Teacher residencies: A long-term strategy to solve California teacher shortages

May 18, 2016

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Linda Darling-Hammond

This was a year of good news and bad news in California’s schools. Faster-than-expected infusions of new funding under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) allowed many districts to replace teachers and programs lost during the Great Recession. However, as the school year opened last August, districts around California scrambled to hire qualified teachers and many came up short. About one-third of the credentials issued by the California Teacher Credentialing Commission this past year were for teachers on the equivalent of emergency permits, who lacked training for their assignments and were not in any structured preparation program.

As has been the trend in California whenever shortages re-emerge, these teachers are assigned largely to high-need schools serving students of color and new immigrants in schools of concentrated poverty. This has a devastating effect on those communities and their children’s access to learning. Even wealthier districts paying higher salaries cannot easily find math, science, special education and bilingual teachers, who are in especially scarce supply.

Steve Barr

The situation promises to be worse this coming year. Following years of teacher layoffs, the welcome arrival of new funding has collided with a sharp decline in the pipeline of new teachers. While a tiny uptick in teacher education enrollments has occurred, it is nowhere near the level needed to meet demand. Meanwhile, declines have continued in the highest-need fields, and the highest-need districts are staffing classrooms with underprepared teachers who often struggle in the classroom, and typically leave teaching at twice the rate of those with preparation.

Much like pouring California’s precious water resources into a leaky bucket, this costly cycle of recruitment and attrition creates a shameful waste of human talent. The costs of replacement can reach $15,000 to $20,000 for each teacher who leaves, money that would be much better spent on mentoring teachers who stay. Meanwhile, the educational and social costs of continually replacing teachers in underperforming schools carries a steep price in wasted learning opportunities for children, as well.

A new breed of teacher residency program offers a much better long-term solution to this problem – one that has already taken root in California and deserves expansion. Building on the medical residency model, teacher residencies offered in districts like San Francisco and Los Angeles and charter school organizations like Aspire provide an alternative pathway to teacher certification grounded in deep clinical training.

The way it works is that prospective teachers apply for a residency program offered by a district, typically in collaboration with a local university. Residents who are selected – through a rigorous process that looks at personal qualities needed for successful teaching, as well as academics – then apprentice alongside an expert teacher in a high-need school for a full academic year, receiving tuition support and a living stipend to support them. They take closely linked coursework from a partnering teacher education program that leads to a credential and a master’s degree at the end of the residency year. When residents are then assigned their own classroom in a high-need school, they receive two years of mentoring from a master teacher. In exchange, they commit to teach in the district for three or four years beyond the residency – and most stay for the long haul, becoming leaders in their communities, rather than dropouts from the profession.

The residency model – which has been launched successfully in urban and rural school communities across the country – saves money and boosts student achievement, which is otherwise depressed both by high rates of turnover and the effects of novice teachers. In San Francisco, which has a well-established residency program recruiting math, science and elementary bilingual teachers, 97 percent of graduates are still in teaching, and 80 percent have remained in the district for at least five years.

By contrast, only 38 percent of other novice teachers remain in the district after five years. Some basic math shows that at that rate, the district would have to recruit 105 new non-resident teachers to have 40 remaining after five years. The nonproductive investment in those who leave would be about $1.2 million in sunk costs for replacements, with little to show for it but churn in the highest-need schools. Equally important, many people who wanted to become teachers in high-need subject areas but who could not survive in a sink-or-swim world would have lost their opportunity to teach.

We can do much better: California districts have already launched a dozen residency programs up and down the state. These could be expanded and others could be planted in high-need communities to bring talented people into teaching from other careers, the military, or right after college – and train them well so that they thrive and stay. In Senate Bill 933, Senator Ben Allen is proposing a California Teacher Corps that would encourage local programs with matching state funds to support residents, giving them the chance to learn from the very best mentors while they prepare to become excellent career teachers who can later train and support others, creating a virtuous circle where there was once a vicious cycle of loss for teachers and students.

Such an approach – even launched on a pilot basis – could take advantage of federal funding that is available for programs like these through AmeriCorps and both the Higher Education Act and the new Every Student Succeeds Act. California could replace the leaky bucket on which it has wasted money and people in the past with a purposeful approach to recruiting and retaining well-prepared teachers in high-need fields, building a strong foundation for the future that solves teacher shortages once and for all.


Linda Darling-Hammond is Charles E. Ducommun Professor Emeritus at Stanford University and President of the Learning Policy Institute. Steve Barr is the founder and Chairman Emeritus of Green Dot Public Schools, the founder and CEO of Future Is Now, and an advisor to Democrats for Education Reform.

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