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Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy (2010)

Chapter: 3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs

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Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
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3
Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs

To understand how teachers are prepared, it is necessary to understand not only the nature of the education they receive in formal programs, but also the broader pathways through which they can enter the profession, which generally include some kind of teaching experience. We begin our overview of these two aspects of preparation with two observations. First, comprehensive data on U.S. teacher preparation in general are scant (Corcoran et al., 2004; Corcoran, 2007; Crowe, 2007). Thus, many basic questions about programs and pathways were surprisingly difficult to answer.

Second, although there are federal mandates related to teachers and their preparation—the most well known of which is the “highly qualified teacher” provision in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act—states have the primary responsibility for policies pertaining to teachers. The states set standards for teachers as well as the requirements for teacher certification1 (National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, 2000). States are also responsible for approving or accrediting teacher education programs and for authorizing, sponsoring, and monitoring newer pathways into teaching, often labeled “alternative” (Johnson et al., 2005; Feistritzer and Haar, 2008). States’ approaches to each of these responsibilities vary significantly, so that the options available to aspiring

1

We use the terms licensure, certification, and credentialing interchangeably because states are not consistent in their usage. We discuss this aspect of teacher preparation in more detail in Chapter 8.

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

teachers look very different from one state to the next. This variety has complicated others’ efforts to collect data and conduct comparative analyses, and it has also complicated our work.

We have drawn on a range of sources for our description of pathways and programs, and two recent major reports were particularly useful for this and subsequent chapters. A committee formed by the National Academy of Education was asked to articulate the knowledge base for teaching and to make research-based recommendations about how core knowledge could be incorporated into the curricula of teacher education programs and to develop “professional and scholarly consensus based on research about learning, teacher learning, and teacher education.” The resulting report (Darling-Hammond and Bransford, 2005)—which drew on basic research on learning, research on the influences of different conditions on learning, research on the kinds of teacher education that are associated with particular instructional practices or student learning, and research on how teachers learn—described what kinds of teacher knowledge and experiences appear to be most valuable in promoting student learning.

Another report issued in 2005 focused on the somewhat different challenge of synthesizing the research on a variety of policies and practices in teacher preparation programs. Developed by a committee of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the study (Cochran-Smith and Zeichner, 2005) considered such issues as the characteristics and demographics of student populations, coursework in both the arts and sciences and in pedagogy, field experiences and pedagogical approaches, means of preparing teachers to work with diverse student populations, among others. The chapter authors drew on the expertise of many scholars to assess the research base in each area, applying a consistent set of criteria for evaluating the studies available, and to provide critical summaries of the findings. These two volumes, together with some promising new lines of research on teacher preparation, have begun to lay the groundwork for a research base on teacher education, and we have drawn on them throughout our report.2

PATHWAYS TO TEACHING

We look first at teachers’ career pathways, the routes by which teacher candidates can obtain a license to teach. The distinction between programs and pathways is not precise, but in general pathways refers to broad categories of preparation, while programs are specific courses of study or experiences sponsored by a particular institution. There are numerous path-

2

Of particular note is the Pathways Project, a collaboration among economists and teacher educators at the University at Albany and Stanford University: see http://www.teacherpolicyresearch.org/TeacherPathwaysProject/tabid/81/Default.aspx [September 2009].

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

ways into teaching, and this has long been the case (Fraser, 2007). Many types of educational institutions—including normal schools and school districts—were offering varied teacher training programs more than 100 years ago. The range of pathways has expanded recently, and a shorthand distinction has come into common usage between “traditional” and “alternative” pathways and programs. The former generally refers to those that are housed in colleges and universities and lead to a BA or an MA degree (and are thus sometimes referred to as “college recommending”). The latter is a catch-all for other pathways, particularly newer ones that have been designed to bring candidates who lack certain credentials into teaching.

The distinction arose in part because many of the newer pathways are viewed, in a political sense, as challenges to a stagnant status quo. It has not proved very useful, however, because there is considerable overlap in practice between the two categories, and there can be as much variation within pathways as across them (Wilson, Floden, and Ferrini-Mundy, 2001; Zeichner and Conklin, 2005; Humphrey, Weschler, and Hough, 2008). And many of the putative distinctions between alternative and traditional pathways are blurred at the program level. In one recent study, for example, aptly titled “Alternative Certification Isn’t Alternative,” the authors (Walsh and Jacobs, 2007) concluded that the required coursework and other educational experiences of an alternative pathway often take place in schools of education and are similar if not exactly the same as traditional pathways in many states.

Variety Within and Among States

Examples from several states illustrate the variation among states in their definitions of pathways and in the characteristics of their pathways. Pathways may vary in the way teacher candidates are selected (and in the rigor of the entry requirements), their intensity, and the duration of the training required. For example, Texas has established an Alternative Teacher Certification (ATC) route—a pathway that is in many ways distinct from the one that takes students through state college and university programs. But the ATC authorizes a variety of institutions, including school districts, higher education institutions, and state-run regional education service centers, to design and run certain certification programs. Each ATC program may determine its entry requirements, the duration of the training, and other factors (Mayer et al., 2003). Similarly, in Louisiana, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education sets parameters for its approved alternative pathways into teaching, but the individual programs differ substantially (Noell, 2008).

