Some teacher training programs graduate better teachers than others and improving such programs can lift student achievement, reports a new study from the University of Washington’s Center for Education Data & Research.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently rolled out new measures for evaluating teaching colleges, noting studies such as the University of Washington’s and citing teachers’ lack of preparedness as a major national concern. Among other measures, Duncan says he wants to track teaching-school effectiveness by examining how well their graduates’ K-12 students perform on standardized tests.
“The broader literature says the following: In terms of schooling resources, teacher quality seems to be by far the most important [influence], and there’s a lot of teacher quality variation in the workforce,” said Dan Goldhaber, center director and study coauthor. “Having the right teachers can really matter.”
Several recent studies have found teaching schools lack rigor, which results in many ineffective, unprepared teachers entering the workforce. Research also shows traditional education programs no longer produce more effective teachers than alternative routes to the classroom.
The study, “The Gateway to the Profession: Assessing Teacher Preparation Programs Based on Student Achievement,” confirms student achievement is related to teacher quality and looked for a relationship between teachers’ effectiveness and where they attended college. It concluded teachers trained in Washington are not overall better than those trained outside Washington, but some colleges and programs did a better job of preparing teachers than others. Teachers from these better programs significantly boosted student achievement.
‘Value for Policymakers’
The researchers used student ACT scores as a benchmark to measure the effectiveness of Washington teachers, also considering the growth or decline in individuals’ scores over time, making what researchers call “value-added” comparisons.
“It’s controversial because there are a lot of people that don’t like the idea of holding students and teachers accountable just based on student test scores, but it has a lot [of value] for policymakers,” Goldhaber said.
The researchers found “programs credentialing teachers who are more effective in math are generally also credentialing more teachers who are more effective in reading.”
They also determined student growth was related more to where a teacher trained than to the district or school the teacher entered after graduating. It left open to further study whether the findings stem from “the selection of individuals into teacher training programs or the training individuals in the programs receive,” the study states.
“If we see there are differences between teachers and where they got their credentials, we don’t know whether it’s the institution or the kinds of people [attending] them,” Goldhaber said.
Goldhaber and coauthor Stephanie Liddle found teachers who work in school districts near their training institution were more effective in the classroom, which might be due to closer mentoring relationships they developed during training.
‘No Evidence’ Behind Teaching Degrees
Teaching schools are currently not ranked or accredited according to hard information regarding their effectiveness, Goldhaber notes.
“Beyond, say, the first five years it seems that teachers don’t get better with more experience,” Goldhaber said. “There’s almost no evidence that masters’ or PhDs make any difference. It’s possible that the most motivated people go out and get masters degrees, so getting the degree may predict whether a teacher may be better, not a causal effect.”
Since the 1960s, education schools have opposed basing curriculum on content knowledge in favor of a faulty “learn how to learn” approach in the classroom, said Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
“Education school courses are intellectually barren,” he said. “They’re useless in being able to judge whether a prospective teacher who has credentials is actually able to be effective.”
Poor Teacher Training
George Cunningham, a former professor of education at the University of Louisville, agrees. “The standards [for education schools] don’t talk about student achievement; they talk about student learning,” he said. “It’s learning to learn. It’s teaching students to do problem solving. Education schools by and large are not designed to be effective in teaching students.”
Tests and requirements for teachers to obtain certification also lack difficulty, Cunningham said.
“The praxis test [teachers take for certification] is designed to reflect what education schools teach, so it doesn’t serve much of a purpose,” Cunningham said. “The praxis test, to most teachers who take it, seems ridiculously easy.”
Linking Pay and Effectiveness
States such as Louisiana and Tennessee have proven the merit of tracking teacher effectiveness after graduation. The most effective teachers in those states graduate from the best-rated teaching establishments.
Across the country, though, “there’s relatively little connection between how effective people are and the kind of things that determine evaluation and pay,” Goldhaber said.
Stern said though the empirical data in the University of Washington study was probably stronger than other currently available data, he doubted the report would improve the education landscape, because teachers unions keep disproven certification and education requirements as barriers to entry and excuses for teachers to receive higher pay for little actual accomplishment.
“The education schools are very entrenched,” Stern said. “Teachers should be held accountable. We have to change the way teachers are trained and look at what they’re actually doing in the classroom.”
“The Gateway to the Profession: Assessing Teacher Preparation Programs Based on Student Achievement,” Dan Goldhaber and Stephanie Liddle, 2011: http://www.cedr.us/papers/working/CEDR%20WP%202011-2%20Teacher%20Training%20(9-26).pdf
Image by Marco Antonio Torres.