UChicago UTEP Awarded $11.6 Million Grant from U.S. Department of Education to Support Exceptional Teachers in Training

March 31, 2010

In March 2010, it was announced that the Urban Teacher Education Program at the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute was awarded nearly $11.6 million from the U.S. Department of Education. The news brought with it great celebration; the program is now able to refine and expand upon its successful teacher preparation efforts, train a greater number of excellent teachers and reach more underserved students. Perhaps no one has rejoiced as loudly as UChicago UTEP’s current students who will receive a significant stipend as a result of the award.

Justin Huang reflected on the excitement created by the news of the grant. He said, “It took a few weeks to truly sink in.” The grant’s implications are exciting: next year, UChicago UTEP candidates will have less financial worry. All residents (second-year UChicago UTEP students who spend a year and a summer learning in the classroom) who pledge to teach in high–needs Chicago Public Schools for three years will receive a $20,000 living stipend during their residency preparation.

Current students believe the stipend will attract more qualified applicants to the program. This is important to the group of burgeoning young educators who believe strongly in the values of their program and the work being undertaken.

Jenny Sarna said, “I think the grant will allow UTEP to attract more students who are interested in pursuing a career in urban education. Currently, I think the cost of a MAT forces a lot of students to choose one-year programs or Alternative Certification programs where they will receive a teacher's salary during their internship. The stipend will allow more students to consider UTEP's two-year program and, as a result, they will be better prepared for their work as teachers!”

UChicago UTEP candidate Lucy Hilarides echoed Sarna’s feelings and added thoughts on the grant’s implications for her. “Personally, this grant means taking out less loans next year and possibly being able to buy a car (which is important since the schools that are most in need are usually difficult to get to via public transport). On a deeper level, it gives me some additional validation that what I'm doing is important. As a UTEP student, I feel like I have a strong support system in my peers and leaders, but it's empowering to know that support is there nationally as well.”

The director of UChicago UTEP Kavita Kapadia Matsko agreed. “This is a really promising signal from the federal government about our model and its capacity to train high–quality teachers for urban schools.”

Students also expressed that the grant would help to strengthen the core of the program and improve the outcomes for Chicago Public School students over time. This is partially because grant funding will result in improved curriculum to align with the needs of Chicago Public Schools, the addition of a robust secondary mathematics and science certification program, enhanced recruitment strategies to further improve the selectivity and diversity of candidates, extended new teacher induction activities, and solidified school partnerships.

Hilarides said, “I believe this grant has implications for the children of Chicago. First, a less debt-laden teacher equals a happier teacher. Second, I think this will only augment UChicago UTEP's goal of building a network of committed, thoughtful teacher leaders where they're needed most. Also, maybe other programs will recognize the incentive of spending more time in the classroom and follow UChicago UTEP’s lead.”

Under this grant, UChicago UTEP will also work with the Consortium on Chicago School Research to evaluate and measure the impact of their model. When the work supported by the grant is fully operational after five years, the UChicago UTEP program will be serving approximately 300 aspiring and novice teachers in various stages of development.

“In addition to refining and expanding our program, this award will give us an opportunity to carefully evaluate some of the key design features of our work and their effects on teacher retention rates, student learning outcomes, and the social organization of the schools in which our graduates work,” said Kapadia Matsko, who is a former Chicago Public School teacher as well as a graduate of the University of Chicago Department of Sociology.

Currently, the retention rates for UTEP graduates dramatically exceed Illinois and Chicago norms. Overall, over 90 percent of UTEP graduates remain in the classroom after three years. In order to support continued retention, UChicago UTEP will intensify its post–graduate assistance, with particular attention to helping their alumni develop leadership skills. With the help of the grant, UChicago UTEP will cluster its alumni, residents and clinical instructors (expert teachers) in several schools to form cohesive learning communities that will lead to optimal and continued teacher improvement.

Overall, the students of UChicago UTEP are heartened by the message sent by the federal grant award. As Hilarides said, it is wonderful that the Department of Education is awarding money “purely as an investment in people to become more capable teachers.”