Preparing New Teachers for Success in Urban Schools

Having welcomed over 500 aspiring teachers committed to serving students in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Cara Jackson and the team at Urban Teachers have more than just a little skin the game when it comes to Design Challenge #4 – Creating vertically aligned pathways that run from teacher preparation through induction and continue into ongoing school-based learning. In fact, since 2010 roughly 80% of Urban Teacher’s residents have gone on to earn keys to their own classroom. 

With five days remaining before the release of the Transforming Teaching White Paper, our hats are off to Jackson for sharing this case study and especially the ways their evidenced-based approach is connecting with communities in Baltimore and D.C. 

Cara Jackson came to Urban Teachers as a Strategic Data Fellow and is currently the assistant director of research and evaluation. She oversees a multiple-measure evaluation system for novice teachers, conducts ongoing research on the quality of evaluative measures, and analyzes a variety of data sources and performance metrics to support the continuous improvement of Urban Teachers selection process and program quality.  She has a B.A. from Rutgers University, an Ed.M. from Harvard Universitys Graduate School of Education and a Ph.D. in education policy from University of Maryland.

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Preparing New Teachers for Success in Urban Schools

By Cara Jackson

As a nation, we have long struggled to retain high-quality teachers in our urban schools. Since its inception in 2009, Urban Teachers has sought to address this challenge by offering a teacher preparation program that includes pedagogical instruction, extensive clinical experiences, and significant coaching support in other words, giving new teachers the support they need to manage the unique challenges faced within urban educational environments.

Urban Teachers model is consistent with the growing body of evidence that suggests teacher candidates benefit from cohesive, vertically aligned pathways i.e., relevant training from coursework to the classroom into urban teaching that embed teacher candidates ongoing learning within the school settings where they will work as teachers. We at Urban Teachers recognize the need to continually adapt and improve. One of our core values is our work can always get better with data and feedback. Thus, we continue to refine our approach based on participant and staff feedback, internal research, and findings from new studies of teacher preparation.

In the following sections, we describe research that offers compelling insights, our approach, and our recommendations for next steps in the field of teacher preparation.  


Lessons learned from research

Though there is limited empirical evidence regarding the most effective way to prepare teachers, teacher preparation is an active area of research and we are learning from a growing evidence base. Here, we focus on recent studies of coursework, clinical experiences, and coaching, three key components of Urban Teachers program.    

While coursework is intended to provide pedagogical and content knowledge, the quality and content of such coursework in teacher preparation programs varies. One study found that teachers who completed more methods-related coursework (i.e., courses focused on preparing prospective teachers in the pedagogy or methods of instruction, rather than studies about subject matter content or foundations courses) felt better prepared and were more likely to stay in teaching. Further, a study of novice teachers in New York City indicated that teacher preparation that focused more on the work of the classroom and engaged in the actual practices involved in teaching such as planning guided reading lessons yielded more effective first-year teachers as measured by student achievement gains. In addition, teachers who have had the opportunity to review the curriculum used in their district as part of their student teaching are more effective than other first-year teachers.  

Urban teacher residencies are founded on the belief that new teachers in urban schools should have substantial guided clinical experience in an urban classroom prior to becoming teachers of record.  Student teaching is seen as a viable approach to easing new teachers into the classroom setting under supervision; however, research on the impact of the duration of student teaching is somewhat mixed. In a study of more than 1,000 prospective teachers in a large urban district, researchers discovered that lengthening the amount of time spent student teaching had little effect on teachers perceptions of instructional preparedness, efficacy, and career plans. In contrast, another study using nationally representative data found that teachers who completed more practice teaching felt better prepared and were more likely to continue in the teaching profession.

Having said that, the quality of student teaching experiences has been shown to have significant and positive effects, and differences in specific features of the programs may influence the efficacy of student teaching. In one study, researchers found that programs that provided more oversight of student teaching supplied more effective first-year teachers to New York City schools. Teachers whose preparation included opportunities to engage in specific teaching practices also showed greater student achievement gains. In addition, allowing teacher candidates to learn in the field from a number of different teachers in a variety of settings may be more beneficial than pairing candidates with a single host teacher.