New York State has defined several pathways for prospective teachers, as shown in Table 3-1. In practice, there is overlap among these pathways.

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

TABLE 3-1 Career Pathways for Teachers in New York State

Pathway

Requirements

Undergraduate or Graduate College- or University-Based Programs

Programs require an average of 40 coursework credits and field experience hours, as well as independent student teaching (with a minimum of 32 credits completed prior to student teaching).

Individual Evaluations

Also known as transcript review, it is designed for people who are changing careers, people educated outside the United States, and others who choose not to enroll in a more formal preparation program. The state confirms that candidates have completed required coursework, examinations, and experience.

Temporary License

Temporary licenses, which were made available in response to teacher shortages, required little preservice preparation through September 2003. Modified temporary licenses, which required completion of the Liberal Arts and Science Test (LAST) and at least 27 hours of coursework in the content or pedagogical core for the certificate subject, were available for the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 school years.

Transition B Certificates

Created to replace temporary licenses, this requires candidates to be enrolled in an alternative route program, such as NYC Teaching Fellows, Teach for America, Troops to Teachers, and the Teacher Opportunity Program, among others. Candidates complete summer preservice experience, including coursework and field experience, before becoming teachers of record and must complete additional certification requirements within 3 years.

SOURCE: Information from Grossman et al. (2008).

For instance, a New York City Teaching Fellow would likely complete his or her MA degree at one of the same institutions at which aspiring teachers can complete a “traditional” program. Overall, the content of the coursework and experiences a prospective teacher has may be identical or very similar across different pathways.

Florida also offers numerous pathways, as shown in Table 3-2. In addition to temporary certificates, which are valid for 3 years and not renewable, there are multiple pathways to a professional teaching certificate.

Like New York and Florida, most states now offer an array of pathways for teacher candidates. A database maintained by a group that advocates for alternative teaching pathways, the National Center for Alternative Certification, shows the options available in each state (see http://www.teach-now.org/map.html

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

TABLE 3-2 Career Pathways for Teachers in Florida

Pathway

Certificate Requirement Options

Graduation from Florida Teacher Preparation Program

Candidates earn a BA or MA degree in teacher preparation program in a Florida college or university and pass certification exam.

Course Analysis

Candidates with a degree in a field other than education earn certification through approved college professional training or professional preparation college courses. Candidates must complete core education courses, obtain teaching experience, and pass certification exams.

Certification from Another State

Florida has full reciprocity with other states, recognizing their certification, as well as NBPTSa certification.

Graduation from an Out-of-State Teacher Preparation Program

Candidates earn a BA or MA degree in a teacher preparation program from a college or university in another state and pass the Florida certification exams.

District-Level Alternative Certification Program

Candidates complete district-level program and pass Florida certification exam.

Other

Candidates with a BA degree may earn certification with one of the following:

  • ABCTEb passport certificate;

  • two semesters of full-time college teaching experience and passing the Florida subject certification exam in their field; or

  • a certificate from an Educator Preparation Institute, typically based in a community college and passing the Florida certification exams.

This new pathway was designed to help districts fill vacancies.

aNational Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

bAmerican Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.

SOURCES: Data from Sass (2008) and Florida Department of Education (see http://www.fldoe.org/administrators/educatorcertification.asp [April 2010]).

[September 2009]). Many of the newer options were developed to attract new candidates in areas where there are shortages (see http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos069.htm#training [September 2009]); others are designed to recruit candidates who might not otherwise have considered teaching. Some—such as Teach for America (TFA), the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) Program, or Troops to Teachers—are national. Others are developed in states; most states also have reciprocity arrangements, which allow relocating teachers to bypass some requirements.

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

Variety Within Pathways

There is considerable variation within as well as between pathways. College- or university-based programs, for example, can be 4 or 5 years in duration; they may offer a baccalaureate or master’s degree or both; they may include many institutional partners, both on and off campus; they may enroll handfuls or hundreds of prospective teachers; they may train elementary or middle or secondary teachers for a range of subject-matter teaching certificates; they have different philosophies about and approaches to teaching and teacher education.

Community colleges have become increasingly pivotal players in teacher education, as more and more prospective teachers obtain their first 2 years of general training at these institutions. For example, in 2006, more than half of the teachers graduating from traditional teacher education programs in Florida were transfers from community colleges (Coulter and Vandal, 2007). In addition, some alternative programs are housed in community colleges, at which post-baccalaureate students who have noneducation degrees can enroll in 2-year programs to earn the credit hours necessary for teacher licensure in their state (Coulter and Vandal, 2007).

