Aspire Public Schools, the state’s largest charter school system, is convinced that its intensive year-long residency program is the best method to train teachers, but it’s expensive. By launching Aspire University, the charter organization hopes to make the program pencil out.

Assuming it receives the regulatory approval, Aspire University will grant preliminary credentials and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction to teachers at the same time that Aspire teachers mentor them. By making teacher credentialing an affiliated operation, Aspire says it can double the size of its program, which produces new teachers who, Aspire says, thrive in its classrooms from day one.

The Aspire Teacher Residency is one of several dozen residency programs nationwide, including a few in California, in which teacher candidates work for a year under the guidance of mentor teachers before assuming control of their own classrooms. During that year, they also take courses for a preliminary teaching credential.

Aspire’s apprentice teachers also receive a stipend and health insurance from Aspire. The teacher candidates earn their master’s degrees through the University of the Pacific, which currently runs the academic part of the program.

Entering its sixth year, the Aspire Teacher Residency started with a class of 20 fellows and has expanded to 50 this year in two operations serving Aspire’s schools in Northern and Southern California. The goal, when Aspire University takes over academic instruction from the University of the Pacific in three to five years, is to double residency enrollment. At that point, it will be producing 70 to 80 percent of Aspire’s new hires every year, according to James Willcox, who will retire this fall after seven years as Aspire’s CEO. Aspire operates 38 schools, with 35 in California, serving 14,600 students.

“We strongly believe that teacher residency is the model of the future,” Willcox said. “We’ve got the data to prove it. Those teachers come out better prepared and more highly effective. They get better faster and they stay in the job longer because they’re more effective, we believe.”

In traditional university-run teacher preparation programs, teacher candidates spend anywhere from 200 to 500 hours in the classroom during a year of taking university courses – fewer classroom hours in some alternative programs – to get a preliminary teaching credential.

In residency programs like Aspire’s, teacher candidates go through a rigorous selection process. Aspire says 10 percent of its applicants are accepted. They work four days a week under the tutelage of an Aspire teacher, taking on more responsibilities over the school year. They take online courses and meet one day each week with other Aspire apprentice teachers and their university instructors. At the end of the year, Aspire places them in an Aspire school.

Mutually advantageous

Both Aspire and their new teachers say the system works.

Aspire says the residency program is worth the investment, currently about $22,000 per fellow, including the $13,500 stipend for the apprentice teacher, $3,000 to the mentor teacher and the gradual assumption of some of a discounted tuition of $10,000 for a master’s degree and credential for those teachers who stay with Aspire. Aspire says that teachers who complete the residency – about 90 percent – are placed in Aspire schools, where they significantly outperform other first-year Aspire teachers. Aspire said that 81 percent of the 83 teachers who completed the program during the first four years have continued to teach in the Aspire system.

“We strongly believe that teacher residency is the model of the future. We’ve got the data to prove it. Those teachers come out better prepared and more highly effective,” said James Willcox, CEO of Aspire.

Most graduates of traditional teacher preparation programs seek work wherever they can find it. Aspire teaching fellows work in Aspire schools, where they learn Aspire’s school curriculum, teaching style and culture in classrooms with the low-income, minority children they will teach. Aspire operates charters in Los Angeles, Stockton, Modesto and in low-income neighborhoods in the Bay Area.

“You are learning how to teach in the context that you’re going to be teaching. For us, that’s important,” Willcox said. “There’s English-language learners, poverty, violence. There’s all the things that come with being in a low-income community. You need to learn whether you want to do that, you need to learn how to teach in that environment.”

Feeling at home

For Bianka Mariscal, 24, that means literally working in her neighborhood. Mariscal is a 2nd-grade teacher at Aspire East Palo Alto Charter, a K-8 school that she attended as a child and where she was mentored as a resident teacher two years ago.

By observing and working closely with 3rd-grade teacher Sarah Portnov, Mariscal felt confident and prepared. “When it came time to take over the class for a week, I didn’t feel jitters,” she said.

There was a close marriage of academic and classroom work in the program, she said. “You could apply the courses on how to be a teacher with what you were doing. The seminar was on schedule with what was happening in class.”

