September 14, 2011
A Bank of America employee, a fashion industry veteran, and a 311 operator are among the newest additions to the city’s teaching corps.
They are among 26 people being eased into the classroom through a new city program designed to train – and retain – high-quality teachers specifically for the city’s worst-performing schools.
Launched with little fanfare this summer, the NYC Teaching Residency for School Turnaround is the city’s latest effort to attract talent using an alternative certification program. But unlike the city’s NYC Teaching Fellows program, the residency isn’t throwing its trainees straight into the classroom. Nor is it quickly relieving them from their obligation to the city.
Instead, the program requires them to make a lengthier commitment, but only after they’ve spent a year working as assistants to in the classroom.
The teachers-in-training have been dispersed into two schools undergoing federally-funded “transformation” — Queens Vocational and Technical High School and J.H.S. 22 Jordan L. Mott — and are part of an experimental effort to overhaul schools deemed “persistently low-achieving” by the state.
Borrowing heavily from models that preceeded it in recent years, the program comes amid a growing nationwide focus on improving both the teacher quality and retention rates in high-needs urban schools.
The programs are expensive to create and operate, but supporters say the cost is worth it because it cuts down on pricey turnover expenses. Half of all teachers in urban districts will leave the profession within five years, statistics show. But 85 percent of teachers who were trained as residents will stay, according to early data collected by Urban Teacher Residency United, a network that has more than a dozen programs in 10 cities.
This summer, NYC Teaching residents spent a month preparing for the school year in classes of their own. They spent mornings in lectures at St. John’s University and afternoons in seminars and workshops taught by a DOE instructor.
During the first few months of school, trainees will have limited responsibilities, but by the end of the year they’ll be expected to devise and teach their own lesson plans for weeks at a time without guidance.
The city is spending $1.3 million — or $50,000 per resident — in federal School Improvement Grant money for the 10-month program, which includes a $22,500 stipend, benefits, and tuition subsidies for certification classes at St. John’s. After the residency, participants commit to four years of teaching in schools that the city wants to overhaul.
“It is part of a broader school improvement initiative to create a pipeline of people who are going to come in and stay in these schools,” said DOE spokeswoman Barbara Morgan. The city plans to double the program’s size next year.
Dozens of new residencies have popped up around the country in just the last few years, fueled by federal grants and philanthropic organizations that seek to not only find committed new teachers, but identify and prepare the ones who are most likely to succeed. Last year, 19 new residency programs were funded with a $43 million federal grant to “improve teaching in high-needs schools.”
And more are on the way, via Race To The Top. This summer, the state awarded grant money to six city training institutions to “address the teacher shortage issue” through two teacher preparation programs, one of which includes a residency.
“We’re looking at teacher preparation pretty hard,” said Julie Mikuta, of New Schools Venture Fund, a philanthropic firm that was an early investor of UTRU and supports education initiatives for low income students. Mikuta, who focuses on human capital investments at the firm, said preparation was “a major spoke in the wheel” toward closing the school achievement gap.
In New York City, four residencies have been created in the last three years, with the NYC Teaching Residency being the latest. Vicky Bernstein, the DOE’s executive director of teacher recruitment and quality, has supervised each of the new programs and, before being promoted to chief academic officer last year, Shael Polakow-Suransky worked closely on developing some of the programs.
The four programs follow a basic model, but teachers aren’t necessarily trained in the same way.
At New Visions for Public Schools, teachers are trained to teach in high-needs schools, but they are initially placed in “stronger schools where they can learn effective practices,” said program director Marisa Harford.
“We feel that for the residency school, it’s important to be in an effective school first,” Harford said.
At I-START, the city’s first residency program, which trains teachers for schools for new immigrants, residents are trained on strategies that get English language learners speaking English in their classes.
“We really take seriously developing human capital and this was one way to create a continuous pipeline of teachers who fit our educational approach,” said Claire Sylvan, founder of Internationals Network for Public Schools, which launched I-START in 2008 in partnership with Long Island University.
The costs associated with teacher residencies are high, ranging from $40,000 to $60,000 per teacher per year. As school districts’ budgets contract, some question whether it can be a sustainable model for preparing teachers nationwide.
“I always caution against measuring these things in the abstract,” said Rick Hess, an education policy analyst.
Hess warned that just because teachers trained in a residency did not mean they’d be successful. He said the positive generalizations given to residencies as they’ve grown in numbers remind him of the reputation that charter schools obtained, even though they vary widely in type and quality.
“Certainly a well-run residency program that’s being highly-selective about talent would give me confidence that it’s a reasonable strategy, but the notion that a residency is any kind of a solution is naive.”
The I-START program is still young, but Sylvan said that many former residents have stayed in her network of schools and their presence is beginning to pay off.
“The vast majority went into our schools are are beginning to play significant roles,” she said. “I expect to have some school leaders come out of this in the next five to 10 years.”