California residents

Teacher residencies have many admirers but still train few teachers. California may be about to change that.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Yumar Wheeler is participating in a teacher residency program at KIPP New Jersey TEAM Academy.

Sending would-be educators into schools for a year of intense, hands-on training alongside their academic coursework is a concept that’s excited a lot of people who want to improve how teachers learn to teach.

But enthusiasm for these teacher residency programs has largely outstripped their ability to expand, especially because many charge little or no tuition.

Now, the state with the most students in the country is trying to change that. California recently earmarked $75 million to create new residencies and expand existing ones — enough to jumpstart programs that face unique funding challenges. Advocates hope these programs will give teachers better training, improve their likelihood of staying in the classroom, and diversify the profession.

“The $75 million by far is the largest state investment that I can track by leaps and bounds,” said Tamara Azar of the National Center for Teacher Residencies.

California’s school districts or charter schools will be able to win the money by partnering with an existing teacher-prep program on a residency designed for prospective math, science, special education, and bilingual teachers — who are all in high demand in a state with teacher shortages.

Winning districts can’t charge prospective teachers an up-front fee, though the university partners may charge tuition. Some programs might offer living stipends to candidates, a practice promoted by the Learning Policy Institute, a California-based think tank that supports the residency model.

Teachers who go through the programs have to commit to teaching for four years in the district or school that sponsors the residency, and if they leave early they’re on the hook to pay back some of the grant funding.

Even with that kind of commitment, earning a stipend instead of paying tuition makes residencies more appealing to some would-be teachers than traditional teacher education. (Nationally, not all residencies offer stipends and some still charge tuition.) But that dynamic has left programs with big costs, and most remain relatively small.

The Learning Policy Institute counted 53 residency programs in 2016. The National Center for Teacher Residencies estimates that the 23 programs in its network have produced fewer than 3,500 graduates, including 792 last school year. For perspective, there were nearly 200,000 first-year public school teachers across the U.S. in the 2015-16 school year.

“Residencies have grown relatively slowly,” said Azar.

California expects its initiative to produce around 3,700 teachers.

Existing residency programs fund themselves in a patchwork of ways: philanthropic contributions, school districts, federal grants, state programs, and the teacher candidates themselves. Bank Street College of Education has offered other ideas for more sustainable financing, including using residents as substitute teachers or to run after-school programs.

To date, research on the residency model is limited, and there’s not clear evidence that residencies are any more effective at training teachers. In fact, a study of one highly touted program, the Boston Teacher Residency, found its graduates were less effective at raising student test scores in math than other novice teachers, though by year four in the classroom they were more effective.

There is evidence that teachers trained as residents are more likely to remain in the classroom for a number of years. Residencies are also able to recruit many more teachers of color, which is notable amid pushes to diversify the predominantly white profession.

“I think that amount of student teaching and the mentor teacher being a true expert probably has a lot to do with the retention rate being strong,” Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute, has said. “You’re getting everything a beginning teacher should get.”

Twelve California districts have already won small grants to start planning for new or expanding residency programs.

Under the terms of California’s grant program, every dollar a program receives from the state has to be matched with another dollar from other sources. Prospective teachers will take courses in classroom management, child development, and culturally responsive teaching, among other areas, through an existing teacher prep program, likely a university. They will also student-teach at least half-time for a full school year with support from a teacher with at least three years of experience.

In Newark, the KIPP charter network runs a year-long residency for would-be teachers who take classes through Relay Graduate School of Education. Intisar Hatcher-Wright, a KIPP science teacher who has been mentoring resident Yumar Wheeler, said the approach doesn’t entirely shield people from the challenges of the classroom — but hopefully eases the transition.

“It’s been a huge learning curve for Yumar. It hasn’t been easy for him by far,” Hatcher-Wright said. “But I will say that what has been maybe different … than he might have experienced otherwise is that I was really purposeful in protecting him and making sure he could take baby steps before he takes these larger steps.”

First Person

We work at Denver’s Title I schools, too. Here’s why we’re ready to strike.

PHOTO: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Students in kindergarten on the first day of school at McGlone Academy.

We are a group of teachers representing schools in the far northeast region of Denver. Many of us now receive “incentives” for working at Title I schools where many students live in poverty — and we are also willing to strike in support of the union’s proposed salary structure, which moves some of the money used for those incentives into long-term base pay.

Why? In short, we would rather have our base pay prioritized than earn bonuses that are not reliable, may not be working, and may also take the pressure off the district to solve systemic problems our schools face.

Issue #1: The current bonuses can’t be relied on. The “hard to serve” school label is based on free and reduced-price lunch percentages, which vary on an annual basis. Teachers at Marie L. Greenwood Academy, for example, could lose their “hard to serve” label because their school dropped just barely below the threshold. Additionally, John Amesse Elementary School and McGlone Academy are less than two miles apart, serve similar populations, and are a part of the same network; however, due to ambiguous calculations based on test scores, free and reduced-price lunch numbers, and teacher turnover rates, McGlone teachers receive larger bonuses than John Amesse teachers. This is not fair nor equitable. Teachers need money they can depend on.

