Readers of this month’s issue of Educational Leadership (with the theme Bolstering the Teacher Pipeline) will find good articles on the well-known challenges of recruiting, developing and retaining excellent teachers, especially in schools that serve students growing up in low-income communities. These challenges are exacerbated by the intensive resource constraints that so many American school systems face.
Education leaders are hungry for practical talent-development strategies that positively impact student learning without incurring significant new costs. To better understand this issue, our team at Education Resource Strategies (a nonprofit that partners with district, school, and state leaders to transform how they use resources and create more strategic school systems) studied the structure, costs, and impacts associated with new teacher recruitment and support models in three large urban school districts. Collectively, these districts partner with more than ten distinct local and national organizations to recruit, prepare and support more than 1,000 incoming teachers annually.
School systems often choose new teacher recruitment strategies with an eye to addressing critical teacher shortages, but the ideal strategy does more than fill critical empty positions. We found that investing in new teachers through models like teaching residencies can also be a strategic, long-term move that helps drive significant increases in student achievement at relatively low incremental cost. Specifically, our study found that a strategic approach to training, placing, and retaining teachers could generate an average of more than four months of incremental learning per year for the “typical” student. To achieve this strategic approach, district and school leaders must do three things:
Partner with a high-quality pre-service residency:
Every teacher development pathway – residencies, alternative certification, para-to-teacher and others – yields some high-flyers, some typical novice teachers and some underperformers. But while the variation within any single pathway is greater than the variation in average effectiveness from one pathway to the next, some programs do, on average, yield more effective teachers. Identifying and partnering with these most-effective programs – and helping them continue to improve their training and support models – is important to a school system’s ability to increase overall instructional quality and student outcomes.
Assign these highly-supported novice teachers to hard-to-staff roles,
such as math and science, high school and special education positions. Placing new teachers in harder-to-fill roles may seem counterintuitive, especially in schools that already experience significant turnover. However, because these roles are so hard to staff, they are also most likely to be otherwise filled by unqualified teachers or long-term substitutes who, on average, generate lower levels of achievement than their more qualified peers. Placing a well-trained novice – such as a graduate of a high-quality residency program – in such roles can have an incrementally larger relative impact on student learning.
Retain well-trained novices for several years through incentives.
We know that teachers grow most in their first few years in the classroom; losing a high-quality teacher after one or two years is costly to students, schools, and the system at large. Retaining effective teachers for at least four years multiplies the impact of the initial investment. By creating for new-teacher candidates–especially candidates coming from traditionally under-represented communities– explicit incentives and financial supports tied to committing to staying in a school, leaders can reduce long-term churn and can reap the benefits of early career teacher growth.
Each of these three moves can increase the return on a district’s investment in new teachers; for some residency models, this return on investment can come to as much as $25,000 per year per resident. Improving ROI also implies offsetting these costs. School system leaders can start that cost offsetting by rethinking the use of existing professional development dollars, (including Title I and II funds). Leaders should move away from providing PD through one-off workshops and stipends for continuing education, and—as a case study ERS did of effective PD efforts in four leading-edge school systems showed–towards providing a rigorous curriculum, time for collaborative planning, and content experts to guide teams and provide feedback. Because these job-embedded supports are deeply connected to teachers’ everyday work, they help novices grow and encourage them to stay in the profession.
Additionally, system and school leaders can use the introduction of novice or pre-service teachers as a catalyst for implementing Strategic School Design – a process by which school leaders start with a vision for their school and deep knowledge of students’ needs and then organize their resources around that vision. This might mean using innovative strategies to pair novice teachers with lead teachers to create opportunities for small group instruction or build master teachers’ leadership skills. Forward-thinking school leaders can go even further, breaking down the traditional one-teacher, one-classroom model and fostering a more radical transformation that benefits all students.
David Rosenberg is a partner and leader of the Human Capital Practice at Education Resource Strategies, He is the author of a forthcoming report on the return-on-investment of new teacher support pathways.