There is at least as much variety among alternative pathways (Feistritzer, 2006; Walsh and Jacobs, 2007; Humphrey, Weschler, and Hough, 2008). In the 1980s, states started providing what amounted to emergency certification to fill classroom vacancies in specific fields (e.g., mathematics or special education) or in types of schools (e.g., those in urban or rural locations), and these emergency certification routes came to be labeled “alternative.” Over time, however, these newer routes to certification have become a vehicle for state innovation in teacher credentialing—what has been called a “national experiment in how best to attract, prepare and train teachers” (Boyd et al., 2005, p. 212).

In sum, “alternative” pathways—such as the Teaching Fellows Program, TFA, or state approaches to issuing temporary licenses—differ quite substantially in structure, requirements, and candidate pools (Johnson et al., 2005; Walsh and Jacobs, 2007). The National Center for Alternative Certification developed 11 classifications for these programs, covering in purpose, admissions criteria, and other features. For example, one category includes “those routes that enable a person who has some ‘special’ qualifications, such as a well-known author or Nobel Prize winner, to teach certain subjects,” while another includes “post-baccalaureate programs based at an institution of higher education” (see http://www.teach-now.org/classes.html [November 2009]). These classifications illustrate the range available, and, depending on state policy, a particular program might be labeled traditional in one state and alternative in another. And as noted above, many alternative programs are closely linked to postsecondary institutions: for example,

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

in New York, participants in both the Teaching Fellows and TFA programs complete their coursework in universities.

The Effects of Pathways

Empirical evidence has demonstrated the commonsense observation that all K-12 teachers are not equally effective (Sanders and Rivers, 1996; Aaronson, Barrow and Sander, 2003; Rockoff, 2004; Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kane, 2005; Kane, Rockoff, and Staiger, 2006), and so it seems reasonable to ask whether some pathways produce better, that is, more effective, teachers. In particular, observers of the various teacher preparation options have wondered whether less traditional pathways yield less prepared teachers, or, alternatively, whether such pathways attract excellent teachers who would otherwise not have entered the field. But because the distinctions among pathways are not distinct, high-stakes policy debates about the most effective ways to recruit, train, and retain high-quality teachers remain muddled.

To date, only a handful of studies have attempted to explore whether teachers prepared in “traditional” pathways are more or less effective than those prepared in “alternative” pathways. The evidence from this limited research base is mixed. Summaries of studies using a range of designs suggest little to no difference between the two (Wilson, Floden, and Ferrini-Mundy, 2001; Allen, 2003; Zeichner and Conklin, 2005), but several studies, including one that used a randomized control design (Glazerman, Meyer, and Decker, 2006), have identified small differences (Boyd et al., 2005; Xu, Hannaway, and Taylor, 2008).

A newly released study from the National Center for Education Evaluation (Constantine et al., 2009), in which students were randomly assigned to teachers trained through traditional or alternative routes (defined as those who do or do not complete all their training before they began teaching) also found little difference. The study reported no statistically significant difference in student outcomes that could be correlated with the type of training the teachers had received or the amount of coursework they had completed. The study did find that the students of teachers who were taking courses while teaching performed slightly less well on mathematics tests. The study also confirmed that there is considerable diversity within pathways, and the authors concluded that they could not identify aspects of preparation pathways that account for observed differences in teachers’ effects on students’ achievement.

In another study that used a randomized control design, Glazerman, Meyer, and Decker (2006) compared outcomes for teachers trained by TFA with outcomes for a control group of teachers who were not—a group that included teachers certified through “traditional” and other “alternative”

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

programs, as well as teachers who were not certified. They found small improvements in the mathematics scores for the students of TFA teachers, but they also found more reports of behavior and other classroom management problems for the TFA teachers. Their conclusion was that TFA provides policy makers with a useful way of recruiting teachers for hard-to-staff schools and does not appear to lower teacher quality in those schools. We note that because the control group in this study distinguished only certified and noncertified teachers, and thus mixed several types of non-TFA teachers—those who came through traditional and other alternative paths, for example—the findings are not clear. For example, the finding that TFA teachers had students with slightly better mathematics scores could have resulted from those teachers having much stronger mathematics preparation prior to their teacher training, rather than from differences between the TFA and other training.

Finally, there have also been a number of studies that examined possible differences in the effectiveness of teachers who do or do not earn master’s degrees. In two separate reviews and summaries of this work, Harris and Sass (2008) and Hanushek (2003) found little overall difference in the effectiveness of teachers who do and do not have this degree. Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor (2007) conducted a study of the relative effectiveness of teachers with different academic credentials (including years of experience, test scores, certification status, and undergraduate and graduate degrees) in North Carolina (using statistical procedures to help overcome the fact that teachers are not randomly assigned to different sorts of students). They found that a graduate degree by itself was not predictive of higher achievement for students (though possession of any degree from a highly competitive institution was associated with greater effectiveness). However, the students of teachers who had stronger combinations of credentials, including educational credentials, had higher levels of achievement.

