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A Smart Way to Enlist, Induct, and Create Good Teachers for Urban Schools

The Smart Way to enlist, induct, and create good teachers for urban schools is not Teach for America–even with all the ballyhoo and hype from edu-preneurs and reigning policy elites from both political parties. Five weeks of training in the summer, sporadic support during the full-time job during the year as they earn their credential, and then two years later–gone in the wind. Two year commitment with little support for even elite college graduates do not a teacher make.

The Smart Way comes from the largest charter organization in California, Aspire Public Schools. The first 18 highly selective Aspire Teacher Residents completed their first year of a four year stint–sounds like medical residents– of a closely supervised internship that includes a stipend of $13,500 and medical benefits. Fifteen have been hired to work fulltime in the schools in which they were trained. Aspire has a network of 34 schools. They now step into the classroom as the teacher-of-record with a preliminary credential from the University of the Pacific and a Masters degree while continuing to work closely with a mentor who is paid a stipend to coach. And this support continues in subsequent years  with Aspire teacher-coaches working with them until the residency is completed. In September, another cohort of 19 begin their supervised training. Here is a district-based teacher training program–as opposed to a university-based program–that is smart.

Why smart?

Because they ask for a four-year commitment from novices rather than two in Teach for America. No novice has a prayer of mastering the complexities of teaching in two years–four years is closer to the norm of becoming a competent teacher.

Because support from mentors and peers–they are part of a cohort that meets periodically –during those years they are sailing solo in their classroom– strengthens the chance that such teachers will master the intricacies of the craft and become mentors themselves. After completing the four year residency, they can consider other posts in Aspire network such as Lead Teachers, Model Teachers, or administrators.

Because Aspire trains and inducts teachers into their expectations (e.g. all poor and minority students will go to college) and standards of teaching and student learning (e.g. how to teach, motivate, and evaluate students) in 34 charter schools. They do not depend wholly on university-based teacher education programs that provide generic course work with a brief time in actual classrooms.

Because the residency program is geared to pay for itself once foundation funding ends unlike similar programs elsewhere in the nation.

The Aspire Teacher Residents program has inspired a federal bill (“Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals Act with the acronym: GREAT Act) to replicate the idea.

Surely history does not repeat itself, but it comes close sometimes. In the early 1960s, I was a Master Teacher of History in the Cardozo Project in Urban Teaching that took returned Peace Corps Volunteers and trained them in one year to become urban teachers. Federally funded by the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency, the model of a district-based program of teacher education located in a high school (and later in a junior high school and elementary school) attracted national attention for taking young, determined novices and helping them learn to teach in urban classrooms. In 1966, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson sponsored the National Teacher Corps bill and President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law. The NTC went through many changes in its life span of 15 years in 700 sites across the nation recruiting and inducting thousands of new teachers to work in low-income minority schools (see National Teacher Corps 1966-1981 ) Many of those NTC teachers went on to become master teachers, principals, superintendents, and academics. Many stayed in the classroom. The experience left them changed people.

And in Washington, D.C., the Cardozo Project morphed into the Urban Teacher Corps that between recruited and inducted hundreds of college graduates into D.C. classrooms before it was shut down by a new superintendent in 1971 (see “Personal Odyssey: Becoming a Teacher and Reformer in the 1950s and 1960s,” February 27, 2011).

I do not know whether The GREAT Act will become law. Nor do I know whether the Aspire Residency Program will continue into the next decade. I sure hope it will. It represents one of the best ideas for recruiting and inducting new teachers into a demanding, complex profession. I hope it will persist and spread to non-charter public schools. It is the most recent incarnation of past efforts to blend school-based  teacher training with social activism of college graduates to provide smart alternatives to university-based teacher education in creating good teachers for urban schools.

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Larry Cuban

Larry Cuban is a former high school social studies teacher (14 years), district superintendent (7 years) and university professor (20 years). He has publish...