Revamping the Teaching Profession: Investing in teachers from the very beginning

“You can spend a lot of money on education, but if you don’t spend it wisely, on improving the quality of instruction, you won’t get higher student outcomes.”
– Andreas Schleicher, Head of the Indicators and Analysis Division for the OECD

We agree. This is why our most recent education investment report focuses on improving teaching quality.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education and a series of partners, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the National Education Association, convened the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York City. The group discussed lessons learned from other countries where teachers are well-respected and highly effective with their students.

A key theme that emerged from the summit and the resulting follow-up reports was the importance of investing in high-quality teachers from the very beginning of their careers—by recruiting and preparing high-quality teachers who can deliver excellent instruction.

As one of the reports said, “the most important lesson the U.S. can take from the countries that have been most successful in achieving high PISA scores for their students is to begin investing in the preparation and development of high-quality teachers, while at the same time taking steps to elevate the status of the entire profession to a higher level of respect and regard.”

Elevating the status of the teaching profession is something that requires time as well as cultural and policy shifts; however, investing in the early preparation and support of high-quality teaching candidates is a great start and is an area where individual philanthropic capital can play a critical role.

The “Teacher Residency” model is a great example of an approach to improving teaching quality that incorporates selective recruiting with intensive hands-on preparation and ongoing support for new teachers. This is a model that we chose to highlight in High Impact Philanthropy to Improve Teaching Quality because of its results for students, and the OECD chose to feature it in their follow-up report to the recent summit.

Thanks to Shawn McKenna, MPA student in Penn’s Fels Institute of Government and Instructional Specialist for the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows, for his contributions to this post.

Model in Practice: Learning to teach through year-long apprenticeships in high-need schools

About the model: Many new teachers are unprepared for the realities of teaching, especially in a high-need school. Employing an approach borrowed from the medical profession, teacher residency programs address this problem by redesigning teacher pre-service training. Teacher residencies combine a year-long classroom apprenticeship with master’s-level course work so that by the time a graduate becomes a full-time teacher, he or she has already spent a significant amount of time in front of students, in a K–12 classroom, working alongside a veteran teacher. By preparing teachers through practical learning, hands-on experience, and a strong support network, teacher residency programs are attempting to change the way teachers are trained so that they can be effective from the very start of their teaching careers. In this Model in Practice, we profile Urban Teacher Residency United, a network of residency programs that focus on recruiting and training new teachers for high-need urban public schools.

Nonprofit agent: In 2004, the nation’s existing Urban Teacher Residency programs (located in Boston, Chicago, and Denver) formed an informal partnership to exchange best practices and promote the concept of residency-based teacher preparation. From this partnership, Urban Teacher Residency United (UTRU) emerged as a collective effort to launch and support excellent residency programs in high-need urban districts. Initial funding was provided by a Boston foundation, Strategic Grant Partners. More recently, UTRU created the Residency for Residencies Program (RRP) to help school districts, universities, and nonprofits launch new teacher residency programs. This two-year program combines intensive learning institutes with focused, individual consultation to help emerging programs design, develop, and launch high-performing residencies. To date, UTRU has partnered with 18 residency programs in 16 districts nationwide.  UTRU partner programs trained 500 teachers across the country in 2009, and the organization plans to increase that number as new residency programs are created.

How it works: Urban Teacher Residency United partner programs focus on preparing teachers for careers in high-need urban schools. Although programs can be housed in different places, all involve partnerships between a university that provides course work and a school district in which participants serve as residents for a year. Each resident receives a stipend for living expenses during the training year and a subsidized master’s degree upon completion of the program.60 Residency programs in the UTRU network are characterized by the following elements:

Rigorous recruitment and selection of candidates: Each program selects a diverse and high-performing group of recent college graduates, career changers, and community members to become residents. Recruitment focuses on attracting minority teachers and teachers in high-need subject areas, such as math, science, and special education. Program candidates are selected through multiple interviews with role plays, case studies, and careful assessment of content knowledge.

Three-year teaching commitment: In return for the stipend and subsidized master’s degree, residents commit to teaching in a high-need public school for at least three years.

Careful selection and training of mentors: Each resident is paired with a mentor teacher who is an experienced teacher from the district. The mentor teacher is selected and trained to play six explicit roles: effective teacher, coach, clinical faculty member, program leader, learner, and assessor.61

Apprenticeship year with ample opportunities for practice: During the apprenticeship year, residents gradually move from a collaborative co-teaching role to an increasingly demanding, lead-teaching role. The mentor teacher serves as coach and role model, and all mentors receive ongoing support and training to ensure that the classroom experience is well-structured and aligned with the university course work. The course work varies by program, but all programs in the UTRU network emphasize mastery of classroom management, cultural awareness, and assessment techniques that enable teacher candidates to gauge student progress and understanding. All residents learn to engage students in problem solving, critical thinking, and project-based learning to make subject matter more meaningful.

Peer network: Residents train as part of a peer group cohort that provides support and collaborative learning throughout the residency year and beyond. Groups of residents are placed in the same school, and residents complete their master’s degree course work with their cohorts. In interviews with residents, the importance of the cohort community was a recurring theme. As one former resident said, “cohort seminars had a support group component, which was really helpful…Even after official gatherings stopped, residents continued to come together to see and support each other, and I have remained very close to several of my cohort members.”62

Post-residency program support: After completing the residency year, residents are given assistance with job placement in one of the district’s schools, as well as access to an on-site induction program that includes one-on-one consultation with classroom observations and targeted feedback throughout the first two years of solo teaching. Residency programs sometimes partner with the New Teacher Center on the induction component. UTRU programs also have an active alumni network, which serves as a resource as graduates pursue further professional growth.

