Research shows that teachers are the most important in-school factor for student achievement. And yet many teachers have reported they don’t feel prepared to help students with learning and attention issues.

Programs like the Richmond Teacher Residency program (RTR) at Virginia Commonwealth University are proving to be an innovative and effective approach to preparing teachers to meet the needs of diverse learners, and keeping effective educators in the classroom.

But funding for programs like RTR is at risk. The President’s federal budget proposal would cut funding for Teacher Quality Partnership grants – funds that led to the creation of RTR seven years ago, and are necessary to sustain these promising teacher preparation models.

The RTR model: Building strong teachers

The RTR program enrolls Master’s-level teacher candidates who have a passion for their local communities and are dedicated to serving urban students. Following the completion of an intense semester-long curriculum, the teacher candidates begin their residency as student teachers in the local public school district – Richmond Public Schools.

Once there, they work closely with a master teacher who provides coaching and mentoring throughout the entire school year. Thus, not only does RTR produce effective and committed new teachers through this program, but it builds the knowledge and skills of the master teachers and renews their commitment to education.

Upon finishing the program, RTR residents fill positions as full-time Richmond Public School teachers, where they’ve committed to working for at least three years, and continue to receive support from a career coach for two years.

The results RTR has demonstrated are clear:

  • 100% of the program’s mentor teachers report that RTR has made them more effective
  • Richmond Public School principals rated 75% of RTR graduates as extraordinary or above average on teacher effectiveness
  • Richmond Public School principals rated 85% of RTR graduates as contributing positively to school culture

The RTR model: Building a strong community

RTR is sustained through partnerships with the local community. Both the university program and the local school district are involved in the selection process, and they choose the candidates based on the needs of the district at that time. For example, if the district is specifically in need of a high school history teacher or an elementary school special educator, candidates who can fill those specific roles are considered and selected. After completing the program, the residents will go on to fill open positions in Richmond Public Schools.

RTR was first made possible through an award from the U.S. Department of Education and the program relied entirely on federal funding. But over time, the state of Virginia took notice of just how impactful the program had become. A report to the Governor and Virginia General Assembly recommended RTR as an effective long-term strategy to improve low-performing schools, stating:

“Urban teacher residency programs have the potential to create a dedicated, ongoing pipeline of new teachers with the skills to support student achievement over the long term.1

As a result, the state has invested a small amount of money to expand the program, but the federal funds continue to sustain it. What began as a program that prepared only secondary education teachers has grown to prepare special education teachers as well as elementary school teachers.

As the community, including foundations and private donors, becomes more invested, the program continues to grow in size and impact.

The RTR model: Costs and impact

Each year, teacher turnover costs the city of Richmond, Virginia $6 million.2 And research has shown that special educators leave the profession at twice the rate of other teachers. But a program like RTR offers a clear return on investment that can save the city money. It costs only $1.39 million to recruit, prepare and support 30 new RTR residents each year – teachers who will go on to teach in RPS for at least three years – while it costs $1.94 million to replace 30 teachers each year.

More than half of new teachers hired in Richmond this school year (2016-2017) were provisionally licensed.  If they cannot or will not become fully licensed within three years, the district will have to replace them, contributing to teacher turnover that negatively impacts student achievement.3 RTR ensures that teachers leave the program with their full licensure, ready to meet the demands of the classroom.

Since it began 7 years ago, RTR and has graduated 6 cohorts of students, with another 44 candidates beginning the program this year. RTR has prepared more than 100 teachers to join RPS, and trained more than 65 mentor teachers. Nearly half of all fully-qualified new special education teachers hired by the district this year have come from the program.

“RTR has turned me into a teacher. [It has taught me ] to be able to do this correctly; to do it the right way; to make an impact.”

  • Larry Dockery, Exceptional Education teacher, Elkhardt Thompson Middle School

The future: Funding at risk, students in the balance

Imagine if the federal money that started RTR was not available. The city of Richmond would be without more than 100 dedicated, effective teachers. More than 8,000 students would have missed out on the opportunity to be supported by these passionate educators. That is what is on the horizon if the president’s budget proposal is approved.

Programs like RTR and those who prepare outstanding teachers for our nation’s most diverse learners will have no footing.  Make a difference by sharing this story about how federal dollars are used to launch new and effective programs that have a great impact. Tell your members of Congress that we must invest in the future of our students.

  1. Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (2014). “Report to the Governor and General Assembly of Virginia: Low Performing Schools in Urban High Poverty Communities,” Report No. 454. Commonwealth of Virginia: 2014.
  2. National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future Teacher Leaver Calculator, 2014.
  3. Ronfeldt, Loeb, & Wyckoff (2013). “How Teacher Turnover Harms Student Achievement.” American Educational Research Journal, 50 (1), pp. 4–36.

Read the first post and second post in our Federal Funding Series.

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