In general, this body of work seems to be moving toward the conclusion that, like the “traditional” and “alternative” designations, an MA in education is too broad and heterogeneous a degree category to be meaningful for the purpose of making comparisons. That is, it is quite possible that the preparation offered in different master’s programs is very different, and that distinctions among them, and differing results for their graduates, would be obscured in analyses that treated them as a single group. The policy question at issue—what sorts of incentives states ought to have to encourage teacher candidates to pursue different sorts of credentials—is a pressing one. A detailed examination of the labor market for teachers was beyond our charge, but we discuss the tradeoffs between more stringent requirements and teacher supply below.

The availability of detailed state-level data on teachers and students, coupled with recent advances in research methodology, has enabled re-

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

searchers to make some progress in identifying the extent to which various teacher characteristics influence learning outcomes. Value-added research, though not without limitations (see Chapter 2), can provide useful information, and we had hoped that it might help to answer questions about the various available pathways. Thus, the committee commissioned analyses in New York City and Florida to examine whether the state-specific pathways followed by prospective elementary teachers make a difference in terms of their pupils’ achievement on state tests in reading and mathematics (Grossman et al., 2008; Sass, 2008). We also looked carefully at a similar analysis for Louisiana (Noell, 2008). Despite our concerns about the utility of the labels traditional and alternative, we believed it would be useful to investigate the pathways as they are defined by the states.

With slight variations related to differences in available data, the analyses for the three locations used value-added models to estimate the effect of entering through a particular pathway on new elementary school teachers’ contributions to their students’ learning in reading, English/language arts, and mathematics. The Florida research revealed limited and inconsistent differences among traditional, alternative, and out-of-state pathways, depending on the analysis and the subject area (English/language arts or mathematics). A similar analysis conducted in Louisiana showed no difference among teachers entering the profession through the three broad pathway categories (traditional, alternative, and out-of-state).

In the analysis of New York City schools, the researchers differentiated among the roughly half-dozen major pathways available to prospective teachers. This analysis found that elementary teachers with emergency licenses (i.e., uncertified) performed less well than traditionally trained teachers in helping their students succeed on mathematics tests, and, to a lesser extent, on English/language arts tests. There were no significant differences between the “traditional” pathway and the “alternative” pathways in New York. These results were consistent with those from another study of New York City teachers (Boyd et al., 2005).

In sum, results from the three state analyses of pathway effects support the conclusion that the pathway a teacher takes into the field has little to no effect on the contribution he or she makes to student learning.

What should be inferred from these findings? Some policy analysts have interpreted a lack of difference among pathways to mean that traditional programs are ineffective or unnecessary (Hess, 2002; Feistritzer, 2007). We note, however, that researchers are unlikely to be able to randomly assign teacher candidates to preparation programs so that any observed effects are likely to reflect the combination of training and the initial characteristics of the candidates. Though there is ample room for debate on how much and what kind of education is best for preparing effective teachers, inferring that one type of preparation does or does not yield better outcomes for stu-

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

dents is not warranted by the evidence. An alternative hypothesis consistent with these findings is that the categories that have been used—alternative and traditional—do not capture important differences in teacher preparation. To explore this hypothesis, different empirically testable questions about differences among pathways could be identified and tested in rigorous future research.

In the last section of this chapter, we consider what such alternative distinctions might be. Before doing so, however, we examine what is known about the teacher preparation programs themselves, within different pathways, in order to consider whether their characteristics might better explain the variability in the quality of teacher preparation.

PROGRAMS WITHIN PATHWAYS

The individual programs of study designed to prepare prospective K-12 teachers that are offered by institutions are just as diverse as the many pathways into teaching; unfortunately, however, there are relatively few data to support detailed analysis (Corcoran et al., 2004; Crowe, 2007). The U.S. Office of Education conducted a representative survey in the 1930s; the next attempt to characterize these programs comprehensively did not take place for another 50 years (Goodlad et al., 1990; Goodlad, 1994). More recent data exist, but in general, what is available is disparate descriptive information from which it is difficult to draw a coherent picture.

Even obtaining a precise count of teacher preparation programs is complicated by the lack of a precise definition of what constitutes a program.3 For example, though most programs include both academic and classroom experience components, one institution may house multiple programs, and some programs operate in multiple institutions. At the next level, obtaining a quantitative picture of the features and general requirements of the programs is very difficult, and constructing a qualitative and nuanced picture of their content and character is nearly impossible.

The information that is available suggests that there are significant differences among programs. Just as states specify the pathways through which teachers can enter the profession, they also set policies related to program content, sometimes in surprising detail. Often buried in state administrative code, these policies take many forms. States may dictate minimum admissions criteria for programs or prescribe minimum credit hours for different types of coursework (e.g., education or pedagogy and subject matter), effectively setting a floor for the courses that state-approved teacher education programs must offer their students. States may also pro-

3

Counts include 1,206 (U.S. Department of Education, 2006); 1,191 (Levine, 2006); and “over 1,300” (Schmidt et al., 2007).

