CPS has approved a $1 million agreement with the Golden Apple Scholars program to provide 175 new teachers—many of whom will likely be minorities–during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years.

The agreement comes at a time when CPS is under fire for the decline in the ranks of black teachers, particularly in the wake of school closings in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Golden Apple’s teachers are 22 percent African-American and 26 percent Hispanic – higher than the average for new CPS teachers during 2006-07, when the group’s study was done. 

CPS is also facing heat for a two-year, nearly $1.6 million contract with Teach For America that was approved in June. The Chicago Teachers Union charges that the district’s relationship with Teach For America leads to under-trained teachers taking spots that should go to veterans.

Golden Apple CEO Dominic Belmonte says the program will work largely with South Side principals to promote its graduates, just as Teach For America has “been able to offer their participants an access pipeline to schools on the West Side.”

The goal is to get several Golden Apple teachers into each school, Belmonte says. Golden Apple may start by working with schools that already have its graduates on staff.

As part of the agreement, Golden Apple will work to recruit more CPS graduates into its program and ultimately the teaching profession. “For a long time, we have desired to enter into partnership with CPS,” Belmonte says.

Golden Apple teachers who plan on working in CPS will get specially tailored summer programs that keep them in the district, plus extra mentoring upon graduation. “Once they begin teaching, it keeps their resilience high,” Belmonte says. Offering more mentoring will also “show the schools what a great thing it is to have a Golden Apple scholar on their staff.”

Golden Apple helps top students pay for traditional teaching degrees, but supplements the undergraduate programs with paid summer opportunities to rack up hundreds more hours of observation and student teaching time than is the norm.

Basic skills test an obstacle

Currently, the program admits 135 students a year, who go on to teach statewide. With the new contract, that will increase to 175 a year, an increasing number of whom may be transfer students from community colleges.

But as Golden Apple strives to increase the number of candidates from community colleges to as many as 25 a year, as well as to graduate more candidates overall, the program faces a tough hurdle: Higher cut scores on the basic skills test required of all candidates who want to enter education programs. With the advent of the higher cut scores, pass rates have plummeted overall—but have fallen the most for minority teacher candidates.

Belmonte says that the tests are “a worrisome obstacle” but notes that Golden Apple provides mentoring to students who struggle with passing the test.

Golden Apple has scaled up more slowly than Teach For America, bringing just 600 teachers to CPS schools in the last 25 years.  The program is backed by $6.6 million in state funding, most of which pays for scholarships

“We are the ‘Little Engine that Could,’ ” Belmonte says. He says CPS Chief Talent Officer Alicia Winckler’s support has been key in getting the agreement in place with CPS.

Research done by the Parthenon Group for Golden Apple shows that Golden Apple scholars outlast those prepared by traditional residency programs.

Golden Apple says that 82 percent of its teachers stay past the 5-year mark, compared to just half of CPS teachers overall, three-quarters of Academy for Urban School Leadership graduates, and one-quarter of Teach For America teachers. However, part of the results may be due to structure–Golden Apple teachers must make a 5-year commitment versus two years for Teach For America and four years for AUSL.

Belmonte explains that the program allows prospective teachers to properly “seat” themselves in the right subject area and grade level by giving them hands-on experience early on in a variety of situations. Otherwise, Belmonte says, some teacher candidates wouldn’t get into the classroom until it would be too late for them to change the area they are preparing to teach.

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