A coalition of north Texas nonprofits, school districts, colleges and community leaders are working to improve education, and they are putting teacher effectiveness front and center in that effort. The Dallas Teacher Residency is helping lead this charge.

The Best in Class coalition seeks to grow the proportion of students on track for college and career readiness by increasing their access to well-prepared, effective, diverse educators. The coalition is made up of partners, like district leaders, educator preparation programs, non-profit organizations and funders, all working to align resources, make data-driven decisions and cooperatively solve problems. Best in Class is powered by the Commit Partnership and Communities Foundation of Texas.

“We recognize that if we wanted to see outcomes improve from Pre-K all the way to college completion, we couldn’t do that without really effective educators in front of every student,” said Carissa Grisham, who manages the teacher recruitment and preparation work of the Best in Class coalition. “One of our first areas of work has been educator recruitment and preparation, because all of our prep program partners and our districts were experiencing the same challenge.”

That challenge revolved around a declining interest among young people in becoming teachers, and a growing percentage of people entering the profession through quick-start “alt-cert” programs that generally lack any of the critical pre-service teaching experiences that prepare teachers for the rigors and realities of the classroom.

Teacher residencies, Grisham noted, quickly emerged as standout partners and important players in the region because they not only focus on recruiting diverse candidates, but they also provide significant opportunities for teachers-in-training to gradually take on more responsibility in an urban classroom, reflect on their practice, and receive feedback that prepares them for a successful start in their teaching career.

Angelica McGhee, a Dallas Teacher Residency resident, works with her students.

“In terms of recruiting a diverse teaching population to the profession, we see that our residencies, including Dallas Teacher Residency, are incredibly committed to bringing a diverse population of candidates that reflect their students,” Grisham said. “The Dallas Teacher Residency is really committed to finding those candidates and bringing them into the program.”

In each of the Dallas Teacher Residency’s first five cohorts, over half of the residents identify as people of color. Nationally, only about 20 percent of teachers are people of color.

Rob DeHaas and Elizabeth Kastiel co-founded the Dallas residency five years ago after disappointing experiences trying to hire teachers for the two public school campuses they were leading in the high-need neighborhoods west of Dallas. Both had successful experiences with residency programs in Chicago, where they had worked in education before moving to Dallas, but they had difficulty finding teachers in Texas that had successful track records of teaching in high-need schools.

“We had interviewed hundreds and hundreds of candidates to try to fill openings, and time and time again candidates would talk about this [preservice training] experience that in no way mirrored the demographics or the experience of the students in West Dallas,” DeHaas said. “We knew, right then and there, that we couldn’t put teachers that did not have aligned clinical experience in the classroom, in front of our kids, because ultimately kids would be the losers.”DeHaas and Kastiel were on to something. Since starting the Dallas Teacher Residency, two other teacher residency programs have moved into the region due to help meet the growing demand for more residency seats.

Residencies are “changing the narrative in the community about what we might expect and be looking for in teacher candidates,” Grisham said. “Just knowing that there are options that require really extensive clinical experience makes districts, principals and teacher candidates think more about, well, why would this option have a full year residency and others don’t have any opportunities to practice teaching? It is changing the way districts are shopping around for their new, beginning teachers.”

Best in Class has also brought the Dallas Teacher Residency into its efforts to shape state policies to identify barriers to entry to teaching, especially for candidates of color, and to consider ways for teacher preparation to be more clinically-focused. Dallas was one of several residencies that worked with Best in Class and an education strategy group to draft recommendations for the Texas Education Agency as it was drafting the state’s ESSA application.

Dallas Teacher Residency resident William Choi leads his class.

“Dallas Teacher Residency was an incredibly supportive partner in that, they gave really great feedback and input that we hope is going to change the landscape in Texas,” Grisham said. “And they’ve been really involved in what we call an educator effectiveness policy task force. Last fall, our prep programs and human resource directors convened and created a set of interim changes that we sent to the Texas Public Education Committee.”

Two of the group’s recommendations have been accepted by the state committee, Grisham said, and the group is now gearing up for the 2019 legislative session. In addition, Best in Class has been working with partners to encourage data-sharing that will allow all teacher preparation programs to reflect on their practice and give school systems and future teachers more information to make better choices about talent pipelines.

“It’s kind of common sense to us that those who have come through programs that have robust clinical or pre-service experience are more likely to perform better and are less likely to leave the classroom early on.” Grisham said.

As evidence on the return on investment evidence mounts, DeHaas sees enormous growth potential. In fact, Dallas Teacher Residency just recently inked a new deal with the nearby Richardson school district to train nearly two dozen new teachers for that district’s turnaround program. The turnaround schools in Richardson will be staffed with the some of the districts most effective teachers. The Dallas Teacher Residency residents in these schools will be able to learn from these effective educators, and they will play an important role mentoring and coaching residents.

“One of the things that makes Dallas exciting is that it allows us to dream big about the future,” DeHaas said. “Seven years ago, when I said the words ‘teacher residency’ in Dallas, people looked at me like I was speaking a different language. Now, we have the biggest stakeholders at the table with us. They know that an effective teacher is key, is essential, for driving the outcomes that this region wants.”