A leading charter school organization is combining what many regard as two of the most promising education innovations to prepare a new generation of teachers for California and the nation.
Summit Public Schools, which operates 11 schools in California and Washington State, has established what are called teacher “residencies,” innovative training programs based on the medical residency model that enables new doctors to work under the supervision of an experienced physician. In the case of teacher residencies, teachers-in-training work closely with an experienced teacher for an entire school year.
But what sets Summit’s residency program apart from others — the second innovation — is that it immerses teaching candidates in an approach to instruction called personalized learning that allows students to work and progress at their own pace, often using online instruction and gives teachers the time to give them more individualized attention.
The program began this school year with 24 teachers-in-training — known as teacher residents — based at a number of Summit schools. They spend four days a week in Summit classrooms working alongside a teacher experienced in personalized learning techniques. Each resident also spends one day a week on their own teacher training coursework.
The program, designed to prepare residents to teach at a Summit school or any school that emphasizes personalized learning strategies, receives financial support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a foundation created by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. The foundation is also providing engineering assistance to help Summit expand and improve its digital learning platform, which enables students to learn at their own pace and monitor their progress.
At Summit, each student has a “learner profile,” a digital record documenting his or her academic strengths, weaknesses and goals. Summit’s first cohort of teaching residents are expected to develop the skills they need to manage student learning profiles. They are also expected to learn how to organize project-based learning sessions. In addition, they are expected to develop leadership skills to help schools improve their personalized learning programs.
Alyssa Montantes, who graduated from the Oakland-based California College of the Arts in 2015, sought out the residency program because she wants to become a leader in personalized learning.
“The struggle for many students is learning an approach to education that works for them,” Montantes said. “Part of the job of teaching under this approach is to help motivate students to create their own learning template by making it clear that personalized study will help them achieve their goals. That gives their studies meaning.”
Montantes and two other participants in the program are based at Summit K2, Summit’s middle school in El Cerrito in the San Francisco Bay Area. The other 21 residents are at the other seven Northern California schools run by Summit. Summit also runs three schools in the state of Washington. During this pilot year, residents participate at no cost and receive a stipend for living expenses — an amount the charter school network would not disclose.
After completing the year-long program, each resident will earn a California teaching credential. At that time, Summit may offer participants a full-time position for the following school year.
A 2017 Rand Corporation report defines personalized learning as embracing “a clear understanding of the needs and goals of each individual student and the tailoring of instruction to address those needs and goals.”
According to the Rand report, personalized learning includes the following strategies:
Learner profiles that maintain a rich and up-to-date record of student strengths, needs, goals, and progress.
Personal learning paths that provide appropriate and meaningful choices of material for each student to work on, with the necessary adult supports.
Competency-based progression that enables these personalized paths to run their natural course by removing external constraints on what material each student works on, when, and for how long.
Flexible learning environments that enable schools to allocate resources in new ways to best support these processes.
Another goal of the residency program is to help Summit create a more diverse teacher work force and to help it and other schools retain teachers longer. According to some estimates, between 19 and 30 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years they are on the job. The attrition rate is even higher at schools in low-income communities.
Interest in residency programs has grown in recent years, backed by research showing its positive impact on retention rates. A 2016 report by the Learning Policy Institute showed schools that hire teachers who do not have adequate preparation and training “leave after their first year at more than twice the rate of those who have had student teaching and rigorous preparation [and] … teachers who are left to sink or swim on their own leave teaching at much higher rates than those who receive supportive mentoring in their first years on the job.”
The report cited studies that show that graduates of teacher residency programs have retention rates generally ranging from 80 to 90 percent in the same district after three years, and 70 to 80 percent after five years.
It was during an earlier era of teacher shortages — the 1960s and 70s — that the idea for teaching residencies originated. Universities such as Columbia, Harvard and Stanford launched Master of Arts in Teaching programs, placing teaching candidates in the classrooms of expert veteran teachers schools for a full year.
Many schools may be interested in hiring Summit teacher residency graduates because Summit’s approach to personalized learning is popular. This school year, 330 schools, 2,450 teachers and 54,230 students in 40 states will be using Summit’s digital learning platform. Of the schools using the Summit learning program, 76 percent are regular district-run schools, 18 percent are charter schools and 6 percent are independent or private schools.
The interest in personalized learning has increased as more studies point to its effectiveness. One of the most recent is a July study by the RAND Corp., underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that found that students in personalized learning programs do modestly better in math than those in traditional schools.
However, the same study said “suggestive evidence” that personalized learning practices boost academic achievement “requires confirmation through further research” on the most effective methods.
At Summit, much of the instruction and performance review of students are customized through digital software programs.
Student grades are based 30 percent on mastering the subject matter and 70 percent on cognitive skills, such as communication, critical thinking, problem-solving and classroom collaboration.
In addition, students work on tasks such as building a model of a lunar lander or projecting population growth in a country in teams and work individually on topics tailored to the objectives outlined in their digital learning profile.
The residency is designed to create a pipeline of teachers who are fully prepared to manage team projects and individualized learning when they enter personalized learning classrooms as full-time teachers, said Pamela Lamcke, director of Summit’s teacher learning residency.
“We started the program because Summit’s personalized studies model requires a pretty different way of teaching,” Lamcke said. “Someone with experience teaching the Summit way is more likely to be effective than someone coming from outside.”
In addition, said Lamcke, Summit expects the program to foster more racial, ethnic and gender diversity in their faculty.
Of those in the current cohort of residents, 42 percent are male and 58 percent are people of color.
“We have a very diverse student body [at Summit] but our faculty hasn’t mirrored that diversity,” Lamcke said. “We want to diversify our teaching staff because studies show that students who have some teachers who look like them, learn better.”
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