How Teacher Residency Programs Impact Educational Equity

By Brian Soika

February 25, 2021

A teacher observes three young students working on tablets, exemplifying a typical day in a teacher residency program

Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action via Alliance for Excellent Education.

Teacher residency programs are designed to address the needs of urban and rural school districts with a scarcity of resources. “The goal of a residency is to recruit and support talented educators in high-needs schools who reflect the diversity of their school’s students,” says Margo Pensavalle, Professor of Clinical Education at USC Rossier. 

Pensavalle, along with USC Rossier’s Master of Arts in Teaching Governance Chair, Eugenia Mora-Flores and Associate Dean of Academic Programs, Kathy Stowe, developed the school’s Teacher Preparation Residency in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The residency places eligible Master of Arts in Teaching students from USC Rossier in local urban schools, and targets STEM and Education Specialist settings (areas that have critical teacher shortages). 

Many school districts nationwide have used teacher residencies to increase staffing, but they can also be a useful tool in addressing inequities in schools. 

Schools Enjoy Higher Retention Rates

44% of new teachers leave in the first three years, according to research. This turnover costs districts millions of dollars and affects schools with the highest need for strong teachers. Additionally, while people of color disproportionately work in underserved schools, new hires from this group are more likely to leave the profession than their White colleagues. 

Residencies are proven to effectively reduce turnover. A report on teacher residencies found that when certain standards were met, 80-90% of residency graduates stayed with the same district after three years, and 70-80% after five years. Reduced turnover also benefits students, especially in high-needs schools that struggle to retain skilled teachers who have received comprehensive training. 

Residencies Increase Diversity Among Teachers

The report on teacher residencies also found that residency cohorts surveyed had a cohort with 45% of teacher residents being of color, compared to a national average of 19%. By providing opportunities for these teachers, residencies help contribute to a workforce of educators that more closely resembles student diversity. This is important because “sometimes teachers who are not from their school’s neighborhood or the culture don’t have the lived experience” necessary to fully understand their students’ needs, says Pensavalle. 

Teachers and Students Build Strong Relationships

Typically, teacher residency programs are intentionally designed to integrate teachers into schools. The multi-year commitment from teachers ensures that they “get to know families, administration, neighborhood, process and assets and challenges” of a school and its community, according to Pensavalle. This allows teachers, students and parents to build deeper relationships and more effectively work together. 

Some Research Reports Improved Outcomes

Research on some residencies’ effects on student outcomes is mixed, but other studies are more promising. The New Visions Hunter College Urban Teacher Residency in New York City found that students taught by its residents performed higher on 73% of comparisons on the state’s Regents exam scores. In the same program, residency graduates were shown to be more successful promoting student learning compared with other new teachers, according to the New York Times.  

Teachers Receive Specialized Training at a Reduced Cost

Residencies that are tied to master’s programs provide special preparation for teachers. Teachers receive a comprehensive education that meets state standards, while receiving student-teaching experience and the guidance of a mentor. 

Many programs also offer financial support for residents (the USC Rossier residency provides a $42K scholarship from the school, a $20K stipend from LAUSD, and guarantees a job once the residency is over). This reduces a key barrier for talented educators who may otherwise forgo a master’s program.  

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