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Mississippi's New Solution for the Teacher Shortage

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Mississippi has launched the nation's first state-run teacher residency program to tackle two problems: a growing number of unfilled teaching positions in the state, and a lack of diverse teachers in the profession. 

In most teacher residency programs, universities partner with local school districts to provide long-term student teaching in exchange for teachers agreeing to work in the district for a period of time. Research has shown that residencies are more likely to produce teachers of color, and graduates from these programs are more likely to stay in the classroom for longer than other new teachers. 


See also: Can Teacher Residencies Help With Shortages?


Typically, the work is done on a local level. Sometimes, states will offer grants to universities and districts to establish a residency program. (For example, California's state budget granted $75 million for competitive grants for districts to establish teacher residency programs for the preparation of special education, STEM, and bilingual teachers.) 

But in Mississippi, the state education department will be the first to actually operate a residency program, with support from the National Center for Teacher Residencies. (The work is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which gave a $4.1 million grant to the Mississippi Department of Education and a nearly $650,000 grant to the NCTR.)

"It shows a really significant commitment to teacher quality from the state on down," said Anissa Listak, the founder and CEO of the NCTR. "You've got the state, to the district, to the university, on down to teachers and students in classrooms. That kind of vertical alignment between practice and policy isn't something we've seen before in this intentional way." 

Starting off, the state will run the program in four high-needs school districts, and three colleges or universities (the names of which will be released this summer). The first 35 residents will be trained next school year, and another 35 will come on board the following school year. For the first round of residents, Mississippi received about 360 applications, most of whom are nonwhite.

The residents do not have to pay tuition, and they will receive stipends while working in schools. (Their mentor teachers will also receive stipends.) After completing the program, the residents will receive a master's degree and a job in one of the partner school districts. The goal is to slowly scale up the program, and train 500 residents over the first five years. 

"One of the challenges that we've seen [is] a decline in the number of folks who are onboarding in traditional pathways to become a teacher," said Phelton Moss, the director of educator talent, acquisition, and effectiveness for the state. "For our residency program, we have a lot of folks who already have a [bachelor's] degree and want a master's, and we'll pay for that for them." 


See also: Universities Revamping Teacher Prep to Provide More Hands-On Training


Mississippi had about 2,100 unfilled teaching positions at the start of this school year, Listak said. And between 2011 and 2018, the number of new teaching licenses granted in the state was down 50 percent. 

The Learning Policy Institute studied 50 residency programs in 2015-16 and found that 82 percent of graduates were still teaching four years later, 10 percentage points higher than other new teachers.

Advocates for residencies attribute the high retention rate to a solid preparation, compared to other programs. Residents teach alongside highly qualified mentor teachers for at least a year. That's compared to traditional teacher-prep programs that generally require only about 15 weeks of student teaching. And alternative programs like Teach for America place teachers in the classroom after about five to seven weeks of fast-track training. 

"Importing teachers and importing prep has not worked really well," Listak said, adding that the residency model of preparation is still relatively new. "It is a long game. These institutions of higher ed are going to have to make some shifts, and that's going to take a while. This is a new way of thinking about prep for a lot of institutions there." 

Also, the state's goal is to increase the number of diverse teachers to 32 percent of the workforce by 2025, Moss said. Currently, 27 percent of Mississippi teachers are nonwhite. 

About 70 percent of the first cohort of residents are teachers of color, and most are women. The Kellogg grant is also funding a full-time recruiter for male educators of color, who are particularly underrepresented in the teaching profession. (Across the country, only 2 percent of teachers are black men.) 

Moss said ultimately, he hopes the department will "put out a strong model for how this can work," and then school districts can work with their own local teacher-prep programs to create local partnerships. 

"Our hope and our ask is that our districts can become innovative and work with their teacher-prep programs [in a way that's] unique to their context," he said. 

It also remains to be seen whether the state can fund this work without relying on philanthropy once the grant runs out, Listak said..

"Three to five years from now, we'll have a really good sense of whether or not this is a pilot that can be adapted in other states," she said. 

Image by Getty

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