“We’re not just training teachers, we’re training teacher leaders.”

Kelly Wilson

executive director, The Academy for Urban School Leadership

The issue

The Chicago Public Schools is looking to attract and retain better teachers by partnering with local universities and training them in the system. So far, three professional development schools, each with a distinct mission, are operating in the district.

The effort parallels a growing national trend where school districts and universities collaborate to provide teacher-training programs that showcase best instructional practices used by master teachers who mentor student teachers.

The concept of professional development schools surfaced in the late 1980s, the result of an influential report that called for schools of education to work more closely with local school districts. Now, more state policymakers are adopting the idea. Maryland was the first state to require that student teaching requirements be fulfilled only at these schools.

Research suggests that professional development schools increase teacher competency, improve student achievement and reduce teacher attrition, recently identified as the true culprit in the teacher shortage. Though they carry a hefty price tag, some experts say it could be worth it in the long run if good teachers stay in the system.

The Academy for Urban School Leadership has removed the roadblocks of time and money that keep many from switching to a teaching career. By paying student teachers, waiving tuition and cutting the amount of time it takes to earn an advanced degree in education, AUSL is turning experienced professionals into fully certified teachers. Residents spend a year working with mentor teachers at The Chicago Academy, also the district’s first contract public school.

National Teachers Academy is a gold-plated site for student teaching. It is housed in a new $47 million facility that boasts classrooms with two-way glass that allow student teachers to observe without disrupting class. All of its teachers have or are working toward certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards—the profession’s highest credential. Students from 13 Chicago-area schools of education spend a semester student teaching with master teachers.

North Kenwood-Oakland Professional Development Charter School is the site where the Center for School Improvement at the University of Chicago trains veteran teachers how to improve literacy instruction with research-based methods. The Center also partners with eight schools and aims to influence literacy instruction across the district. Teachers who complete two weeks training return to their schools and train their colleagues.

Action underway

The three professional development schools, with a fourth on the way, are part of the school district’s broad education plan that makes boosting teacher quality a priority. The Academy for Urban School Leadership will open a second site this fall at former Dodge Elementary, which closed in spring 2002. The program will mirror the initiative at The Chicago Academy.

While they are committed to the concept, district officials concede that the schools are more expensive to operate and they are looking at other models that cost less.


For applications on residency programs through the Academy for Urban School Leadership, visit the web site at www.ausl.org or call The Chicago Academy at 773 534-3885.

For information on student teaching programs at the National Teachers Academy, call 773 534-9970.

For information on literacy training, visit the web site for Center for School Improvement at www.csi.uchicago.edu.

Order a copy of “How Professional Development Schools Make a Difference: A Review of Research” by Lee Teitel, and “Standards for Professional Development Schools” by visiting the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education at www.ncate.org.

For a copy of the teacher retention study, “No Dream Denied: A Pledge to America’s Children,” visit the web site of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future at www.nctaf.org.

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