The Role of Teacher Preparation in Ensuring Effective Teachers for All

By Paul Sindelar, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Special Education, University of Florida and Co-Director of CEEDAR, Jul 14, 2015

Many teacher preparation programs focus on preparing teachers to work in hard-to-staff or high-poverty schools, particularly in urban and rural locations. The potential of these programs to address the problem of equitable access to highly effective teachers, however, is diluted by several factors, including what researchers have called the “draw of home.”

Many teacher education graduates return home to teach—but home is not where high-poverty urban schools are. One New York study reported that 60 percent of teacher education graduates taught within 15 miles of where they attended high school, and nearly 85 percent taught within 45 miles. In another study, 60 percent of all teachers nationally were found to work within 20 miles of the high school they attended. Because high-poverty urban schools send a smaller proportion of high school graduates to college, they benefit less from the tendency for teachers to choose to work close to home.

Other studies have shown that teachers who do relocate tend to move away from high-poverty, highly diverse, low-achieving schools. In fact, one study found school and student demographics to be a more powerful influence on teachers’ decisions to relocate than salary. The tendency for graduates of teacher preparation programs to move out of hard-to-staff schools speaks to the need for not only developing but also sustaining teachers’ commitment to work in these challenging environments.

How can teacher preparation confront these trends to help ensure that all students have capable teachers?

Human capital theory suggests that the most strongly committed teachers in any school are likely to be members of the community the school serves. They have experience and knowledge—location-specific human capital—that allow them to function more effectively in that context, and they may share the culture and language of the community. Research, such as this study, has established that community experience and knowledge were shown to foster commitment and retention in high-poverty urban schools. To take advantage of this connection, residency programs often focus on urban contexts, as the Urban Teacher Center does in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

Preparation programs would do well to recruit participants from the communities served by hard-to-staff schools, including paraprofessionals working successfully in the schools themselves, who may be said to have developed occupation-specific human capital. The National Resource Center for Paraeducators documents several models of step-up programs for paraprofessionals.

Distance technology allows programs to reach students—paraprofessionals and career changers alike—who do not reside within commuting distance of campus. Of course, developing a distance learning program is no easy matter. It requires infrastructure for the institution as well as the participants, PK–12 collaboration, and on-campus advocacy. Although these elements can be scarce, Project METRO, the partnership between Cardinal Stritch University and Milwaukee Public Schools, attests to what may be achieved when they are in place.

No solution to a problem as complex as providing equitable access to highly effective teachers is simple, but making efforts to recruit educators with location in mind—including through distance education—could move us toward that all-important goal.

Now it’s your turn:

  • What policies should state education agencies consider to foster the development of innovative collaborative preparation programs that could address the challenge of recruiting excellent teachers for high-need schools?
  • How can states support the collaboration between institutions of higher education and PK–12 schools?
  • What other strategies can educator preparation programs, state agencies, or districts in your state adopt to prepare and retain excellent teachers in high-need schools?


Setting college mentorships with k-12 students representive of STEM and Spec Ed disciplines. Such begins a desire of an academic path for k-12 students while keeping higher Ed grounded into social reality.

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