Why tutoring programs could strengthen and diversify teacher preparation
In response to the pandemic, we have advocated for teacher-candidates to serve as tutors in high-need and hard-to-staff schools.
It’s a win-win: teacher-candidates need clinically rich field experiences in order to earn licensure, and students — especially the most vulnerable — need holistic and individualized academic and social-emotional support to recover from the pandemic’s disruption. Legislation to create this type of tutoring program has earned bipartisan support at the state and federal levels.
Despite the promise, there are some in teacher education who oppose the idea, arguing that funds should instead be “invested in preparing and placing more teachers in high-need schools.”
We think mobilizing future teachers as tutors is an investment in preparing and placing more teachers in high-needs schools.
1. Well-designed clinical practice matters … a lot
Researchers who study educator preparation have produced a large and growing body of research on the characteristics of effective preparation programs. One of the most consequential findings is that when future teachers have early opportunities to engage in the actual work of teaching, they are more successful during their first year.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but in our work with educator-preparation programs across the country, we’ve seen wide variation in the design of early field experiences that precede student teaching. In many instances, future teachers are physically present with K-12 students, but they are not engaged in the actual work of teaching (e.g. building relationships, listening to a student read aloud, responding to students’ mathematical thinking).
In other instances — such as at programs we profiled here and here — future teachers develop their craft through deep and sustained opportunities to work closely with students. And these experiences do not always take place in traditional K-12 schools or during the school day. We’ve seen tremendous examples in community-based organizations as well.
Consistently, however, exceptional early field experiences involve close, sustained relationships where future teachers engage students in authentic academic work and receive embedded support from experienced mentors to help link theory to practice. These are some of the same characteristics of high-quality tutoring.
2. Tutoring would make clinical practice more affordable for future teachers and for K-12 schools.
One limitation of well-designed clinical practice: its cost. Whether as an early field experience or a yearlong culminating residency, working closely with students in deep and sustained ways means that future teachers must forego other employment, and schools and programs must provide additional coordination and coaching.
Perhaps as a result, recent research shows that schools in lower-income communities are less likely to host student teachers and aspiring teachers from less affluent backgrounds drop out of preparation programs at higher rates.
One way to address these disparities is to pay aspiring teachers during their field experiences and to direct additional resources to support experienced educators as mentors and coaches.
Making well-designed clinical practice more affordable not only makes it more likely to occur for all future teachers, but also reduces barriers to high-quality preparation for teachers from historically underrepresented groups. Indeed, teacher residency programs, which tend to receive significant philanthropic support, produce among the most socioeconomically and racially diverse pipelines of future teachers.
3. Clinical practice in high-need schools would pave a career path for future teachers into those same schools.
To place more teachers in high-need schools, one of the best ways is to ensure that their preparation takes place in those schools, recent research suggests. In a large-scale study across Washington State, 15% of teachers were hired into the same school where they completed student teaching and 40% were hired into the same district. And there is some evidence that teachers hired into the school where they completed student teaching are stronger first-year teachers than their peers.
Given chronic teacher shortages that disproportionately impact schools in low-income communities and communities of color, incentivizing placement of future teachers as tutors in high-need and hard-to-staff schools will strengthen the pipeline of teachers into those very same schools. Tutoring — as early field experience or a component of a culminating clinical — could help to do that.
There are significant challenges to expanding efforts to mobilize future teachers as high-quality tutors. But with billions in new, one-time funding, local education leaders have an opportunity to address unfinished learning of K-12 students and simultaneously invest in the next generation of teachers.
At Deans for Impact, we urge them to do so.