District 65's Teacher Residency Program
A story about CREATE65; One of Dr. Horton's keynote programs in District 65 which experienced "significant attrition"
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I was taking my time writing this story because it requires considerable followup and research, including sequential FOIA requests. However, with Dr. Horton leaving to DeKalb County, Georgia - I am posting this story early in the spirit of transparency. In Dr. Horton’s application with DeKalb, he writes;
I have now built 3 teacher residencies in each of my last three districts. Teacher residencies shift the the structure in which teacher candidates are identified, selected, placed for a year long paid residency and trained in the district where they will be teaching for at least the next four years. They receive a masters degree in a year, work with a lead teacher for the entire year and partner with a cohort of fellow residents that will be being trained at the same time.
At least one claim in this statement is false; the program is currently a two year program that pays $40,000/year according to residents in the 2022-23 cohort. [Edit; this was originally reported incorrectly as $45,000]
This program was also cited extensively in the last election by Sergio Hernandez, one of the candidates. I reached out for comment for this story and he didn’t respond to emails.
CREATE65: Teacher Residency Program
The program was created in Summer 2020, shortly after Dr. Horton was appointed Superintendent. The idea is in theory simple: identify mid-career folks looking to get into teaching, pay a stipend of $30,0001 and put them in a classroom for a year while they get a masters degree. It’s like student teaching but designed to be a much more extensive experience. Even better, the program promised a job at the end that paid $55,000. The idea is: save money on recruiting, find and identify non-standard candidates for teachers, and get more people in front of kids. A very clear win-win.
Earn a Master’s Degree in Education from Chicago State University and a Professional Educator’s License (PEL) in elementary school grades.
Get hands-on experience in a classroom four days a week under the guidance of an experienced D65 teacher.
Receive a $30,000 residency stipend to help with living expenses and opportunities to apply for other grants.
Graduate with a 4-year contract to become a D65 teacher where the average teacher salary is $84,000 with an average starting salary of $55,000 with a Master's degree.
Become a member of a CREATE 65 cohort of aspiring teachers and build a network of support with other new educators.
Cohort 1: School Year 2021-22
The first year kicked off with 19 residents in fall 2021 funded by a grant from the ISBE. By May 5, 2022 Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky was there to award a giant check for $600,000 in grant money.
This article on Edweek (A New Teacher at 50: Inside the Struggle to Rebuild America’s Black Teaching Workforce), which the District promotes, provides a summary of a first year cohort experience;
Residents were given a $30,000 stipend and placed in one of three schools.
According to the Edweek story, halfway through, the District reneged on their promise of employment, requiring residents to interview for jobs. The District denies this allegation (see below)
The District struggled with partner university relationships, resulting in residents owing thousands in fees and the termination of the relationships.
The article tells a story of a woman overcoming adversity, which is true! However, the very barriers she had to overcome were created by District 65 itself! Meanwhile, the District and Dr. Horton are promoting as a major success. It is mentioned all over his application with DeKalb.
Regarding the revoked job offers, I reached out to the District who responded;
The 2021-2022 CREATE 65 program had 19 residents at the start and 12 residents completed the program.
All residents who successfully completed the program were offered teaching positions within the district. Ultimately nine accepted and were hired. They remain currently employed with the district.
As a note, during the course of the program, four residents withdrew and three were removed for academic performance or personal reasons.
I inquiring regarding Edweek’s reporting of the job offers being pulled back and the District replied;
This is absolutely inaccurate. Please see the above response. All individuals who successfully completed the program were offered positions within our school district. All of the individuals who accepted are still employed by the district.
12 of 19 students completed the program, this is documented in the May 2022 Board Minutes.
However, those same notes indicate that 4 were hired full-time and 5 were hired as long term subs. I’ve inquired to the employment status of the residents today and haven’t heard back yet.
[Update: The District provided me with additional information this morning] Of those 12 who completed the program, 8 are currently full-time staff and 1 is a long-term sub.
