Opinion

This may be the best way to train teachers – and yes, we can afford it

A recent story featured in The Hechinger Report said the residency model may be the best way to train new teachers – and that it may be too expensive.

Sara Morris

We would argue that we can’t afford not to train teachers this way.

The status quo of teacher training, with its costs already built into the budgets of most urban school districts, will actually cost a district more in the long run, while delivering sub-optimal results for kids.

Related: This may be the best way to train teachers, but can we afford it?

Here’s a pop quiz: You want to buy a new car. You have two options: a $22,000 economy vehicle, or a $33,000 electric vehicle. Assuming you pay in cash, which car will save you more money over the long term?

Marisa Bier

Consider these variables: fuel, oil changes, tire rotations, engine maintenance – these are just the costs of owning a vehicle. There are, of course, larger, longer term costs to consider, like the larger toll the traditional vehicle may take on the environment and the health of those living around it.

But most people would agree, over the long term, with all things being equal, the innovative electric car is a better way of getting around. It streamlines all of the traditional car ownership costs by eliminating much of the maintenance that comes with regular cars, with the added benefit of being better for the environment.

When it comes to training new teachers, residency models are simply a better way to train high-quality teachers who will have a long-term impact on a district. The larger up-front cost is mitigated by the longer-term savings the model delivers.

When you lay out the costs of the residency model line by line, it looks expensive. Among the 22 residencies in the National Center for Teacher Residencies network, the average cost-per-resident ranges from $37,500 to $84,000, with an average cost-per-resident of $50,000. In Seattle, the total cost per resident has averaged $46,000.

Related: Louisiana Teachers to swap their classrooms for factory floors and office cubicles this summer

Districts shouldn’t be so quick to write off residencies based on these costs. Yes, handing over a large sum of cash in already strapped budgets seems like an unnecessary burden when the payoff is a few dozen teachers that could just as easily be found in existing teacher education programs, but they will miss out on significant cost-savings that have been seen by districts investing in and adopting the residency model as a part of their human resources strategy.

Recruiting, hiring, retraining, retaining, developing, and replacing teachers is a costly cycle. But these are invisible costs, nearly impossible to pull out and add up among the thousands of line items in the budget of a large district.

Residencies mitigate many of these invisible, everyday costs by creating a steady pipeline of diverse, well-trained teachers. These programs work with district to identify and fill their most urgent needs – special education, English language learners, diversity in the teacher corps, teachers ready to work in the most poverty-impacted classrooms in a city. In partnership with a district, Residencies train graduates to excel in areas where districts need them most.

These programs also incorporate intensive professional development for experienced teachers. The Mentor-Resident relationship drives introspection and reflection on the practice of even master teachers, making them better educators.

Districts pay big money when teachers leave. One in five teachers will leave the profession in five years, costing large urban districts millions of dollars each year. In Seattle alone, the cost of teacher turnover was estimated at $10.6 million annually, according to one study.

Related: Elementary school teachers struggle with Common Core math standards

But the most significant cost of teacher turnover has nothing to do with dollars. Turnover has a significant impact on kids. Just one year under a new, ill-prepared teacher unable to recognize the needs of their most vulnerable students can set a child back for the rest of their academic career.

In the residency model, turnover is mitigated as residents commit to teaching in Seattle for at least five years. It gets to the root causes of teacher turnover by recruiting enthusiastic candidates who are passionate about service in poverty-impacted urban classrooms, and equips them to address the specific needs of these students. Most programs continue to support their grads with induction support in the first teaching year.

By mitigating turnover and ensuring that residents are ready to teach in these urban classrooms, the residency model provides better support for those students, ensuring that their academic careers stay on course and they graduate ready for success.

Since the beginning of modern education, we’ve become comfortable making investments in the costly cycle of hiring and replacing teachers, treating these costs as we would treat the cost of maintenance on our daily driver vehicles.

The residency model is a better way. It’s an investment, streamlining the costs of hiring and turnover in a district while mitigating the negative impact that chronic turnover has on a school culture and the education of a child. Most importantly, this approach prepares teachers to deliver on the promise of public education for every child, preparing students for lasting success in the classroom and beyond.

So we ask again – can we afford not to train our teachers this way?

Sara Morris has served as president and CEO of the Alliance for Education, a Seattle-based non-profit promoting excellence in Seattle Public Schools, for six years and spearheaded the creation and implementation of the Seattle Teacher Residency in 2012.

Marisa Bier is the Program Director for the Seattle Teacher Residency, with 22 years experience in teacher preparation and public education. She received her doctorate in education from the University of Washington after beginning her career as a special education teacher.

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