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

hibit or limit the number of courses of a particular type, effectively setting a ceiling for what those programs can offer.

For example, the Annual California Education Code (§44320; see http://www.aroundthecapitol.com/code/getcode.html?file=./edc/44001-45000/44320-44324 [July 2009]) details the maximum number of credits prospective teachers are required to complete before beginning student teaching: “No more than nine semester units, or the equivalent, of professional education courses may be designated as prerequisites for purposes of admission to student teaching [except to satisfy English language requirements].” The code also specifies program length by providing that “in each program of preparation, support, and assessment, the postsecondary institution shall make it possible for each candidate to complete all requirements for a valid teaching credential in the equivalent of one year of full-time study.”4

The content of required courses is also often mandated by a state, and even states with few course requirements may specify the topics to which prospective teachers in particular majors (such as general education, liberal arts and sciences education, disciplinary majors, and professional preparation) should be exposed.

These sorts of requirements are most evident when state departments require that programs demonstrate their alignment to state standards for new or practicing teachers during program review or accreditation. Yet there is enormous variability, for just as the United States has no centralized definition of what constitutes a high-quality education, there is also little agreement on what knowledge and skills teachers ought to acquire in the early stages of their careers. Many states accept or model their standards and expectations on those of national organizations—such as NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) or TEAC (Teacher Education Accreditation Council)—but most states also have a set of requirements for teacher certification that have accumulated across years of legislation and are more patchwork in nature. (Accreditation and the role of NCATE and TEAC are discussed in Chapter 8.)

Our primary conclusion from an examination of the information available on teacher preparation programs is that they are extremely diverse. Because it is so difficult to generalize about programs, we could determine very little about their quality. Despite states’ efforts to align the primary elements of K-12 systems to coherent standards, teacher preparation programs and pathways do not seem to have been brought into the fold (Cohen and Spillane, 1992). If one considers the situation from the perspective of an

4

One reason for these requirements may be that teacher preparation programs are squeezed between university requirements for general education and disciplinary studies and university caps for maximum credits required for undergraduate degrees.

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

aspiring teacher weighing the options for preservice preparation, it is clear that the onus is on the aspirant to identify goals and the best avenue for meeting them.

FEATURES OF TEACHER PREPARATION PROGRAMS

There may be little basis for drawing conclusions about teacher preparation programs, but there is no shortage of prescriptions as to what they should look like. During the 1910s and 1920s, the dean of Teachers College, James Earl Russell, laid out a basic model curriculum for teacher preparation, which included: “general culture” (general knowledge), “special scholarship” (learning across several disciplines), “professional knowledge” (a systematic inquiry into the theory and practice of education), and “technical skills” (practical pedagogical skills) (Cremin, 1978). Teacher education curricula have been strongly influenced by this model, and most of them are still organized around some combination of general, disciplinary, professional, pedagogical, and practical knowledge (Cochran-Smith and Fries, 2005).

For much of the 20th century and into the 21st, even more answers have been proposed to questions about the features teacher preparation programs ought to have. Wilson, Floden, and Ferrini-Mundy (2001) examined questions on the issue posed by the U.S. Department of Education, as did Allen (2003) on behalf of the Council of Chief State School Officers. The National Academy of Education’s Committee on Teacher Education (Darling-Hammond and Bransford, 2005) and a panel of the AERA (Cochran-Smith and Zeichner, 2005) also sought to articulate the most important features of teacher preparation programs. In these reports, five broad domains are consistently identified as important:

  1. program purpose,

  2. requirements for subject-matter knowledge,

  3. requirements for pedagogical and other professional knowledge,

  4. field and clinical experiences, and

  5. faculty and staff qualifications.

We discuss each of these briefly.

Program Purpose

All teacher preparation programs presumably have the goal of preparing excellent teachers, but a surprising variation is evident in their stated missions. For example, the mission of a teacher education program at the University of California at Los Angeles is to “Provide high-quality pre-

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

service education and radically improve urban schooling for California’s racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse children” (see http://centerx.gseis.ucla.edu/mission.php [September 2009]). At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, teacher education is designed to recruit the next generation of mathematics and science teachers and to offer them “sophisticated knowledge of subject matter, high-level analytical thinking skills, abilities to confront and play with complex problems, and the enjoyment of grappling with the surprise of unexpected outcomes” (see http://education.mit.edu/drupal/tep/mission [September 2009]). The Mississippi Teacher Corps, modeled on the Peace Corps, recruits prospective teachers nationwide to teach in high-need schools in the Mississippi delta (see http://www.olemiss.edu/programs/mtc/about [September 2009]), and TFA recruits prospective teachers committed to “eliminat[ing] educational inequity” (see http://www.teachforamerica.org/mission/index.htm [September 2009]). This aspect of preparation programs is not so much a subject for empirical research as a factor to be considered in evaluating a program’s effectiveness in meeting its own goals.