When searching other sources, there is quite a bit of misinformation regarding the success of the program. Consider this incorrect number from a Daily Northwestern article.
18 residents graduated from District 65’s initial cohort that ran from June 2021 to June 2022. This year, there are nine people in the residency program.
It is unclear to me how the Daily Northwestern or the ISBE (see below) got their incorrect numbers.
Northwestern & National Louis
The program started with two partner universities: Northwestern and National Louis. By the end of the first year (June 2022), both universities dropped out. I reached out to both and they confirmed exit from the program. I FOIA’ed some records related to the withdrawal; they’re available here. In general, it seems like things didn’t go well with the program. Robert Muller, a Dean at National Louis wrote to the District while putting a “pause” on the relationship (bold is mine);
As I am sure you agree, it is challenging for us to operate effectively in partnership when we are neither kept informed of matters that impact our candidates and programs, nor involved in discussions about how to best implement the program and support students. As you also know, the program experienced significant attrition during the first year – we need to co-design to prevent that in recruiting, student supports and placement, and also to support mentor teachers. We firmly believe these issues can be resolved with a pause and time to invest in developing a shared understanding of the program, its requirements, and implementation processes.
Meanwhile, on the Northwestern side, the faculty member running the program wrote to the District in June 2022; after Northwestern exited the program after a mere 5 months in January 2022.
I reached out earlier in the month to check in regarding multiple cancelled meetings in June in the hopes of finding a time to come together and close out the year. As you know per discussions from January, we will not be continuing in our residency partnership. Although it has been a difficult year, and we appear to be moving in different directions, I know that we share the goal of supporting kiddos and teachers towards success on every level—which binds us together as educators.
I tried to FOIA additional records but ran into the problem of the request being “unduly burdensome.” I will be refining this request and resubmitting but that will take more time. After the termination of the relationship with National Louis and Northwestern, the District connected with Chicago State University, Dr. Horton’s Alma Mater. I’ve made available a copy of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Chicago State. In the MOU, the District also details a similar program for a Principal Residency Program (PREP65) launched this year.3
The CREATE65 program, as far as I am aware, is funded entirely by federal and state grant money. Below is a table of funding for the program which I reconstructed;
I confirmed this by reaching out to the ISBE who confirmed funding and provided some interesting (likely false) commentary;
District 65 reported that 10 of 12 program completers were offered jobs. All of the district’s grant funds were allocated appropriately. We are aware that the district secured two supplemental grants from other entities for the program, but we cannot speak to those funds. We are also aware that the district partnered with National Louis University and Northwestern University in year one of the grant and partnered with Chicago State University in year two because the university’s mission and focus more closely aligned with the district’s and because the district had an existing partnership with CSU for principal recruitment.
The largest source of funding for the program is the COVID relief money (ESSER III). I’ve written on this topic previously. As of March 2023, the District allocated 9.2% of total federal COVID relief money to this program; it’s the fourth highest expense category and is likely to be in the top two by the time the $10 million dollars of funds runs out. The ESSER funding is intended to be used to “address learning loss” during the COVID crisis.
Where is the money going? Some of it goes to the residents, making $30,000 to $45,000 a year, somes goes to 3-4 District employees working on the program, and a large chunk (over $330,000) goes to Frontier Consulting (Contract Here). Frontier is run by an individual who worked with Dr. Horton both during his time in in East St. Louis but also worked under Dr. Horton when he was a principal at Wendell Phillips Academy in 2011-12 in the Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL) program.4 This contract was awarded without mandatory board reporting I’ve described in previous posts, however the renewal in August 2022 was in the reporting. Regarding the conflict of interest in awarding this contract, I inquired with the District. Their response is below;
There is no conflict of interest. Dr. Horton is not involved in any way with the referenced consulting firm.
Dr. Johnson is a qualified individual to complete this work with expertise in residency program development, equity in education, restorative classroom practices, data-driven instruction, classroom systems, structures and routines, and culturally relevant and responsive teaching. He has also spent a portion of his career focused on curriculum and assessment development and instructional coaching and leadership.
