NCTR’s CEO Anissa Listak was recently featured on The Hunt Institute’s blog, The Intersection, as part of a multi-post series that focused on equity and education. The interview-style series spotlighted education policy leaders from across the country who each shared their thoughts on the opportunities they see for advancing educational equity through the implementation of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans. We are re-sharing Anissa’s ‘Equity Q&A’ below. The post was originally posted on The Intersection on September 25, 2017. 

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Q: How do you define equity in public education?

A: The National Center for Teacher Residencies’ (NCTR) vision to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality teacher is carried out through our mission to launch and support high-performing residency programs that prepare highly-effective teachers.  Equity for all students requires acknowledging and disrupting traditional notions of power and hierarchies and taking a collective responsibility for correcting existing systems and structures.  We advocate for leveling the playing field – and even transforming and creating new playing fields – so that all students have the opportunity to learn.  NCTR’s 10-year investment in improving educator preparation reveals that the residency model is the best strategy for achieving these goals.

In February 2013, the Commission on Equity and Excellence in Education released a report that highlighted the many challenges that teacher preparation programs face, including the problem of program quality from state-to-state, and the misalignment of state systems to recruit, retain, prepare, license, evaluate, develop, and compensate effective teachers. The Commission suggested that states should consider investments in teacher residencies “that create a steady supply of highly effective recruits in high-need communities.” In the fall of 2014, the U.S. Department of Education further underscored the need to address equitable access to effective educators with their emphasis on state equity plans, saying that states should ensure that “poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified or out-of-field teachers.”

Teacher residency programs are a key strategy to address inequity in school systems and the inequitable distribution of effective teachers in states and districts. The residency model aims to attract teacher candidates from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Focused on high need schools and student populations, NCTR supports the launch and scale of teacher residency programs that prepare new teachers to enter the profession ready to meet learner needs. Over 5 years, one effective elementary teacher may reach 150 students; NCTR partner residencies have prepared more than 3,000 graduates to date.

 Q: Based on your experience working with state leaders and policymakers, what has been the most common question or challenge states are grappling with as it relates to ESSA and equity?

A: In April 2017, sixteen states and the District of Columbia submitted their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) implementation plans to the U.S. Department of Education. The vast majority of the plans submitted included commitments from the states to use their federal professional development dollars to support teacher residencies and other key components of high-quality, clinically-based preparation. While states have spent much of the past decade focused on teacher quality, they are just now considering the role that preparation plays in an effective teacher’s professional experience.

A common challenge is that states have struggled to identify a statewide strategy for improving the quality, diversity, and experience of new teachers. And, states have not systematically integrated teacher preparation into other K-12 improvement initiatives. This has divided the elementary/secondary and higher education communities, leaving schools focused on teacher quality as a lever to improve student learning, but without a steady pipeline of effective new teachers. As a result, schools with historical inequities of opportunity for students are often left struggling to staff their classrooms with effective educators. Put simply, the states’ neediest students don’t get access to quality teachers.

Now, states are considering how residencies are a research-based approach for improving new teacher entry into the profession and ensuring they are ready to meet student learning needs on day one. With residencies, states are revising and strengthening preparation to ensure they attract and retain high potential candidates from diverse backgrounds to work in diverse school settings.

The components of the residency model resonate with policymakers, educators, and parents, and states are now positioned to usher in systems-level change in teacher preparation.

Residencies use a multi-pronged approach to improve the quality of teacher preparation through:

  • research-based, data-driven programming to prepare day-one ready teachers;
  • partnerships across schools, institutions of higher education, and community organizations that are focused on common impact goals;
  • strengthened selection and assessment of candidates;
  • professional growth opportunities for effective, experienced teachers; and,
  • investments to build capacity in schools.

Q: What policy mechanism(s) relating to ESSA would you identify as having the most potential to create a more equitable education system?

A: States and districts are increasingly turning to teacher residencies as a key strategy in improving student achievement and teacher effectiveness. The flexibility provided under ESSA facilitates and encourages this solution. States and school districts should use the flexibility provided in both Title I and Title II, Part A of the federal education law to address teacher preparation and effectiveness. Title I provides flexibility in developing plans to support the development and implementation of school improvement activities, and state and local districts are strongly encouraged to use Title II, Part A funds to improve equitable access to effective teachers.

NCTR believes states can use their authority under ESSA to support improvements in their teacher preparation systems through teacher residencies and by focusing on four main policy areas:

  1. Partnership and Stakeholder Collaboration: States can convene, encourage and define collaboration between stakeholders including, institutions of higher education, school districts, and community-based organizations.
  2. Recruitment and Selection: States can create systems to attract and retain high potential teacher candidates.
  3. Coaching and Feedback: States can define and support effective mentoring, and require quality mentoring practices in teacher preparation programs.
  4. Assessment and Evaluation: States can promote programs that graduate effective teachers.

Q: What work does your organization have coming up (or recently completed) in this area? 

A: The National Center for Teacher Residencies (NCTR) released a report in June entitled “Recommendations for State Support for Effective Teacher Residencies” to encourage states and districts to use teacher residencies, and the core components of clinically-based preparation, as a high-impact strategy for school improvement.  States and school districts can use the flexibility provided in both Title I and Title II, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to address teacher preparation and effectiveness.