Requirements for Subject-Matter Knowledge

Programs vary significantly with respect to their requirements for subject-matter preparation (see Chapters 5, 6, and 7). Some require that prospective teachers complete majors in the subject matter they will teach; others require that teachers take a broad array of courses (this is especially true in programs for elementary teachers) that roughly map onto the school subjects. Subject-matter courses for teachers also vary in level and rigor of instruction. In some universities, faculty from teacher education and disciplinary departments work together to align the experiences that prospective teachers have, and in some programs faculty coteach courses across content and pedagogy (Heaton and Lewis, 2002). In other cases, there is less alignment. Data collected by Boyd and colleagues (2008) show that 25 states require that secondary teachers have majored in the subject they plan to teach and that they pass an exam in that subject; 6 require only the major; and 18 require only the exam. In addition, the authors note that there is a good deal of variability in the requirements for a major and in what is required to pass the exams.

Given the lack of centralized information about teacher preparation programs, however, it is not clear how extensive the variability is or whether the variability is associated with differences in new teachers’ effectiveness. Simply documenting the range of requirements and summarizing existing variations is a challenge. Thus, even questions that seem straightforward—such as “How many courses in mathematics do elementary and secondary teachers have to take?”—are difficult to answer. And

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

a more in-depth look at the substance of required courses is even more elusive.

Although there is no centralized information to draw on, the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS) compiles a report that examines the status of undergraduate mathematics and statistics in U.S. colleges and universities every 5 years. As part of that survey, they collect information from teacher preparation programs. The most recent survey (Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, 2005) shows that 4 percent of K-8 certification programs require no mathematics courses, 26 percent require one course, 37 percent require two courses, and 22 percent require three courses. The average number of required classes is just over two.

The required courses themselves vary: between 59 and 70 percent of programs require a two-course sequence for elementary mathematics majors, and between 40 and 56 percent of programs require college algebra. Some programs include precalculus, an introduction to mathematical modeling, mathematics for the liberal arts, finite mathematics, mathematics history, calculus, geometry, and elementary statistics.

The Conference Board survey did not include the subject-matter requirements of programs not housed in colleges or universities, and so even these data are incomplete. Furthermore, because the survey does not include data about state requirements, organizational arrangements, institutional commitments, or measures of graduating teachers’ knowledge, the data cannot be used to examine the relative effectiveness of programs in producing high-quality teachers or the amount of subject-matter knowledge of graduates. Nor do the available data support analysis of the effects of state regulations on program quality or effectiveness.

Relatively little information about subject-matter preparation in alternative programs is available, though Johnson and colleagues (2005), in a study of such programs in three states, found that most programs had very limited capacity to teach subject matter. That is, the programs studied did not have enough faculty to cover a range of fields and levels of schooling, and the limited instructional time in the programs did not allow for significant attention to subject-matter preparation.

Despite a great deal of enthusiasm about content knowledge, recent reviews of the literature suggest that there is very little research on teachers’ content knowledge and that what does exist focuses primarily on mathematics and science (Wilson, Floden, and Ferrini Mundy, 2001; Allen, 2003; Floden and Meniketti, 2005). The variability in what is mandated by states and taught under the umbrella of required subject-matter courses within and across states, pathways, and programs might account in part for the confusing results of research in this area (see Chapters 5-8 for further discussion).

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
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Requirements for Pedagogical and Other Professional Knowledge

Scholars of education have identified other kinds of knowledge they believe all teachers need, regardless of the subject or age group they teach. A report by the National Academy of Education (Darling-Hammond and Bransford, 2005) draws on professional and scholarly consensus in asserting that there is a body of research that ought to influence the preparation of every new teacher. It identifies the core knowledge and skills that beginning teachers need in eight domains, including learning, development, social contexts and purposes of education, and classroom management. Despite the existence of this sort of guidance, programs appear to vary in terms of how they conceptualize teachers’ professional knowledge, as distinct from subject-matter knowledge, as well as in the emphasis they place on different kinds of professional knowledge.

For example, some programs offer a generic methods class, for teachers preparing for all grade levels and subject matters. Other programs treat pedagogical knowledge as content specific and offer subject-specific courses in both content and pedagogy, taking their cue from the concept of “pedagogical content knowledge” as a specific kind of knowledge of how to make subject-matter knowledge accessible to students (see Shulman, 1986). (Pedagogical content knowledge is discussed in subsequent chapters.)

Professional preparation typically involves a range of other kinds of study as well, such as history of education, educational psychology, measurement and assessment, educational foundations, multiculturalism and diversity, theories of learning, classroom management, special education, and reading. Some programs offer extensive coursework in these domains; others offer condensed approaches. While “alternative” programs are often seen as requiring less coursework than “traditional” ones, there has been little systematic study of what is and is not actually offered in different programs.

