Teacher Residency Program hitting goals; needs long-term financial support

The 2018–19 state budget included one-time funding of $75 million for the Teacher Residency Program intended to address teacher shortages, especially in the areas of special education and STEM, and for teachers who are bilingual. This program pairs local educational agencies with institutes of higher education (IHE) to place candidates in the classroom with mentor teachers for at least 50 percent of school hours for one year while engaging in preparation coursework. The 2020–21 state budget added an additional $350 million in one-time funds to the program.

In spring 2021, WestEd conducted an evaluation of the program to measure results and to help understand how grantees were building toward financial sustainability within the context of their one-time funding sources. The resulting January 2022 report, “Teacher Residency Programs in California: Financial Sustainability Challenges and Opportunities,” found that while program goals were being met, the financial stability of the program is concerning.

The first round of grant funding was released in spring 2019, providing very little time to prepare a residency program for the 2019–20 school year, in which 323 candidates participated. Evidence from WestEd’s evaluation has found that early progress has been made toward placing diverse, well-prepared teachers in the state’s most urgent shortage areas:

  • Compared to the teachers in the LEAs’ existing workforce, residents better reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the students they serve.
  • More than 90 percent of residents indicated that they were extremely likely or likely to take a job in their placement LEA after completing their program.
  • More than 90 percent of residents, mentor teachers and partnership team members would recommend their residency program to someone who wants to become a teacher.

Financial sustainability

The report acknowledges that upfront costs for designing and launching residency partnerships and providing “early cohorts of residents with adequate financial support can be substantial. Grant and philanthropic funding can play a critical role in this early phase. Over time, however, LEAs and their IHE partners need to share the responsibility for resident financial supports and operational costs in exchange for the value that high-quality residencies provide to the LEA: recruiting, training, onboarding, and retaining well-prepared teachers in high-need credential areas.”

The report outlines four challenging areas identified through data collected in the program’s second year (2021–22):

  • A majority of residents report experiencing financial hardships during their residency year, and residents of color are disproportionately impacted. Financial supports are a central component of the residency model, enabling residents to support themselves during a year of intensive clinical placement and coursework. The financial supports provided through the residency model are particularly important for recruiting and supporting future teachers of color, who are disproportionately impacted by student loan debt and the financial barriers posed by a year of full-time clinical preparation.
  • Most residency programs are offering district-based employment opportunities to residents but fewer than half of residents are participating in these opportunities. According to interviews with residents, lack of time and inconvenient schedules are barriers to residents’ uptake of district-based employment. However, reallocating existing district roles such as substitute teaching and paraprofessional positions to residents can be a cost-neutral way to fulfill LEA needs while providing residents with income and relevant classroom experience.
  • Most programs are not yet broadening their funding sources and strategies to enable financial sustainability beyond the grant program. Programs are not thinking fully about how federal funding sources like federal Title I or Title II funds or other federal grants could potentially be strategically “braided” together to support residencies.
  • Many programs could strengthen their partnerships with partners and build their internal capacity to support sustainability. Survey data suggests that many residencies are still working to build the relationships necessary for programs to take advantage of longer-term funding sources.

“When an LEA is fully invested in a residency partnership, cost sharing with the LEA and other partners is feasible because residencies can ultimately lower LEA costs overall by recruiting, training, onboarding, and retaining well-prepared teachers in high-need credential areas,” according to the report.

Policy recommendations

The report provides numerous recommendations on how to improve and sustain the program on the state level. State policy recommendations are building a statewide vision, framework and coherent support system for residencies that prioritizes sustainability; providing residencies with ongoing guidance and technical assistance on how to use non-grant funding sources and existing resources to sustain programs and to support affordability for candidates; and providing clear guidance on federal and state financial aid.

The report also recommends that state leaders create incentives, policies and support systems that align residency program with the strategic vision and goals of the LEA partner from the start; incorporate dedicated support roles responsible for sustainability planning and relationship-building; and prioritize affordability for residents from diverse backgrounds and income levels, with a focus on residents of color and residents from local communities.