Teacher training: what's the best way?
Some policymakers say the focus needs to be on improving traditional education schools, while others are advocates of so-called alternative models, which can speed up entry into the profession.
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"If you're training people and just dispersing them into the system, they're going to get gobbled out by the system," says Alison Hilsabeck, dean of the education school at National-Louis University, where most AUSL residents take their courses and receive their master's degree. "How much more powerful to begin working school by school so you have powerful mentor-teachers ... and then placing the new teachers into turnaround schools with a strong staff and strong principal."Skip to next paragraph
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Urban teacher residencies exist in Boston and Denver, in addition to Chicago. And the Urban Teacher Residency Institute is trying to spread the model with a sort of "residency for residencies" training program. It's currently helping five residency projects that will begin next year: two in New York, one in Philadelphia, one in Denver (beyond the residency already there), and one in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Mr. Obama, during his campaign for president, called for 200 AUSL-like programs to be established across the US. His goal is to turn out 30,000 teachers a year through these residencies to work in America's toughest schools.
But for all the accolades they get, such programs are still tiny: AUSL has had just over 300 residents total in seven classes since the program began in 2001.
It's also very expensive. The program puts coaches in the schools and has other administrative costs, on top of the $32,000 payments.
Proponents argue that benefits on the back end – such as reduced teacher turnover and increased student achievement – more than make up for the expense.
"In the long run, if we don't pay the cost to create good teachers, it's penny-wise and pound-foolish," says Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University in California. "Anytime you let someone go into the classroom before they're ready to be successful, there are all these other costs: of attrition and student failure, summer school, [students being held back a grade], the cost of dropping out."
How university programs run
Still, it is a tough sell. That's one reason some policymakers are putting their efforts into improving the 1,200 university-based teacher-preparation programs, where most teachers still get their training. "It's a big bang for the buck," says Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in Princeton, N.J., and former president of Columbia University's Teachers College in New York.
Most of these programs include more course work than urban teacher residencies, but they usually require considerably less student teaching – between six and 16 weeks.
Yet some universities are moving toward lengthier and more structured experiences in the field. Stanford University, for instance, runs an acclaimed master's program that is field-based, offers highly focused training, and makes extensive use of mentor-teachers. Schools like Bank Street College in New York and Alverno College in Milwaukee have also received praise.
Some of the ways to get into teaching
There are some 1,200 universities that certify teachers and about 140 alternative routes, according to the National Center for Alternative Certification. Here's a sampling of some ways that people become teachers:
• University-based undergraduate education program: This is still the most typical route. Students enter college knowing they want to become teachers and earn a certificate as part of their bachelor's degree. Those getting high school certification also take course work in the subject area they plan to teach, while future elementary school teachers often focus on child development or related subjects. Some student teaching is also required.
• Master of arts in teaching (MAT): Graduate-level course work is combined with some in-classroom experience. As with undergraduate teaching programs, the requirements for both course work and practical experience vary. Some programs are rigorous and have an extensive mentoring component. (MAT is one of several graduate degrees in education that can be earned.)
• Urban teacher residency (UTR): So far, only a handful exist. Usually these programs involve a partnership between an urban school district, a degree-granting university, and a nonprofit that oversees the program and covers most of the cost through fundraising. A group of residents takes educational-theory classes in the summer and during the school year (often just one day a week). But the focus is on the year-long residency in a high-needs school, with collaboration with a trained mentor-teacher. Residents typically get paid a stipend for that year, in return for a commitment to teach several years in the district. They continue to get coaching and mentoring for the first few years of teaching.
• New Teacher Project and Teach for America (TFA): These two alternative programs are well known for the high caliber of candidates they recruit. The New Teacher Project tends to attract older career-changers, while Teach for America concentrates on people just graduating from college. But their model is fairly similar: an intense, "boot camp"-style training institute in the summer, focused on the needs of the urban, high-poverty schools in which they will teach; course work at a university and support throughout their teaching experience; and a commitment to teach in urban schools for a certain length of time (two years, in the case of TFA). The actual teaching certificate is usually granted by a partner university.
• Emergency licensure: This practice of giving virtually anyone a provisional license to teach in cases of teacher shortages was outlawed under the No Child Left Behind Act. But more than 40 states still issue such licenses, using loopholes in the law. Twenty-two states will also renew emergency licenses. Typically, teachers with these licenses take some course work on the side, but there are no minimum standards or requirements.