By Amy Auletto
Most teachers are trained through traditional teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities, which typically include a heavy emphasis on coursework and a semester (or less) of student teaching. In 2015, 87% of students training to become teachers were enrolled in traditional programs, while the remaining 13% were enrolled in other alternative certification routes. Some of these routes, such as Teach For America and The New Teacher Project Teaching Fellows, only require individuals to complete a summer training program before taking on their own classrooms. (Individuals in these programs also continue to participate in professional development and other coursework throughout the school year as well.) While these programs have garnered quite a bit of national media attention, their results are mixed and they are often criticized for how few teachers they retain.
A less publicized route into teaching is found in teacher residency programs. The teacher residency model originated in the early 2000’s in Boston and Chicago as a way to meet the hiring needs of urban districts. Residency programs approach teacher training as an apprenticeship. Teachers typically spend a full year working closely with a mentor teacher in a high-need district while also taking master’s-level education courses. Participants usually receive a small living stipend during the residency year with the expectation that they will teach in the district for several years following the residency. Teacher residency programs are selective in who they recruit, ensuring that vacancies in districts in areas such as Special Education and STEM are filled. Teacher residency programs are located across the country, in a number of urban districts.
What is the Impact of Teacher Residencies?
The National Center for Teacher Residencies (NCTR) boasts that teacher residency programs are having positive impacts on student learning and teacher retention rates in high-need schools. NCTR surveyed principals that hire residency graduates and found that 89% agreed that residents are more effective than new teachers prepared through other routes. Furthermore, 84% of residency graduates are still teaching after 3 years, which is quite high relative to the typical retention rates in high-need districts.
In Boston Public Schools specifically, one study found that while only 51% of regular district employees persist for 5 years, this rate was 75% among Boston Teacher Residency (BTR) graduates. Furthermore, math teachers who participate in BTR outperform their traditionally prepared colleagues by their fourth year of teaching. Another study found that the San Francisco Teacher Residency program prepared teachers well to work in the high-need schools in which they completed their residencies but that these skills did not readily transfer to other schools in the district.
There are other benefits to teacher residencies related to recruitment. While only 1 in 5 teachers in the U.S. is non-White, nearly 40% of teachers in residency programs are minorities. Teacher residency programs also have selective admissions policies, admitting only 24% of applicants on average.
Call for Further Investment in Teacher Residency Programs
Teacher residency programs are a promising strategy to improve the teaching workforce in high-need urban districts. While these settings often struggle to recruit teachers and face disproportionately high rates of turnover, residency programs offer an opportunity to recruit and train successful teachers through a unique apprenticeship model. Teacher residency programs specifically target talented college graduates, career changers, and community members who have the expertise and background to teach in high-need subject areas. Because they improve retention rates, encourage a more diverse teaching workforce, and fill high-need teaching positions, we should continue to invest further in teacher residency programs. While there are up-front costs for districts to implement these programs (such as stipends for teachers and mentors), the long-term payoffs are substantial. If districts are able to hold on to their teachers, they will spend significantly less on recruitment and hiring efforts. Let’s continue to pursue teacher residency programs as an approach to slow down the revolving door of teachers.
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