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VOL. 128 | NO. 234 | Monday, December 2, 2013

School Board Questions Teacher Residency

By Bill Dries

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One of the coming debates about education reform in Shelby County will be about the role of teacher residency programs in preparing future Shelby County Schools system teachers.

Shelby County Schools board members approved two contracts before the Thanksgiving holiday with Memphis Teacher Residency and Teach For America, the two dominant residency programs working in Shelby County.

A debate is forming among Shelby County Schools board members about how much the school system should use teacher residency programs.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The $1.8 million Teach For America contract covers the next two school years starting in August 2014 and it is for a group of up to 125 teachers for each of those school years at a cost to the school system of $5,000 per teacher for a total of $1.8 million. The $5,000 is paid to Teach for America and not to the teachers. The contract is funded by money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The contract amendment with Memphis Teacher Residency for $944,077 is for the current school year and is an amendment that reflects the consolidation of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools that began in August.

Beyond the agreements, however, is a debate about how much to use such residency programs and how much to focus on programs that draw Memphians into the teaching pool.

School board member David Pickler described the contract with Teach For America as “a bit of a Band-Aid.”

“I feel like we need to be enhancing the career of teaching,” Pickler said last month as the board reviewed the contracts. He and school board member David Reaves later voted against the contract.

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the “bang for the buck” with the residency programs is working. But Hopson added, “It’s just not financially sustainable to do this for long periods of time. … We have to be able to develop homegrown talent for the long haul.”

Hopson also acknowledged the retention rate among Teach For America residents after their second year going to the third year is 21 percent compared to a 71 percent retention rate for other teachers not in the program.

“I have concerns about that,” Hopson acknowledged. “But I think they are mitigated with this work being funded fully through the Gates Foundation.”

Hopson also said the Teach For America teachers are proving to be effective based on statewide data as well as a Tennessee Higher Education Commission report on the residency and teacher preparation programs across the state that puts Teach For America at the top in terms of the effectiveness of its teachers in the state’s classrooms.

Before the board vote on the contract, Reaves said he still had concerns about the investment the school system makes in teachers.

“What concerns me is when you look to an outsource model like that,” he said. “You invest in them. Then there’s a brain drain. I look at it long term.”

But school board member Billy Orgel said the residents play a role as the school system changes.

“We’re getting new blood into our city,” Orgel said. “I don’t think it’s a panacea but it’s part of the solution. … It’s getting new blood in our city.”

The idea of an exit strategy also runs counter to plans by Memphis Teacher Residency to expand its operation. The program is one of the founding partners in the Crosstown revitalization project with long-term plans to put its residents in the apartments that are to be part of the former Sears Crosstown building.

Achievement School District superintendent Chris Barbic continues to talk of making the city a “teacher town” with talented teachers from across the country coming to the city to be part of the long-term education reforms.

The head of the state-run school district for low-performing schools, which also uses residents from Teach For America, sees the short-term goal differently.

“Short term we have to try and incentivize folks who are already here to want to work in schools where kids need them the most,” Barbic said earlier this year. “I think longer term, we have to do two things – alternative pipelines that really tap into the ones that are already there. And figuring out how we bring in different types of teacher training programs that are maybe more specific to turnaround work.”

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