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New Teachers: High Investment or High Return on Investment?

ERS Partner David Rosenberg shares ERS' learnings on investing in new teachers

This article was originally published in School Business Affairs as New Teachers: High Investment or High Return on Investment? Strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers without major financial investment.

It’s an oft-quoted idea, backed by research: teachers are the most important in-school factor in student success. While there are many ways to support current teaching staff, leaders are often hungry for strategies to recruit and develop new teachers in ways that positively impact student learning without incurring significant new costs.

Increasingly, districts are turning to teacher residency programs to meet this need. When we say teacher residency programs, we mean those which prioritize intensive, well-supported clinical practice and coaching during a “pre-service” year. With a strategic approach, these models have the potential to drive significant increases in student performance – as much as four additional months of learning per year. This happens when leaders partner with high-quality residency programs, place teachers in hard-to-staff roles, and retain effective teachers through incentives and new school structures which encourage their growth and contribution.

However, this strategy means that districts must invest in each teaching candidate during a pre-service year. Whereas a traditionally-trained educator participates in student teaching while pursuing their degree at no cost to the district, the teaching resident spends his or her pre-service year working full-time in a district school, generally in a supported co-teaching context. In return, the resident receives a stipend of as much as $25,000, typically paid by the district to the resident either directly or through a residency partner program.

As with any model that disrupts the status quo, district finance leaders must be strategic about how they identify and re-allocate resources to support teacher residencies. Fortunately, by working with district academic leaders, HR leaders and school principals, strategic finance leaders have many opportunities to find and re-direct the resources needed to support teacher residencies – if they know where to look. This turns a strategy that looks high-cost into one with a high return-on-investment.

Here are several ways in which finance leaders can re-allocate existing resources to support teacher residency models with the greatest potential for impact:

Re-direct investment in district-driven professional development. Large urban districts typically invest as much as 2.4% of operating expense in system-wide professional development workshops and district-provided instructional coaches. Much of this investment is limited in its impact on teaching and learning, especially compared with school-specific, job-embedded supports. For example, instructional coaches who are assigned by the district and work across multiple schools are often spread thin, able to spend just a couple of hours per month with each teacher in their portfolio, and struggle to integrate themselves into the fabric and culture of each school. Similarly, while some system-wide workshop time is crucial for establishing systems, structures and culture in schools, system leaders often have little data to determine if these workshops drive meaningful change in teacher practice or student outcomes and anecdotal evidence indicates that the impact is severely limited.

Re-allocate lower-impact, school-level positions. As part of their pre-service teaching experience, residents can often fulfill many responsibilities that are currently covered by other staff, often with more impact on student learning.

For example, schools could assign residents to provide supports currently assigned to general education paraprofessionals, creating more opportunity for students to receive deeper instructional support and for residents to develop their teaching skills. The strongest paraprofessionals might be strong candidates for residencies that help them transition to full-time teaching roles, re-directing cost while supporting the professional growth and impact of existing team members.

In addition, residents can assume substitute teaching responsibilities and provide after-school or other support paid for on a “per-session” basis, either as part of their pre-service experience or at a lower per-session or per-diem cost than is paid to traditional teachers. For example, in a school with five residents, each could serve as a substitute one day each week, increasing the resident’s pre-service teaching experience and filling a crucial need for the school. This strategy would mitigate the need for additional substitutes, allowing school leaders to re-allocate dollars from their substitute budget.

School and district leaders could also re-think allocation of non-instructional staff positions, such as clerks, administrators and behavior specialists. Although residents are less likely to fulfill these responsibilities, it is likely that they will provide greater returns in the form of student learning, justifying the shift in investment.

Optimize teacher schedules and non-personnel investments. An optimized staff schedule can make it possible for school leaders to reduce the number of teaching positions required to educate all students, freeing up additional resources for teacher leadership stipends and other resident support. For example, in many schools, teacher instructional time is limited by non-instructional responsibilities, such as lunch, recess or dismissal duties. School schedules also often feature unbalanced staffing models where, due to variations in class size and/or teacher assignment, some teachers support far fewer students than others. In still other cases, overall class sizes are far below district or state guidelines, with minimal positive impact on student performance.

Finally, school leaders can take a close look at other non-personnel investments, such as budgets for supplies, instructional materials and certain extracurriculars, which may be left unspent in many years and could be pro-actively re-purposed to fund new teacher residencies.

Potential opportunities to re-allocate resources to teacher residencies.

Source: District and program financial files, ERS analysis.

Federal funding rules under ESSA support these shifts. While many systems  can make these shifts with general fund dollars, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) opens up new opportunities to fund teacher residencies using Title dollars. For example, Title II funds may be used for teacher recruitment and retention efforts, “particularly in low-income schools with high percentages of ineffective teachers” – precisely the contexts in which teacher residents may have the greatest impact. Title II funds can also be used to “recruit qualified individuals from other fields to become teachers,” enabling districts to leverage residencies to attract mid-career professionals to teaching. To the extent that residencies are part of a district’s strategy for reducing resource inequities or addressing the needs of English Language Learners, leaders may be able to leverage Title I or Title III dollars, respectively.

Teacher residencies as a return-on-investment strategy

Finance leaders may shy away from the nuances of teacher recruitment and support, thinking that’s not their domain. But strategic finance leaders understand that the most effective return-on-investment does not come from picking this program over that program – i.e., from tinkering on the edges. School systems need to consider the fundamental ways they use resources – people, time, and money – and how they can be organized more effectively to ignite powerful student learning. New teachers are often seen as a resource drain. But when selected, placed, supported, and retained effectively, they become our most powerful assets. Finance leaders must partner with academic leaders to understand what drives student and teacher success, and write the budget to reflect that.

New Teachers: High Investment or High Return on Investment?
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