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Preparing teachers for the challenges of urban classrooms

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Most new teachers at low-income urban schools quit their profession within three years. Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of the graduates of the University of Chicago's Urban Teacher Education Program are still teaching in Chicago Public Schools or similar urban school districts after five years.

An $11.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education is allowing the Urban Education Institute to refine and expand this successful teacher preparation program. In addition, the grant will help UEI develop an exportable model for training and supporting exceptional teachers that could be adopted nationwide.

"This grant, one of the most significant we've ever received and certainly the largest from the Department of Education, is a strong endorsement from the federal government of our approach," says Kavita Kapadia Matsko, Director of Chicago UTEP. "It's also a powerful signal about the importance of drastically improving the quality of teacher training, particularly in high-need urban areas."

A central feature of the grant is providing students enrolled in this Master of Arts in Teaching program with a $20,000 stipend during their second-year "residency" when they do their student teaching.

"This stipend helps us attract high quality, diverse applicants to learn how to do the nation's most important work well," says Tim Knowles, John Dewey Director and Clinical Professor of UEI.

UEI is the University of Chicago's center for developing innovative approaches to improving K-12 learning in urban schools. In addition to its teacher preparation program, UEI operates four charter schools and the Consortium on Chicago School Research, which conducts research on Chicago school reform. As part of the grant, the consortium will evaluate the effectiveness of Chicago UTEP.

Improving a selective, successful program

In three years when the impact of the grant is fully in place, Chicago UTEP will be training and supporting annually 300 elementary, middle and high school teachers at various stages in their training and professional development. This training and development begins with a selective admissions process and continues over the two-year program with extended clinical work (like a medical residency) that is tightly interwoven with coursework. After the graduates become teachers they receive three years of coaching and professional development.

"Teaching is expert, intellectual work requiring deep knowledge of context, subject matter, race, class and culture as well as extensive pedagogical training," Knowles says.

The shortage of good math and science teachers in Chicago is particularly acute. Therefore, Chicago UTEP will cluster its alumni, residents and clinical instructors in several Chicago public schools to form cohesive learning communities designed to improve teaching methods and practices. In this and other ways the grant will strengthen Chicago UTEP's partnership with the Chicago Public Schools. One of UEI's main goals is to provide Chicago with a pipeline of extraordinary teachers.

"Urban public schools suffer disproportionately," Knowles says. "It's an economic, social and moral imperative for America to find solutions to the challenges these schools face."

by Greg Borzo

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