Sustainable Funding for Teacher Residencies—Within Reach?
Ask any new teacher what part of their preparation was most important, and the answer will almost always be the final clinical component—the student teaching, internship, or residency experience. But while everyone seems to agree that high-quality clinical experience is critical to high-quality preparation, a persistent set of challenges have stood in the way of widespread implementation: identifying excellent clinical faculty, providing adequate time in clinical placements, and helping candidates, particularly those of limited means, navigate the full-time demands of unpaid student teaching or internships.
In recent years, several externally funded boutique programs have emerged, providing evidence of the benefit of intensive, full-year, paid, coteaching residencies. Still, while they have offered proof of the concept, broader replication has been cost-prohibitive. A new report from Bank Street College’s Sustainable Funding Project offers a new approach to overcoming the challenges and making funded residencies much more widely available. That report, For the Public Good: Quality Preparation for Every Teacher, deserves serious consideration in conversations between educator preparation programs and their PK-12 partners.
The benefits of yearlong funded residencies accrue widely. Candidates benefit from experiencing the whole school year, start to finish, while working with an experienced mentor. And they can afford it—a stipend erases the opportunity costs and lets them avoid after-school shifts working another job to make ends meet. All parties—the candidate, the cooperating or mentor teacher, and the class of PK-12 students—gain from the coteaching model. Students benefit from the doubling of qualified instructional staff supporting their learning, while the mentor coteacher gains valuable professional development. And where multiple residents are placed in one building, the benefits to the school as a whole are multiplied from overall professional growth and the enriched instructional environment. What’s more, teachers prepared in longer clinical placements tend to persist in the profession; given the high cost of teacher turnover, particularly in our hardest-to-staff schools, the economic case is as solid as the educational one.
Even if the benefits are clear, the up-front financial cost still deters many. The new report, as well as a recent op-ed by its authors in the New York Times, argues that establishing yearlong funded residencies is often more affordable than we might think. While acknowledging that the easiest solution would be a commitment of federal funds (as other countries have, and as ours has in the case of medical education—something Ron Thorpe once articulated in a well-argued Kappan article), a very good start could be made, and the benefits proven, by cleverly redirecting existing funding streams.
For example, a school that housed five or six residents in coteaching placements for a year might use a significant portion of its substitute teacher budget, using each of the residents (or their coteachers) a day a week to fill in—with less instructional disruption than is often the case with a substitute unfamiliar with the school. Some categories of the Every Student Succeeds Act funds could be used as well, either directly for the residency program, or by using residents to accomplish enhanced instruction.
Absent a federally coordinated push to fund teacher residencies more broadly, the opportunity lies with states, local preparation programs, and their district partners to experiment with this promising model.