, get a teaching license and a district job if they graduate. In Boston and Chicago, they also earn tuition-free master’s degrees from a cooperating university. In the Denver-area program, the degree is earned over three years.

Once in their own classrooms, the newly minted teachers are supported for two or more years by coaches and further professional development. They make a commitment to stay from 3 to 5 years in exchange for their stipends and tuition forgiveness.

Like Teach For America, which puts promising young people in rural or urban classrooms for a two-year stint, the residency programs have been able to attract stronger and more minority candidates than most traditional teacher-preparation programs.

But unlike TFA, the residency teachers stay at a rate far above average. At the end of five years, between 40 percent and 50 percent of new teachers leave, estimates Richard M. Ingersoll, an expert on teacher turnover. Program officials say 95 percent of the more than 270 residency graduates so far remain in the classroom, though only this year will some have completed five years on the job. Moreover, the new teachers seem more effective than most rookies, according to school administrators and the graduates themselves.

“I had an insider’s perspective on how to apply what I learned in the university classroom,” said Edward Morris Jr., a Chicago academy graduate and the lead science teacher at the Tarkington School, a K-8 public school in Chicago. “The first year of teaching, I hit the ground running.”

Cost an Issue

Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the 426,000-student Chicago public schools, applauded the program in his city for “getting the best talent into the schools that need the most help.” In Chicago, competition to get into the program is stiff.

See Also

Mr. Duncan and his team have put three low-performing schools under the management of the academy. As a result, five Chicago schools in total are intertwined with the academy’s teacher-preparation program, a move that symposium speakers said would raise the quality of both the new teachers and of the schools.

Still, the programs are expensive, in large part because the teachers are paid during their year of training. The Chicago academy’s budget this year is $3.1 million, for example.

Proponents argue, though, that the price is well worth it when balanced against the expense of teacher turnover—both in money and student achievement.

Jesse Solomon, the director of the Boston program, cites Boston district figures that say $17,000, on average, was lost for every first-, second-, or third-year teacher who departed the district in the 2004-05 school year. And most were replaced by other neophytes who were just starting on the steep learning curve that characterizes a teacher’s first years in the classroom.

Backers of the programs also consider the need for community support a plus. The Chicago academy was founded by venture capitalist Martin J. Koldyke, who continues to play an active role. The programs in Boston and Denver have been backed by civic groups and local foundations concerned with the quality of area schools.

“This represents an expanded view of what a school district is—a much larger set of interested parties,” Mr. Solomon said. The Boston Plan for Excellence, which helped launch and co-directs the local program with the school district, has functioned as both a critical friend and an innovator for the school system, he added.

Speakers said, too, that it’s invaluable to train teachers for a year in the school system where they know from the start they will work, creating a pipeline from candidacy to career.

Different Roles

Timothy F.C. Knowles, one of the founders of the Boston Teacher Residency and now the executive director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Urban School Improvement, joined Ms. Darling-Hammond in expressing hope that the programs—because they draw on the skills of veteran teachers—would also help establish the idea that teachers can play different roles as they gain experience.

“They are stealthily differentiating roles,” he said, “and that’s really powerful in a profession where you do the same thing at the end as you do at the beginning.”

A teacher in the Denver-area program who has been a mentor for two years attested that her experience gave her work a new and welcome dimension.

“It teaches me to have constructive, collaborative relationships” with another adult, said Snowden Campbell, who teaches English at Thorntoni High School in the Adams 12 district near Denver. In turn, that has helped her build similar relationships with students, she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 2006 edition of Education Week as ‘Residencies’ Set Up to Train Urban Teachers at School Sites


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