To consider one alternative program, TFA has developed a summer preparation program that includes courses in educational theory, classroom management, literacy, and instructional planning and delivery. After the summer training, TFA corps members may take classes at local universities, where the content of their programs might be very similar to courses taken by prospective teachers who are entering teaching through a college-recommending pathway. Case studies of programs in other pathways reveal a high degree of variability in the focus of coursework, including courses on pedagogy, classroom management, educational theory, and child development (Humphrey and Wechsler, 2005).

There are many other topics that teacher preparation programs cover, including formative and summative assessment, the use of education data, teacher research, and the like. In the rest of this section we consider

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
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what is known about three aspects of professional knowledge: classroom management and methods, teaching diverse students, and foundations of education.

Classroom Management and Methods

Preparing teachers to take charge of a classroom and to guide and manage their students is a basic responsibility for programs. As LePage and colleagues (2005) noted in an overview of the subject, classroom management “encompasses many practices integral to teaching,” including “developing relationships; structuring respectful classroom communities where students can work productively; … making decisions about timing and other aspects of instructional planning; successfully motivating children to learn; and encouraging parent involvement” (p. 327). The authors further note that, based on surveys of teachers about their preparation, programs seem to have become more likely to offer formal instruction in classroom management over the past few decades, rather than leaving it for on-the-job learning. The authors suggest that there are three components to learning this skill: practical experience with students (see section on Field and Clinical Experiences), coursework on the links between theory and practice, and study with teacher educators who effectively model good classroom management.

Research on the effectiveness of approaches to teaching classroom management is, however, scant. In a review of studies related to classroom management published over several decades, Clift and Brady (2005) found that the majority were short-term case studies, classroom observations, and other qualitative snapshots of changes in teachers’ attitudes and behaviors. They identified a few empirical studies, but they were not able to find answers to basic questions about the effects of methods courses or whether it makes a difference how methods courses are structured and presented within the curriculum. They concluded that although methods courses do seem to affect teachers’ beliefs, “it is difficult to predict what effect a specific course or experience may have” (p. 331). They also found that the value of methods courses seems to be linked to opportunities to apply what is learned in the classroom, and they suggested that ongoing professional development, as well as field experience that reinforces the concepts learned in the classroom, foster the learning of methods.

Teaching Diverse Students

We note in Chapter 1 that teachers of all subjects and age groups can expect to be responsible, in the course of a career, for the learning of students with any of a wide range of disabilities, students who need language

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

support, students whose formal education has been disrupted, and students from diverse cultural backgrounds with values and customs different from those of the majorities in their communities.

Aspiring teachers now have the option of choosing special education or English as a second language (ESL) as a specialty and pursuing concentrated studies in those areas (although becoming a specialist is not the only way to develop this expertise). However, the more general challenge of preparing all teachers to be effective with diverse student populations is increasingly recognized as an important goal of teacher preparation, which cuts across academic disciplines. We are not the first to recognize that this situation presents a conundrum. The sometimes stark achievement gaps among various groups have called attention to the urgent need for greater attention to the educational needs of underserved groups, as well as the importance of preparing teachers with the knowledge and skills to work effectively with these students. At the same time, however, separately addressing the needs of particular groups, such as students with disabilities and English-language learners, can have the paradoxical effect of further marginalizing them. That is, some would argue that it is not enough for a school to hire special education or ESL teachers or for a teacher preparation program to offer those subjects as specialties because all teachers ought to be prepared to work with the variety of students they will encounter.

In response to growing concern that teachers have not been adequately prepared to address the needs of diverse students, teacher preparation programs have begun to adapt their curricula to include this type of preparation, and researchers have begun to examine these programs and their effects (see, e.g., Banks et al., 2005; Hollins and Guzman, 2005; Pugach, 2005; Rothstein-Fisch and Trumbull, 2008).

Hollins and Guzman (2005) summarized the research on preparing teachers to work with diverse student populations. Their principal finding was that despite growing recognition of the importance of this aspect of preparation, research on it has been thinly funded, and methodological challenges have not been overcome. Most of the available studies are small in scale and cannot provide answers to questions about how teachers might best be prepared. The authors found that while models for providing this kind of training are available, it appears that they have not been consistently used and that measuring outcomes has proved difficult. Much of the research examines teachers’ attitudes and predispositions regarding people who are different from themselves and changes in their attitudes that take place in response to educational experiences. Research on how preparation can improve teachers’ effectiveness in this domain is almost nonexistent.

As part of the National Academy of Education research summary (Darling-Hammond and Bransford, 2005), Banks and colleagues (2005) developed recommendations for preparing teachers to be effective with

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

diverse populations, based on their synthesis of relevant information from research in several areas: development, learning, and learning differences; content pedagogy, assessment, and classroom management; and culture and its influences on learning. They identify a range of knowledge and skills that are valuable: self-knowledge, cultural and linguistic knowledge, culturally informed pedagogical knowledge, knowledge about the nature of learning differences, knowledge of teaching methods and materials suitable for different kinds of learning needs, and knowledge of home-school relationships. They offer a variety of suggestions and models for how these goals might be pursued, grounded primarily in the findings of small-scale studies, but few of these have been adopted on a wide scale, and we do not know of any systematic research that has tested the proposed models.

