There is a great deal of focus on improving teacher education, but it is still not clear how best to do that. One program that has earned attention is the Boston Teacher Residency Program, which duplicates a medical residency in its approach. Aspiring teachers go through a yearlong apprenticeship under a mentor teacher and also earn a master’s degree.
A new study of the residency program shows the proverbial mixed results: Math teachers in the program were less effective initially than their peers, but eventually were more effective. The English/language arts teachers were no more effective than novice teachers who did not go through the program. The residency program improved the diversity of the teaching corps, and its graduates had less turnover.
Asked to design the ideal teacher training approach, many people would cite facets of the Boston program. Yet, even the director calls these study results “disappointing.” What is the ideal way to train effective teachers and — the big question — how should we determine effectiveness over time?
Math teachers trained through the Boston Teacher Residency program are, on average, initially less effective at raising student scores in that subject than other novice teachers. But within five years, their instruction in that subject improves rapidly enough to surpass the effectiveness of their colleagues, a new study concludes. For English/language arts, the residency-trained teachers were no more effective at improving student achievement than other new teachers.
The Boston program did, however, succeed in drawing a more ethnically diverse group of teachers to the profession than is typical; its candidates were more likely to teach the hard-to-fill subjects of math and science, and they were also much more likely than other new teachers to stay in the classroom for at least five years.
Over the long run, the study suggests, the program should have a modest positive impact on student achievement in Boston when longer retention rates are balanced against teachers’ initial weak performance.
Officials at the Boston Plan for Excellence, the nonprofit organization that oversees the residency and that commissioned the study, vowed to use the results to improve their programming.
“I was disappointed,” Jesse Solomon, its executive director, said of the mixed findings. “In my mind, there’s no way we should be doing worse in those first years. We’ll do what we have got do to make sure that first-year result goes away.”
The study’s sample for the effectiveness calculations, performed using a value-added method, was relatively small, but the findings were consistent when examined through several lenses.
“We think this provides reliable evidence on the effectiveness of BTR graduates to date,” said Martin R. West, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and one of four scholars who conducted the study. “The question is whether we can generalize based on those results to BTR graduates who will later have four to five years of experience, much less to graduates of other residency programs and other settings.”
The study, published this week as a working paper by the Cambridge, Mass.-based National Bureau of Economic Research, is the first independent, empirical study of the teacher-residency approach to training.
The Boston Teacher Residency, begun in 2003, was one of the first examples. It has attracted philanthropic support, spawned similar programs in other universities and school districts, and influenced federal teacher-quality policymaking. Residency programs have also been highlighted as promising models by the National Education Association and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Preparation, among others.
The data show that 80 percent of residency teachers stayed through year three, compared with 63 percent of their colleagues, and that 75 percent stayed to year five, compared with 51 percent of new, nonresidents.
Across several different model specifications, the residency teachers performed less well, on average, in their first year on the job than other new teachers, to a degree that the paper characterizes as equivalent to about two months of learning.
“The difference there is not trivial in magnitude. It’s larger than most of the findings in the literature comparing teachers entering through different preparation programs,” Mr. West said.
But by year five, the residents were outperforming other teachers with the same level of experience by nearly the same degree. What’s more, they had improved rapidly enough to best veteran teachers with more than six years of experience.
The study found no differences between the groups of teachers in English/language arts. In general, reading scores seem to be less responsive to differences in instructional quality, as measured by value-added, than math scores.
For Mr. Solomon, the findings show that many of the programs’ goals have been met, but the program has more work to do on the most important one—improved learning outcomes. In its early years, the program had focused on recruitment and retention efforts, but over time has made producing effective teachers a priority, he said.
“We just felt like, look, we can study and measure retention and principal satisfaction ‘till the cows come home, but you want to know how kids are doing,” Mr. Solomon said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog