How teacher residency programs can improve US schools and disrupt inequity

As director of Policy and Advocacy at NWEA, I work with terrific people committed to improving public education. Recently, I connected with Tabitha Grossman, chief external relations officer for the National Center for Teacher Residencies (NCTR). NCTR works to address systemic inequities in education through strong teacher residency programs, which provide aspiring teachers with robust classroom experience.

Tabitha leads NCTR’s work related to state and federal policy, research, and evaluation. She has great insights into what it takes to support aspiring teachers and transform public education, and I’m thrilled to be able to share excerpts from our exchange here.

The impact of teacher residency programs

Can you talk about the value of teacher residency programs as an evidence-based model for teacher preparation?

Tabitha Grossman (TG): Sure! A teacher residency in NCTR’s model is a full-year, immersive experience that allows teacher candidates to fully experience a school year and work alongside an effective, trained, and supported mentor. The recruitment and selection of candidates in our model is intentionally designed to prioritize recruiting and selecting candidates of color to broaden access to teachers of color for all students, but particularly students of color. Our model also prioritizes graduate support in which residents, once they are teachers of record, are supported and coached as new teachers.

What are the characteristics of a strong teacher residency program?

TG: A rigorous, full-year, classroom-based clinical experience is essential to a strong teacher residency program, as is a carefully designed sequence of academic coursework. Programs should pair mentor teachers with residents, and there should be a strong partnership between the residency program and host school district. This should involve data sharing and a vision for the preparation of teacher candidates that is codeveloped and implemented.

A rigorous, full-year, classroom-based clinical experience is essential to a strong teacher residency program.

A strong residency program also infuses culturally and linguistically sustaining practices into the preparation experience and supports teacher candidates to apply those in their instruction. We know this makes a huge difference for Black teacher residents in particular.

You’ve been trying to work with HBCUs to develop teacher residency programs to increase the diversity of the teacher workforce. Why is that important?

TG: NCTR’s mission is to disrupt historical educational inequities by leveraging the teacher residency model to prepare diverse educators. We view the residency model as a disrupter to the systemic racism in the system of public education. We also see it as a strategy to dismantle barriers to the profession for candidates of color.

While 57 percent of the residents in our network partner programs identify as teachers of color, we recognize the impressive history HBCUs have of producing high-quality educators of color. While HBCUs represent only three percent of the nation’s colleges or universities, they graduate half of all Black teachers. Over the past two years, NCTR has invested in developing teacher residency programs at two HBCUs: Delaware State University (DSU) and Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina (Elizabeth City Pathways to Teach).

How do teacher residency programs use data? What types of data would help school leaders determine if a teacher residency program is successful? What data does NCTR rely on?

TG: Data is at the heart of an effective teacher residency program, and NCTR emphasizes that in our development of new teacher residency programs. You can’t really tell what works if you don’t have data. A residency program can’t adequately meet the needs of their school district partner if the school district isn’t providing data about how graduates are performing, for example.

Data is at the heart of an effective teacher residency program.

NCTR collects data from our network partners to help them do their work and center data in their decision-making. We also collect data from network partners to ensure that the technical assistance we provide is meeting their needs, is relevant to their problems of practice, and is making an impact. We release data annually to inform the field and document our impact.

The teacher pipeline

With so many educators leaving the profession, amid the stress of the ongoing pandemic, what makes you hopeful about the future of teaching?

TG: Residency programs make me hopeful because the residency movement is growing. Currently, NCTR serves 46 residency programs in our network. The number of applicants to those programs has increased over the years despite inverse trends for other preparation routes.

I also have a tremendous amount of hope regarding the future of teaching for candidates of color, especially in terms of NCTR’s ongoing commitment to support Black teacher candidates. NCTR developed our Black Educators Initiative (BEI) in 2019 to ensure that more children of color have access to an effective, residency-prepared Black teacher. We know BEI is making a difference thanks to an evaluation of BEI conducted by the Center for Public Research and Leadership.

How can we best prepare teaching candidates to meet the demands and challenges of the classroom today, especially in light of COVID-related opportunity gaps?

TG: Teacher residency programs do this well because they emphasize the year-long, clinical experience. That experience exposes a teacher resident to the myriad of challenges associated with teaching children who are experiencing opportunity gaps but, more importantly, allows them to coteach with an effective mentor who is employing a variety of strategies to address those gaps.

Access to high-quality instructional materials is a lever for equity. Knowing how to identify them, use them, and make instructional shifts with them is essential.

In addition, NCTR has been partnering with EdReports for two years around the use of high-quality instructional materials in the residency year experience. We know that access to high-quality instructional materials is a lever for equity. Knowing how to identify them, use them, and make instructional shifts with them is essential.

Funding and sustainability

There is unprecedented funding available for states to develop programs to support and prepare educators. What are some best practices and programs that policymakers should be paying attention to? Are there bright spots?

TG: Mississippi invested $9 million of their ESSER funds to develop five new teacher residency programs. NCTR is very proud to be working with the Mississippi Department of Education on this project. The braiding of federal and philanthropic funds is impressive and something policymakers should consider.

Delaware is another state leveraging federal funds to support teacher residency programs. California has dedicated an unprecedented amount of state funding into teacher residency programs as well.

What are challenges that universities and districts face as they try to build an effective teacher residency program? What components must be in place to make a residency program successful?

TG: Challenges vary but often are centered on funding and sustainability. There are unique costs associated with teacher residency programs; however, NCTR has done a lot of work in the sustainability space to help teacher residency programs thrive and grow. We recently partnered with the Hunt Institute to share our work in this space with policymakers, as they are key to state investments in teacher residency programs.

How to help

How can mission-driven education organizations like NWEA use data and professional learning to support teacher residency programs and education preparation in general?

TG: Supporting new teachers with research-based professional learning that helps them in their practice as new teachers is so important. No matter how well residencies prepare teacher candidates, teaching is not unlike other professions where ongoing professional learning is essential to growth and development. Teacher residents often end up being mentors themselves. Many others go on to be school and district leaders. This is something NCTR really celebrates, so opportunities for teacher residency graduates to access professional learning that empowers them to lead within the profession are so helpful.

For more on NCTR, please visit the NCTR website or follow them on Twitter @NTCResidencies. We’re @NWEAPolicy and would love to hear your thoughts on teacher residency programs and how to support them.

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