Issue #2: It’s not clear that the current bonuses are working. We have not seen conclusive evidence that the incentives we receive for working in hard to serve schools have affected teacher retention or recruitment. Every year, schools in our area are hiring for positions that often get filled by first-year teachers. Many of the schools that receive these incentives still suffer from the same high turnover rates the bonuses were meant to remedy.

Issue #3: The current bonuses let the district off the hook. Some have argued that teachers in Title I schools deserve significant bonuses because the challenges faced in our work are difficult and taxing. However, many of these issues are due to systemic problems that the district would be better off trying to solve directly.

We know that increasing incentive pay to work at “hard to serve” schools will not fix the issues around segregation in Denver Public Schools. Increasing incentive pay to work at “hard to serve” schools will not fix the issues around some schools lacking nurses, social workers, counselors, support for Spanish speaking and emerging bilingual students, and support for special education programs. It will not solve issues around the lack of reliable technology, funding for arts, comprehensive neighborhood schools, or the flood of issues that we all feel in our schools on a daily basis.

We support the union’s proposal because we want the decisions we make as educators to stem from a love of our schools, a desire to serve our students, and a hope to support our community. We want teachers to seek out and stay at our schools because they believe in our vision, our mission, our students, and our community.

We are also passionate about a clear and transparent pay schedule. We want that structure to recognize our dedication to the field and our commitment to furthering our education – not a system that provides one-time bonuses that are in our checks one year and absent the next due to circumstances outside our control.

Anyone who enters our classrooms will see that we are doing our best with the resources we have in order to lift up the students in Denver who are most impacted by systemic racism and poverty. Let us come together on this idea: Fair pay for teachers means better outcomes for students. If we can stand together on this, then we can help improve the lives of so many more students, teachers, and families.

This piece was written by Jessica Schneider, Noel Community Arts School; Tanessa Bass, John H. Amesse Elementary; Rebecca Roberts, John H. Amesse Elementary; Valerie Henderson, Sandra Todd Williams Academy; Brian Weaver, Florida Pitt Waller ECE-8; Michelle Garrison, Farrell B. Howell ECE-8; Michael Sitkin, DCIS @ Montbello; Cory Montrieul, DCIS @ Montbello; and Nik Arnoldi, Escalante-Biggs Academy.

Last minute

Teachers union continues voting on possible Denver strike

PHOTO: Michael Ciaglo/Special to the Denver Post
Eagleton Elementary School first grade teacher Valerie Lovato, left, and East High School French teacher Tiffany Choi hold up signs as the Denver teachers union negotiates with district officials.

Denver teachers resumed voting Tuesday evening on whether to go on strike, a decision that will touch tens of thousands of people in Colorado’s largest school district.

The vote comes after months of negotiations left Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association still $8 million apart and with serious philosophical disagreements about how teacher compensation should be structured. Denver teachers are riding a wave of activism by their peers across the country that began last year and continues to build. Teachers in Los Angeles just reached a tentative deal with their district after more than a week on strike.

Members of the teachers union began voting on a strike Saturday. A final round of voting began at 4 p.m. Tuesday and will end at 9 p.m. Union officials said Tuesday evening that results would be announced at 9:30 p.m.  

On Tuesday evening, a steady stream of teachers bundled against the cold made their way into a Knights of Columbus Hall in downtown Denver where the last voting session is taking place.

Maria Cruz, an early childhood education teacher for the past two years who previously worked as a paraprofessional in the district, said she voted “yes” to strike hoping it will push the district to close the gap between its offer and what the union is seeking.  

“Teachers come and go and come and go and they never stay because there is not enough pay,” she said. “It doesn’t validate the teaching profession.”

The earliest a strike could start would be Jan. 28. On Tuesday evening, district families received a robocall from Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova making clear that classes would go on as normal on Wednesday, and that district officials intend to keep schools open for the foreseeable future.   

Cordova has said she’ll ask for state intervention if the vote is yes, which could delay a strike. If teachers do walk out, the district intends to keep schools open and students learning by relying on substitutes, tapping central office staff with past teaching experience, and using pre-packaged lessons plans for every grade and subject area. 

A Denver strike would affect roughly 71,000 students in district-run schools.

District officials went on the offensive over the weekend, making the argument that their offer was generous and responsive to longstanding teacher complaints about stagnant salaries.   

The district also published its new salary schedule online alongside the salary schedules of other Denver metro area districts.

The two sides disagree on how much new money the district should put into teacher compensation and also on how that compensation should be structured. The district has said it will not compromise on offering bonuses to teachers at high-poverty and hard-to-serve schools. The union wants smaller bonuses and more money to go into base pay.

This would be the first teacher strike in Denver in 25 years.