Mariscal, a graduate of Mills College, in turn, could share insights with the children she taught while serving as a role model for them. “I really understand the struggles and things in their lives – why they are tired in class” and why one child acted out to get attention because he wasn’t getting attention at home. “I know what it was like for a family not to be home, because they had to work late.” Children, she said, “are open to talking to me; they know my background.”

Aspire is the largest of several teacher residency programs in California. Another is High Tech High, a charter school network based in San Diego, with 13 schools. Its High Tech High Graduate School of Education offers a two-year intern program leading to a teaching credential and a separate program leading to a master’s degree in education leadership. Fresno Unified has started a teacher residency program for 25 science and math teachers through a federal grant and financial support from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.

Because they are expensive to run, teacher residency programs have remained small, dependent on foundation and government money. By creating its own credentialing and master’s degree program, underwritten by tuition revenue that previously went to other universities, Aspire is confident it can be scalable. By retaining teachers longer, it will also save the $8,000 to $25,000 it loses in training and recruiting expenses each time a teacher leaves, said Heather Kirkpatrick, Aspire’s chief people officer.

The accreditation process is challenging, and approval from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges could take five years, Kirkpatrick said. Once in business, Aspire University could establish teacher residency programs for other public school districts. Districts would design their own programs, not adopt a replica of Aspire Public Schools, Willcox said.

“Imagine going to a superintendent and saying, ‘Give me your 10 best teachers, and we’ll teach you how to clone them,’” Willcox said. “’You’re going to decide what it means to be a successful teacher in your school system. And we’re going to help you have more of those.’”

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  1. Marla 1 year ago1 year ago

    As a mother of a special ed student that attends Aspire College Academy this worried me to read. My child was placed in the class of a kindergarten teacher who was not qualifed per NCLB standards. Students now will have early intervention help upon entry to 1st grade next month because of the unstable environment they had in kindergarten.

  2. Andrew 1 year ago1 year ago

    If the plaintiffs in Friedrichs vs. CTA prevail in freeing newer teachers from forced payment of union dues, unions may have to work to attract newer and younger teachers rather than treating them as second class citizens in determining salary schedules and layoff priorities. What do the unions offer younger and newer teachers besides imposing contracts that guarantee newer teachers will be first to be laid off and will start on the … Read More

    If the plaintiffs in Friedrichs vs. CTA prevail in freeing newer teachers from forced payment of union dues, unions may have to work to attract newer and younger teachers rather than treating them as second class citizens in determining salary schedules and layoff priorities. What do the unions offer younger and newer teachers besides imposing contracts that guarantee newer teachers will be first to be laid off and will start on the low bottom rung of a salary schedule that very steeply favors senior teachers?

    Charters such as Aspire may provide a viable alternative at the beginning of a teaching career. By most accounts, the workload piled on teachers at most charters including Aspire is such that a lifelong career as a charter teacher would not be sustainable. But many charters pay higher starting salaries to beginning teachers than conventional schools, though with lower and fewer future steps for any increases.

    Most conventional teaching job offerings give step credit for public school teaching, including charter teaching. In the absence of a ruling in Friedrichs that pushes unions into fairer treatment of newer teachers, a strategy for newer teachers is obvious: work at a charter for some years at a higher beginning salary, without union dues, and accrue transferable salary step experience. When the time is right, when teacher layoffs due to LIFO are not likely for some years, when enough transferable charter step experience has been gained to command a more reasonable salary on steep unionized salary schedules, obtain a unionized teacher job at a conventional school. Hopefully this happens before the notorious charter burnout of the newer teacher is complete and there is enough left that is undamaged. It is not surprising that charters seek to create a reliable pipeline of new teachers to burn out.