Instructional coaching has been employed as a way to provide support for teachers as a means of improving teaching practice, and a few recent studies yielded promising empirical evidence regarding the effectiveness in changing teacher practice and improving student achievement. One study compared student literacy learning over three years of implementation of one-on-one coaching against learning prior to the coaching. Results demonstrated increasing improvements in student literacy learning during coaching implementation.  In another study of Floridas reading coach program at the middle school level, approximately two-thirds of reading and social studies teachers who had interacted with a coach believed these interactions helped them better plan and organize instruction. Results were mixed regarding the impact of coaching on student achievement, but researchers noted that the frequency with which coaches reviewed assessment data with teachers was positively associated with improved student outcomes.


Urban Teachers approach

Urban Teachers four-year program provides training and support to teacher candidates as they navigate the pathway from preparation through induction and into ongoing, school-based learning. In the first year of the program, residents are introduced to specific teaching practices in graduate-level courses led by Urban Teachers clinical faculty. Simultaneously, residents spend an entire year working in urban classrooms alongside host teachers in our partner schools, before they are responsible for their own classroom. Instructional coaches provide regular coaching and feedback to our residents as well as first- and second-year teachers to support ongoing improvement.

All Urban Teachers coursework is practical, experiential, and actionable, allowing for immediate application of learned skills and standards-based curriculum in the classroom. Courses emphasize literacy and math skills that are essential to the success of K-12 students across all content areas. Coursework also provides training on the implementation and interpretation of assessments, which helps our teachers evaluate their students learning needs and provide more targeted instruction. Additionally, coursework in special education enables participants to meet the needs of diverse learners.  

Key course assignments require implementation of standards-based lesson plans, collection of instructional data about student learning, identification of instructional challenges and how they were addressed, and reflection on practice to foster meaningful conversations about the needs of our participants. Such assignments require participants to enact teaching practices, efforts which are supported by on-site instructional coaching. Coursework assignments also provide an opportunity for participants to receive feedback as they develop their teaching skills.

Residents spend a full academic year and two summers implementing newly acquired teaching practices in multiple classroom settings alongside host teachers at Urban Teachers partner schools almost every school day. This intense classroom practice in a variety of settings gives residents multiple opportunities to implement teaching practices in school settings and to monitor student learning. To ensure teacher candidates are ready to manage their own classrooms as teachers of record, instructional coaches provide comprehensive oversight of these clinical experiences through structured coaching cycles and feedback.

Urban Teachers provides every participant with on-site, ongoing, individualized coaching and support for three years. During classroom observations, instructional coaches assess the implementation of specific teaching practices, including the use of data to inform instruction. These observations are guided by a rubric that is consistent with the standards set by the Council of Chief State School Officers Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (CCSSO). In addition, the rubric aligns with the teaching practices that are assessed by our district partners. Observations generate specific, actionable feedback for participants as well as ratings that provide an ongoing assessment of performance throughout the course of the year.  Advancement in the program is based on participants success at implementing effective teaching strategies.


Next steps  

Urban Teachers continues to examine the various factors of the pathway we believe contributes to teacher effectiveness.  By doing so, we continuously improve our program and target efforts toward processes that will generate improved outcomes for all our participants and their students.  We recognize that teachers and situations are unique: we try to attend to the interplay between teacher candidates backgrounds, program features, and school settings in shaping our teacher candidates learning, and to solicit feedback from our school and district partners to better meet their needs.  We will continue to refine our model as new research on teacher preparation becomes available.  

As an organization, we are committed to modeling continuous improvement in the field of teacher preparation.  It is our hope that other organizations can benefit from the real-time learning we are experiencing as we implement our model. Developing confident, prepared teachers is one of the most crucial elements to ensuring that students have equitable educational opportunities. Giving new teachers the support and tools they need to be highly skilled, effective teachers is paramount to seeing this promise through.



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