When Teach for America (TFA) emerged more than 25 years ago the innovative model pioneered a fresh approach to education reform: recruit high performing college grads to teach in high-need schools. The idea originated from founder Wendy Kopp’s thesis in 1989 that called for a national teacher corps, modeled on the Peace Corps, that “would mobilize passionate, dedicated members of [her] generation.”
What started with 100 students has grown into a network of 50,000 TFA corps members and alumni and a movement that has enabled thousands of young people to create social change within the classroom. Well into its second decade, the innovative concept is now a seasoned and scaled model with years of results, tremendous growth and influence. TFA and the teacher residency model have become household concepts associated with education reform and opportunity in America.
In the past two decades other organizations, both nonprofit and for-profit, have been inspired to test variations of the teacher residency strategy. In 2004, programs in Boston, Chicago and Denver created an informal partnership to exchange best practices, share programmatic innovations and promote the concept of residency-based teacher preparation. The Urban Teacher Residency United (UTRU) was founded three years later as a collective effort to launch and support high-functioning residency programs in high-needs urban districts. Today, the model is among the most discussed and researched for preparing new teachers to enter the classroom and addressing high-needs students in low-income areas.
Research shows that a teacher’s contribution matters more than anything else within a school, including class size, school funding and technology. Residency programs not only reduce teacher attrition (85% of all residency graduates stay in their schools for at least three years), thereby saving districts money on hiring and professional development, but result in first-year teachers who lead students to higher levels of performance. In addition, many programs provide students an affordable opportunity to earn their Master’s Degree while completing their residency term.
Most recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced their plans to direct new support to the cultivation and sustenance of teacher prep programs that give candidates meaningful opportunities and are informed by K-12 school systems and the communities they serve.
Here’s a snapshot of three innovative teacher residency programs, all founded in the last 15 years or less, that offer a variety of interpretations of the classic model.
Blue Engine works in partnership with public high schools in low-income communities to give teachers access to trained Blue Engine Teaching Assistants (BETAs).
Blue Engine focuses on small group instruction, placing teams of 3-4 BETAs in Math and Literacy classrooms alongside teachers. BETAs customize instruction to the specific needs of students and give students personalized feedback on their work.
Location: New York City
Residency: One year
Beyond math and literacy achievement, the program has developed a social curriculum that helps students build non-cognitive skills as well. The curriculum represents progressive research in social, educational psychology and is grounded in teacher and BETA feedback emphasizing student motivation as one of the top issues most closely tied to academic success.
BETAs also provide instruction and support during off periods and after school hours, leading afterschool programming and engaging with students in extracurricular contexts that range from academic tutoring and test preparation to coaching sports teams and directing school musicals.
BETAs and teachers deliver assessments and collect data about students to monitor learning, track progress, and inform instruction. State- and nationally-recognized assessments administered quarterly enable teachers and BETAs to track student progress towards college-ready skills throughout the year. The presence of BETAs in the classroom reduces the instructor-to-student ratios from 1:30 to 1:7 on average.
The NYC Teaching Fellows program is highly selective, accepting just 12% of applicants over the past five years. Fellows are able to make strategic choices about where they want to begin their teaching careers within the NYC neighborhood that needs the most help, often low-income communities in Brooklyn and the Bronx. The program focuses on filling teaching jobs in math and science and students with special needs and English Language Learners.
Location: New York City
Residency: No time commitment
The program is based on a rigorous, practice-based training experience that focuses on foundational skills for great teaching. Fellows receive ongoing support from their assigned mentor and are observed 10 times throughout the year by university staff that provide feedback and work with them one-on-one. Fellows can share resources, lesson plans, field trip opportunities, and professional development opportunities with each other through the NYC Teaching Fellows Network.
Fellows are also enrolled in a subsidized master’s degree program, and tuition is withdrawn from a Fellow’s paycheck once they start teaching. Fellows receive a stipend of $2,500 during training provided by the NYC Department of Education. After securing a full-time teaching position Fellows earn the same salary and benefits as other beginning teachers. Fellows with only a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn an annual salary of $48,445, and upon completion of their master’s degree, $54,459. 92% of NYC Fellows complete their first year, 75% are still teaching in their third year, and over half teach for five years or more.
In 2012 the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (MABHE) approved the Sposato Graduate School of Education (SGSE), an independent and fully sanctioned graduate school that began granting Master’s in Effective Teaching (MET) for the 2012-13 school year. The first cohort of graduates received their MET degrees from Sposato in December 2013.
Location(s): Greater Boston, DC, New York City, New Orleans, Denver, Chicago, San Francisco
Residency: Two years
In the first year, residents work full-time in a high performing, high poverty school in Boston in either Elementary (all subjects) (K-5) or Middle School / High School (English or Math) (6-12) at one of Sposato’s partner residency schools. Residents serve as tutors or teaching assistants, as well as completing graduate work that includes structured lesson planning and practice sessions, feedback sessions with their instructional coach, and video analysis exercises.
Photo Credit: Relay