    Replies

    • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

      Pay should be based on average productivity. I don't see a huge difference between teachers after 5 years compared to 35-40. Pay should be about the same. After 5 years teachers miss fewer days, are more enthusiastic, and have more energy, but after 35-40, there is some benefit to the experience. I still say on average it's the same. It's clear the pay is based on guaranteeing loyalty to the … Read More

      Pay should be based on average productivity. I don’t see a huge difference between teachers after 5 years compared to 35-40. Pay should be about the same. After 5 years teachers miss fewer days, are more enthusiastic, and have more energy, but after 35-40, there is some benefit to the experience. I still say on average it’s the same. It’s clear the pay is based on guaranteeing loyalty to the union, not based on what’s best for kids. Has there ever been a study on average value based on years’ experience? In the first few years you get a lot of benefit to the experience but at some point you have diminishing returns. A children first approach would align pay with value to children. Right now we have an employee first approach, including a bloated bureaucracy downtown in which a good manager who could get greater efficiency could employ far fewer bureaucrats and free up money for one on one tutors for poor children to close the achievement gap.

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      Andrew: For once I can half agree with you. The latter part of your statement re charters working to find some sustainable supple chain for new teachers to burn out is, based on available evidence, quite perceptive. On the other hand your assumptions about teacher seniority rights being based on contract language is off base. Teacher seniority and the process for layoffs is determined by Ed Code. It is not a collective bargaining issue. Then we get … Read More

      Andrew:

      For once I can half agree with you.

      The latter part of your statement re charters working to find some sustainable supple chain for new teachers to burn out is, based on available evidence, quite perceptive.

      On the other hand your assumptions about teacher seniority rights being based on contract language is off base. Teacher seniority and the process for layoffs is determined by Ed Code. It is not a collective bargaining issue.

      Then we get to more general issues. Most new teachers I’ve encountered in my 35 years of school experience understood, as I did, that the seniority protections were in place to protect teachers from arbitrary and capricious actions by management. That’s why legislatures, not unions, put the seniority protections in place early in the 20th century. The seniority laws predate large scale teacher union activity and all teacher collective bargaining rights laws.

      If you take a “meta” look at the US labor market in the last 35 years you can see that private sector labor unions have declined dramatically. Paralleling this union decline has been the decline in middle class incomes and the middle class itself. We are now living in a hour-glass shaped economy. This was not accidental, as conservative government allied with conservative interests groups funded by the wealthy have worked premeditatedly to bring about the current state of huge economic disparities that are so obvious and so detrimental to US society and economic well being that even some GOP candidates are talking about the issue. That’s how bad it is. The GOP dealing with reality.

      The there is teacher pay and the uniform salary schedule. Would that all teachers could be paid the wages at the top of the salary schedules.(And more at that.) However, there is not enough money to do that. There is also considerable evidence that teachers’ skills (and not just raising the much maligned test scores) increase as they gain experience, so there is a justification for increasing pay with years of experience. But the bottom line is, there just isn’t enough money in the system to do everything that should be done.

      The last national bastions of the middle class are public sector unionized workers and teachers make up much of that sector. As has been done to the private sector middle class so are there efforts to undermine the public sector middle class. One of the battles in that war on the middle class is the Friederich’s law suit. As I have stated, and not that I made it up, you need to follow the money here. (As you do in Vergara.) In Friederichs the backing for the lawsuit come from a legal firm best known for being funded by the most extreme right wing with strong racial overtones and funding sources. (Including the Koch brothers.) The other group, also on the far right, wants to introduce religion into the public schools.

      Someone once accused me of using “guilt by association” for listing and enumerating the goals of the the backers of Friederichs. Darn right!

      • navigio 1 year ago1 year ago

        I disagree with the salary schedule claim. It appears that a large majority teachers are already at the top salary step. Based on some analysis of schedule distribution, it appears some districts could pay all their teachers top step with only a 10% or so increase in compensation costs. While that's not trivial, it's also not impossible. It also means any reduction of upper steps would provide ample ability to increase lower ones, at no … Read More

        I disagree with the salary schedule claim. It appears that a large majority teachers are already at the top salary step. Based on some analysis of schedule distribution, it appears some districts could pay all their teachers top step with only a 10% or so increase in compensation costs. While that’s not trivial, it’s also not impossible. It also means any reduction of upper steps would provide ample ability to increase lower ones, at no cost, no less. The reality is likely that there is more risk in newer teachers and thus districts are probably not interested in increasing their exposure to that risk.