Photo courtesy of Northwestern University

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By Julie Deardorff

In partnership with Northwestern University and National Louis University, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 has formed a teacher residency program to address achievement gaps, reduce teacher shortages in specific areas, and increase the diversity of the local teaching workforce.

The intensive one-year teacher preparation master’s program, similar to medical residencies for doctors, immediately places aspiring teachers in the classroom four days a week, where they work side-by-side with experienced teachers. At the same time, residents pursue master’s level coursework at either Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy or National Louis University

“A residency model challenges the idea that student teaching should be the culminating experience of teacher preparation,” said Kavita Kapadia Matsko, Associate Dean for Teacher Education at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, who studies new teacher preparation, mentoring, and teacher preparation pathways. “Instead, it positions learning with students in a classroom as a central component of the experience.”

District 65’s program Collaborative Residency for Equity and Achievement, or CREATE, includes several characteristics of other residency programs: a full year of student teaching under an experienced, effective mentor; a partnership between a school district and university to closely link practice and theory and continuing mentorship after candidates become full-fledged teachers. Student teachers are paid during the residency year in return for a multi-year teaching commitment.

Unlike other programs, however, CREATE partners with two universities – Northwestern and National Louis – instead of one. And it offers significant financial support. 

All teacher residents receive a $30,000 stipend from the District. Additionally, Northwestern is offering a total of $35,000 in scholarships and awards to each resident, funded in part with a $450,000 gift from the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation.

Located on the shores of Lake Michigan just north of Chicago, District 65 serves approximately 8,000 students in pre-K through eighth grade. The racial and ethnic makeup of the district includes students who identify as White (42.8%), Black (22.4%), Hispanic (20.6%), Asian (4.7%) American Indian (.3%), and two or more races (9.2%).

District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton arrived in Evanston in 2020 already committed to teacher residencies. A graduate of the National Louis University program, he previously set up similar residencies in East St. Louis, Ill. and Louisville, Ky.

“I would love to become a local hub for developing the most talented diverse teachers that we can find,” Dr. Horton said.

Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree and be new to the teaching field. Based on their interests, they will be pointed towards either Northwestern’s program (elementary education and master’s with a STEAM focus) or National Louis University (early childhood, bilingual, and special education).

The residency program plans to start with a cohort of 20 teachers in June of 2021. Residents will be placed in three locations: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School; Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies; and the Joseph E. Hill Education Center.

Residency programs range in size and are growing in popularity as non-traditional teaching pathways; there are at least 50 programs in the country according to the Learning Policy Institute, a California-based education policy think tank. Nationally, about 49% of residents are people of color; in traditional programs, about a quarter of aspiring teacher are racial or ethnic minorities.

Compared with other types of preparation programs, graduates of residency programs in neighboring district Chicago Public Schools are more likely to plan to teach students of color and expect to have longer teaching careers with the district, according to recent research conducted by Dr. Matsko.

Additional studies by other researchers that looked at residency pathways in New York and Memphis find that students who graduated from residency programs showed better gains in student learning compared to their peers in traditional programs, Dr. Matsko said.

Northwestern will use the experience of developing the residency program to help guide its ongoing program development, particularly with building new curriculum with SESP faculty, and creating new assessment and advising systems for its teacher education programs.

Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy was eager to partner with District 65 to help develop teachers who can effectively engage students – especially students of color – in the District.

“The program aligns well with our interests in centering issues of equity and community across our teacher preparation efforts as well as our commitment to diversifying our student body,” Dr. Matsko said. “It was a perfect opportunity to work with a community partner towards shared interests.”