Dr. Johnson has worked with numerous school districts across the country and has helped to lead the charge to propel student growth across the state.
I can confirm that Dr. Johnson did in fact, offer training to residents and the quality of his work was good. However, the cost is quite high. His current contract is for $126,000 for 7 days a month of work, 5 days on CREATE and 2 days on other programs.
It is unclear to me what is going to happen after the ESSER funding ends since it requires at least $600,000-$1,000,000 a year to operate. In interviews I have conducted with professionals who work on these kinds of programs, this cost isn’t unreasonable. It is expensive to run a program like this, which is why smaller Districts usually don’t run such programs.
In theory, a program like this can be an effective pipeline for recruiting. A recruiting program is expensive and anyone who has ever done corporate recruiting knows sometimes the costs can reach 1x the annual salary of the candidate. But right now, at around $1,000,000 per year and at most, 9 teachers, this comes out to around $111,000 per recruited teacher. This amounts to 2x the first year’s salary, which is far higher than the traditional 1x (or less) in corporate recruiting.
Discussion: Those Who Excel Awards
The response from the ISBE was to give an award to the program. Recall, this is the state agency which gave a $500,000 grant to the program. I reached out to the ISBE for comment and shared the above Edweek article. Their response is below;
The article you shared highlighted some very real challenges with developing and implementing programs to carry out the critically important work of increasing the diversity of the teacher workforce in Illinois. We absolutely applaud the goal of this program and look forward to seeing how it evolves and improves and what other districts around the state can learn from this pioneering model.
Again, according to residents and the Edweek story, the very challenges they describe were erected by the program! While writing this, I can’t get over this narrative - the District putting up roadblocks to these residents and then solving the roadblocks at the same time while blaming some mysterious external force.5 Then everyone in the state and local administration gets a nice line they can put on their resumes and potential careers consulting for residency programs. Consider the LinkedIn description of one of the staff members running the program, “My objective/goal is to have my consulting business up and running successfully within the next 3 years!” Or consider the case of Sergio Hernandez, who cited this program extensively on the campaign trail this spring. Or consider Dr. Horton who has cited this program as a keynote of his application in DeKalb.
But to me, this program feels like it had a real human cost. These residents were black mid-career folks looking to get into teaching and at least 7 of the 19 residents appear to have gotten screwed while the ISBE applauds. The District’s response to my inquiry was;
As a note, during the course of the program, four residents withdrew and three were removed for academic performance or personal reasons.
However, this doesn’t line up with the stories from residents or the Edweek story;
Turmoil with CREATE 65’s university partners continued despite a change at the top of program.
And most troubling of all was a rumor that District 65 was going to renege on its promise that every resident who successfully finished the year would be guaranteed a full-time teaching position. Instead, they’d have to interview at individual schools. A Zoom meeting intended to clear up the confusion only made things worse.
CREATE 65’s original cohort of 19 would soon be cut down to 12.
I would love to tell more of the stories of the specific residents in the first cohort of the program, especially on the record. If you know any or that is you, please reach out to me.
I will not cover this here but paying people via stipends versus W-2 wages is messy; ask any graduate student how bad the taxes are stipends of this size.
Until last week, the District continued to reference National Louis on their website; they only updated the website contact information after I began making inquiries.
I personally find it absurd that a District the size of District 65 is creating a principal residency program. We have 6000 students and I find it hard to believe that there is a problem back-filling these roles.
AUSL had a popular teacher residency program (and still does, I think?). It seems likely to me CREATE65 was modeled after that program given that both Dr. Horton and Dr. Johnson were participants in the AUSL program. The CPS Teachers Union has a very strong opinion on the AUSL program.
Consider the case of Cohort II, which now has to commute from Evanston to Chicago State on 95th. The choice of Chicago State wasn’t by accident or some external force, it was specifically selected by the District. This is a hurdle put in place by the people deliberately taking credit for solving the hurdles.