In my previous post I asked if the U.S. can raise the teaching profession to the level of the countries with the highest performing education systems. The good news is that the climate for overhauling the system of preparing, supporting and evaluating teachers has been steadily improving as a result of the impact of Teach For America and other reform efforts. (TFA has always claimed a dual mission that includes socializing future leaders about the need to reform public education. In fact, TFA alumni are some of the most prominent leaders in education reform today, spawning charter schools, spin-off alternative certification pathways, and influencing public education policy.) In particular, there are a number of trends that are contributing to increased efforts to revamp the teacher preparation system, and are luring top individuals into the classroom:
- The rapid expansion of high-performing charter school management organizations has raised the bar for teacher performance. Unhampered by union contracts and school district policies, charter schools are free to hire whom they choose and release teachers who do not measure up. Some of the most successful and well known (e.g., KIPP, Achievement First, YES Prep) have developed a kind of synergy with TFA, recruiting their corps members and alumni because they tend to thrive in the charter school climate of high expectations and no excuses. As Bill Gates has often remarked, “what goes on (in these classrooms) is great teaching.” So, as the top charter operators add schools, the demand grows for the top talent in the teaching profession, along with the status of teaching at the top charter schools.
- The growing number of alternative certification programs, especially those with teacher residencies,meets a need for more substantive and meaningful teacher preparation. One of the obstacles to attracting the top graduates to the profession is the perception (and reality) that the coursework is neither inspiring nor adequate preparation for the classroom. In recent years, several colleges have partnered with public schools to develop hybrid models that emphasize practice and onsite mentoring over meaningless coursework. Some charter operators also offer residency programs designed to meet their own staffing needs and attract TFA quality talent who commit to a longer term of employment. It’s worth exploring a few of these programs in more detail.
- Urban Teacher Residencies United (UTRU) is a network that supports and launches residential teacher training programs across the country. The programs recruit selectively, synthesize a yearlong classroom apprenticeship with masters’ coursework, and provide a modest stipend and tuition support. Read this excellent description of the Boston program in Scholastic Administrator.
- A few charter school networks have launched their own teacher training programs in an effort to attract top talent and increase the culture fit for their networks. YES Prep in Houston requires all first year teachers to participate in its Teaching Excellence program- combining teacher training and alternative certification. Aspire Public Schools , the largest charter network in California, partnered with University of the Pacific to launch an ambitious and comprehensive in-house residency and certification program in 2010 that has attracted serious attention (see this S.F. Chronicle article for starters). Like TFA, Aspire’s program is selective, accepting about 1 in 7 applicants. However, unlike TFA, participants join a 4-year program, offering stipends, salary, tuition reimbursement and the promise of a job in one of their schools (see Top-Ed’s analysis earlier this year).
Next: The role of Obama, Duncan and national organizations.