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City teaching-training effort didn’t have state approval

Students boarded a Boston Public School bus at the beginning of the 2014 school year.
Students boarded a Boston Public School bus at the beginning of the 2014 school year.(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File 2014)

For many aspiring teachers, it seemed too good to pass up: The chance to run their own classrooms while earning a teachers license through a new program that the Boston Public Schools was starting up this year.

Nearly 500 fledgling teachers applied for spots in the Boston Teaching Fellowship program, which promised that successful candidates could earn an “initial license,” a highly desirable credential for new teachers, in just one year.

But just two weeks before the program was set to begin in June, the school system notified the more than three dozen fellows who were accepted into the program that it would not be able to award the licenses because the state had not approved the program.

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The stumble represents a setback for a new program with the goal of increasing the diversity of Boston’s teaching force. School systems nationwide have been creating their own licensure programs because teacher colleges are turning out low numbers of graduates who are black or Latino.

About half the applicants who were offered slots in the Boston program self-identified as a person of color. The Boston Teaching Fellowship is designed for aspiring teachers with deep roots in the city who never attended a teacher college.

The school system appears to have violated state guidelines that prohibit would-be licensure programs from enrolling candidates before receiving state approval, a rule established in the spirit of consumer protection.

The lack of state approval means the candidates will move on a slower path in securing an “initial license,” which indicates a certain mastery of teaching methods and is one step below a professional license, a state requirement after 10 years of teaching.

The school system defended its handling of the recruitment and enrollment of candidates into the program while approval was pending with the state.

“This status was made clear to candidates throughout the application and enrollment period, which included a prominent note on the fellowship’s website, and a few participants left the program when this information was shared,” the department said in a statement.

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Boston plans to reapply for state approval next year. If the state grants the request, the applicants can earn the initial licenses within two years instead of one. If the state rejects the application again, Boston will pursue backup plans, such as giving applicants grants from AmeriCorps, a community service organization, so they can earn their initial licenses at a teachers college.

In the meantime, the applicants have been taking part in a scaled-back version of the program that includes classes and teaching assignments in summer programs, and the waiving of tuition. That kind of teacher preparation program does not require state approval because it is not awarding licenses, according to the state.

The applicants also have been taking the state teacher licensing exams, with most of them passing, enabling them to secure preliminary licenses from the state, which can be obtained without going through state teacher-preparation programs. Those licenses are considered less desirable than initial and professional licenses, which require formal training.

Of the 39 fellows who began the Boston program, 33 successfully completed it and 21 landed full-time teaching positions. Another was hired as a paraprofessional.

The school system said the numbers signal a success.

“We were able to bring in a diverse cohort of new teachers and get them ready on a pretty ambitious timeline to be really competitive for jobs across BPS,” said Thomas Maffai, director of special projects for the school system’s Office of Human Capital.

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But some applicants criticized the quality of the program. For instance, they said applicants training to teach students who speak English as a second language were placed in summer programs for students with mild to moderate disabilities and were not provided appropriate training.

Schools were short on paper, pencils, markers, and other basic supplies, prompting some applicants to buy their own, they said.

“It was frustrating,” said one, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing a chance of getting a permanent job in the system.

The school system disputed those assertions, saying the applicants were provided the necessary amount of training and time with the kinds of students they would be teaching. They also said the schools had enough supplies.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in rejecting the school system’s application in May, cited “significant deficiencies,” including a failure to demonstrate an overall understanding of the training that would need to be provided in order to license teachers in Massachusetts, according to a copy of the state review.

The state also questioned the financial sustainability of the program after a federal grant that is helping to fund it expires.

“Finally, and most significantly,” the review stated, “there was a lack of evidence to demonstrate that candidates would receive the necessary preparation and support in order to be successful during the program as well as in employment.”

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However, the state did agree with Boston that a need exists for such a program in Boston.

The school system is running the program in partnership with TNTP, a national nonprofit that used to be called The New Teacher Project. Funding is being provided through a $137,000 grant over three years.

Boston received 490 applications for the teaching fellowship program.

Despite the findings by the state, Maffai said, the state told the school system it could enroll candidates as long as it was clear that it did not have state approval yet to award initial licenses.

“The practical impact for those teachers is nonexistent,” Maffai said. “In the end, it doesn’t change anything for them in the short run and we are committed to supporting them in the long run and hopefully we can do that through our own program.”


James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.