The clinical immersion model of teacher prep

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Many school districts, teacher educators, private foundations and even the federal government are warmly embracing a medical-like residency model for teacher training.  Put an aspiring teacher in a classroom with a seasoned vet for a full year, and give that individual lots of time to learn on the job without endangering student performance—what's not to love?

And because teacher residency programs attract a different type of individual than the degree-granting programs of traditional teacher preparation, they are often touted as a means of reducing chronic shortages of math and science teachers, and diversifying the teaching force. 

There are however some clear distinctions between what the medical profession does as compared to the teacher ed version. Whereas doctors-in-training have three years of relevant coursework under their belts before their clinical residencies, teacher candidates are placed in clinical residencies without any prior preparation to speak of. Yet since there's hasn't been a whole lot of evidence that the current system of formal teacher prep adds value, many assume that this lack of requisite coursework doesn't matter much anyway.   

Researchers studying the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR) program, one of the oldest and most highly regarded of residency programs, have provided us with the most comprehensive analysis to date on the efficacy of the teacher residency model. While Boston's program did successfully recruit and retain more minority teachers than would have been possible otherwise, their impact on students is, well, rather pathetic. Student learning in the classrooms of these residency graduates is well below that in classrooms led by other types of teachers for the first three or four years. Even after this unusually protracted learning curve, they produce only slightly higher gains than those of teachers who entered teaching by traditional routes.

The kicker here is that all this comes at a staggering cost of millions of private and public dollars ($143 million in federal dollars in the last two years alone for Boston's and 25 other residency programs).
Self-described eduwonk Andy Rotherham notes a trade-off posed by the Boston residency model and (presumably) other residency programs: more minority teachers stay in the classroom in exchange for several years of sub-par performance and then performance that is just above the mediocre. 

Our own guess is that it isn't so much that the residency model is fundamentally flawed or that the lack of coursework is so harmful — it's that the recruitment of these resident teachers (at least in Boston) is not selective enough.  Boston may not be putting enough emphasis on recruiting high quality candidates, minority or otherwise, under the false assumption that a full clinical immersion for a full year will get "anyone" ready to teach.  That's the only plausible theory we can came up with to explain why Teach For America and The New Teacher Project recruits produce consistently better outcomes and do so much sooner. Each of those organizations pays a great deal more attention to recruiting raw talent.  Aptitude may be the most important element to consider, not just for models commonly criticized for their frying-pan-into-the-fire approach, but for clinical residencies as well.

Amy MacKown and Kate Walsh