The teacher pipeline is missing crucial pieces in urban schools. A combination of inadequate recruitment, preparation, and unearned tenure and promotion has led to a shortage of effective, committed teachers in urban areas. Students — particularly high-need students — are the biggest losers, and their futures hang in the balance.
How do you encourage and prepare talented, committed people to engage in a teaching career?
There are a number of promising teacher preparation organizations tackling this challenge, but few have solved the puzzle of building a quality program and a sustainable business model to support it.
Urban Teachers is one exception.
WHO IS URBAN TEACHERS?
Urban Teachers is changing the equation in urban education, offering high-need schools a supply of effective teachers who are ready to make a difference in students’ lives and are committed to a career in teaching. They do this by recruiting, training, and retaining individuals to become lifelong teachers — particularly in geographies and classrooms filled with predominantly high-need students.
When Bellwether began working with Urban Teachers in the summer of 2014, they were a small, up-and-coming organization originally based in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland. But they had big ambitions: revolutionizing the teacher pipeline to provide students with the quality teachers they deserve, reaching critical mass to change the human capital picture in districts, and expanding into new cities with the help of a new higher-education partner and alternative funding streams. Unlike charter schools with public funding streams, teacher prep programs still predominantly rely on philanthropy. And organizations running these programs face difficulty in finding a sustainable business model that does not rely on charging candidates a hefty fee for the preparation needed to do this important work.
Like many of the organizations we partner with, Urban Teachers had an entrepreneurial approach and mentality, and they brought a big challenge to the table that required innovative thinking. They had high standards, requiring their participants to meet a high bar to continue in the program each year.
Bellwether was ready to work alongside Urban Teachers to come up with cutting-edge solutions that would help them reach even more students where the need is greatest.
THE RIGHT STUFF
Bellwether’s Strategic Advising team provided Urban Teachers with top-to-bottom support:
Transforming a business model to achieve greater sustainability
Developing a full organizational strategic plan
Defining a theory of action
Building a long-term financial model
Providing recommendations around participant and partner packages
Producing implementation plans
Our partnership started as a typical strategic planning project — an engagement our team has a great deal of familiarity with — and was carefully tailored to suit Urban Teachers’ particular needs. The planning process was aimed at determining how Urban Teachers might structure financials, both for participants and school partners, in order to create a more sustainable organization. We also focused on developing the recommended organization structure they would need to deliver on their mission.
Bellwether’s six-month engagement with Urban Teachers was highly collaborative. Our team comprised six strategists — many of whom are former teachers themselves. We worked closely with Urban Teachers’ dynamite executive leadership team as well as their board to ensure an inclusive process in which every voice was heard. We worked as an honest partner with a critical eye, encouraging Urban Teachers’ team to reach for the stars, with feet firmly planted on solid ground.
Bellwether’s team drew on our networks for rich landscape work, interviewing other teacher prep providers — both traditional and alternative certification — thought leaders, school leaders, and teachers themselves. This wide-reaching approach brought value not only to the project, but to the field of teacher prep, by sharing findings back out with interviewees. And we were able to offer a depth of experience and resources, with many examples of what other organizations have done to facilitate informed decision-making.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Urban Teachers has since expanded from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., to Dallas/Fort Worth, and has partnered with Johns Hopkins University in their teacher preparation programming. In the past two years, they have run with the recommendations developed in our work together, implementing them to great success. The organization is in a completely different place today, having transformed their business model to enhance the participant value proposition and build a path to sustainability.
Here's how Urban Teachers is making an impact on the teacher pipeline today, by the numbers:
Doubled the residents placed in classrooms in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Dallas/Fort Worth
58% of the 2016/2017 incoming cohort are people of color, and 38% are first generation Americans
71% of first-year teachers return as fourth-year teachers
83.5% of first- and second-year Urban Teachers performed on par with or better than the average first- and second-year teachers in urban distrcits in math
79% of first- and second-year Urban Teachers performed on par with or better than the average first- and second-year teachers in urban distrcits in reading
WANT TO WORK WITH US?
"Bellwether is able to build a really clean vision of where work needs to go next that's very attuned to the needs and people inside an organization. They delivered a strategic plan with a clear path to execution that thought through people and processes, which produced amazing results. One example: I went to donors asking for a quarter million dollar annual gift, and one donor said, ‘No — I’m going to give you a million dollars to help bridge the gap to sustainability.’ And I was able to make that case because of the very concrete tools Bellwether knew I was going to need."
"Teachers are not born, they're made. I was so proud to be part of the team that helped them prove it can be done. They did the hard work of prepping teachers — we helped them do what they needed to do to make it more sustainable. I'm in awe of Urban Teachers."