Professional advancement for mentors: Beyond preparing residents to hit the ground running when they become full-time teachers, teacher residencies create new career paths for the experienced teachers who serve as mentor teachers and teacher leaders, thereby building capacity in high-need schools.

Impact: Teacher residency programs are a relatively new innovation in teacher preparation. As a result, no rigorous efficacy or cost-effectiveness studies exist to substantiate their impact. Nevertheless, our analysis of existing data points to the model’s promise.

Student outcomes: The best available data come from an evaluation of one of the founding programs in the UTRU network, the Boettcher Teachers Program in Colorado. The evaluation, conducted by The Evaluation Center of the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Education & Human Development, looked at student test score data.63

Our analysis of this study found:

  • Reading test score gains for students of Boettcher teachers were approximately 70% higher than the reading scores of students taught by non-Boettcher trained new teachers in similar schools, representing a statistically significant difference (4.5 percentile gain versus 2.6 percentile gain 64). In other words, a student who was performing better than 20% of peers is now performing better than 24.5% of peers, suggesting that the student’s rate of learning accelerated. For high-need students, gains like this are critical to closing achievement gaps.
  • Students of Boettcher teachers showed gains across all other tested subjects, although only reading gains were statistically significant.
  • Students of Boettcher mentor teachers showed significantly greater gains in all subjects compared with students of both Boettcher–trained new teachers and other new teachers. This is to be expected, since mentor teachers have more teaching experience, yet this finding supports the program’s strength in selecting mentors who have demonstrated effectiveness in teaching high-need students. Some hypothesize that serving as a mentor can improve an experienced teacher’s practice, although further studies are needed to validate this hypothesis. Schools with high concentrations of Boettcher teachers showed greater gains than the state median in at least two subjects. For 2009, all five training site schools showed rates of student growth that exceeded the state median.

More data on the effect of residency training on student outcomes is expected to be released in 2011 or 2012 by Thomas Kane, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who is leading a study of the Boston Teacher Residency program.

Teacher outcomes: Teacher retention is a useful indicator because high levels of teacher turnover can be damaging to schools and students, as well as financially costly to districts.65 For donors, retention is particularly important because residencies require considerable upfront investment in selecting and training teacher candidates. UTRU partner programs have tracked retention rates of former residents and have found rates significantly higher than those typical of urban districts.66 The founding programs in the network—Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) in Chicago, the Boettcher Teachers program, and the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR)—have been around long enough to have data showing that the majority of teachers they train stay beyond the required three-year commitment. After five years:67

  • The retention rates for the three founding programs represent an improvement of 66% to 84% over the national five-year retention rate of 50%.68
  • 83% of AUSL teachers are still teaching, compared with an average of 33% for the Chicago district, representing a 151% improvement in retention.69
  • 85% of BTR teachers are still teaching, compared with an average of 50% for the Boston district after only four years, representing an improvement of more than 70%.70
  • 92% of Boettcher teachers are still teaching compared with an estimated average of 60% in Colorado after only three years, representing an improvement of more than 53%.71

Principal satisfaction: Principals rated 88% of Boston Teacher Residency graduates as equally effective or more effective than other first-year teachers. A majority were rated as “significantly more effective.” More than 94% of principals indicated their desire to hire additional BTR graduates.72

All UTRU partner programs are currently conducting program evaluations.73

Costs/resources required:74 The total program cost per resident ranges from $37,350 to $84,000, depending on the city, with an average cost per resident of $50,000. The Boettcher program is on the low end, at approximately $38,000.

Costs include mentor and resident stipends, program personnel, recruiting expenses, program materials, and mentor training. Of these costs, the resident stipend varies the most, depending on the local cost of living. Stipends are typically $10,000 – $11,000 but can be as high as $32,000. Most residency programs require residents to pay tuition, but tuition costs are almost always subsidized or discounted in some way. The average tuition cost is about $7,400.75 To date, the costs have been covered by a mix of private philanthropy, district funds, and federal funds through programs like AmeriCorps.76

While researching this model, we frequently heard concerns about the high upfront costs of teacher residency programs. For donors seeking impact, a model’s costs need to be understood in relation to its impact. As the cost-per-impact estimate below illustrates, residency programs offer the promise of great philanthropic bang for buck. Nonetheless, residency programs around the country are looking for ways to reduce or redistribute their costs. Some ideas include substituting loans for cash payments to residents, and requiring school districts to pay mentors from professional development budgets.

Cost per impact: Based on current program costs and the results of the Boettcher program, we estimate that, for $60 to $134 per secondary student, Urban Teacher Residencies can lead to the following impacts:

  • Improved student outcomes. Measurable gains in student mastery of content in important areas such as reading. Students taught by Boettcher-trained new teachers demonstrated statistically significant reading gains that were approximately 70% higher than gains by those taught by non-Boettcher new teachers.77
  • Improved school functioning as indicated by high rates of principal satisfaction and increased teacher retention.78 After five years, the BTR, AUSL, and Boettcher programs had teacher retention rates significantly higher than district and state averages, and rates represent an improvement of 66% to 84% over national five-year retention rates,79 despite the fact that the residency graduates were all teaching in high-need schools.
  • Savings to school districts. The costs of residency programs should be weighed against the high cost of teacher turnover. In Chicago, for example, replacing a teacher costs approximately $18,000,80 and five-year retention rates for Chicago’s AUSL graduates represent an improvement of 151% over the current district average.81 At that rate, Chicago would save $900,000 per 100 teachers over a period of five years.

For detailed explanations of how we arrived at cost and impact estimates, see the appendix.

Nonprofit contact: Anissa Listak, UTRU executive director, at (312) 397-8878 x114, or visit the UTRU Website at Contact information for founding programs: AUSL at, BTR at, and Boettcher at