Foundations of Education

Teacher preparation programs usually offer a range of courses that can be loosely categorized as covering the foundations of education, which include educational psychology, history of education, and sociology or philosophy of education (Floden and Meniketti, 2005). In a search for studies of the effects of these kinds of courses, the authors found just five small-scale studies. They note that these small-scale studies would be useful in evaluating the value of individual courses and for demonstrating the kinds of benefits such courses may have, but they cannot be used to support any broad conclusions.

In a study of alternative programs in three states, Johnson and colleagues (2005) found that the programs tended to focus on the most practical sorts of training, rather than theoretical coursework. They also found that the emphasis in these programs varied in part depending on whether they were district-based: if so they were focused on preparing teachers to fill vacancies in that district; if not, they were more likely to be designed to prepare teachers to work in a variety of settings. The locally based programs tended to provide targeted preparation for particular teaching circumstances, such as reaching underserved students.

Field and Clinical Experiences

Ensuring that novices will be able to apply the knowledge they have gained in a classroom to real situations is a key challenge in any field. Whether for a doctor learning how to insert a needle or make an incision or for a teacher learning what to say to a disruptive student or how to encourage student participation in class discussions, professional preparation must provide opportunities to practice new skills and apply new knowledge. Like every other element of teacher preparation, field experiences vary. Some

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

university-based programs place students in classrooms as early as their freshman year. These early opportunities often involve observing or tutoring students, watching teacher or parent conferences, reading to children, and observing instruction (Clift and Brady, 2005).

Although the student teaching experience is viewed as a hallmark of many programs, and states generally require some kind of student teaching for all certification programs, little systematic information is available about how much time aspiring teachers spend in field experiences or how those experiences are structured, or about differences across pathways in what is available or required. In a recent survey of alumni of university-based teacher education programs, 60 percent of teachers reported that their student teaching experience lasted for a semester, roughly 20 percent reported having had a longer one, and another 20 percent reported having spent less than a semester (Levine, 2006).

Even less is known about field experiences in “alternative” pathways. In the most high profile of these, the Teaching Fellows Program and TFA, prospective teachers become teachers of record after one summer’s training, and they teach a full load of courses while simultaneously completing their coursework for certification. Similarly, in some district-based internship programs, new teachers receive a temporary license, are assigned to their own courses, and complete credentialing requirements through district-sponsored courses or at local universities. A more recent option is the urban teacher residency program, in which prospective teachers are placed with mentors who support them while they gradually take on teaching responsibilities and complete relevant coursework. Johnson and colleagues (2005) found that the alternative programs in three states had difficulty meeting their goals for providing students with clinical experiences. Local districts were not uniformly welcoming to aspiring teachers from these programs, and it was often difficult to match teacher candidates with placements and mentors that matched their schedules, credentials, and goals. The researchers found that locally based programs had an easier time finding suitable matches.

Some programs also require teacher candidates to complete a cap-stone, or final project, which can take many forms. Some New York City teacher preparation programs require the development of portfolios that track prospective teachers’ coursework and field experience over time. Other capstone projects require action research, in which new teachers collect and analyze data from their field experiences related to a particular question about their practice, or teacher may complete a thesis (Boyd et al., 2009).

The research on the effects of field experiences with different attributes, such as their length, quality, or organizational structure, or accompanying assignments, is slim and tends to focus narrowly on specific types of experi-

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

ences, such as student teaching. Even simple descriptive information about the nature of clinical experiences is scarce. However, data from the 31 programs included in the New York City analysis provide a detailed look at the field experiences required of prospective elementary school teachers in the college-recommending programs in the study sample (Grossman et al., 2008). Program-level data show that the duration of fieldwork and student teaching typically far exceeded the state-mandated 100 hours and 40 days, respectively. In this study, the length of experience was not what stood out. Rather, the differences across and within programs in the specific attributes of the fieldwork were striking. For example, the programs varied in terms of the qualifications of the fieldwork supervisors and the frequency with which supervisors met with program participants.

Research on the effects of various kinds of clinical experiences is limited. Clift and Brady (2005) found a small number of studies that examined the effects of field experience on teachers’ beliefs and attitudes. The available research suggests that aspiring teachers find that field experiences reinforce the material they have learned in the classroom, and that the experiences provide useful opportunities to put it into practice. In more recent work, researchers on the Teacher Pathways Project used a composite measure of ways in which field experiences are linked to preparation in courses (e.g., assessing student reading ability/achievement, studying student work in math, planning lessons) to examine the possible effects of this sort of preparation on the effectiveness of teachers once they complete their training and work in the classroom (Boyd et al., 2009). The study showed that a range of practice-related teacher education experiences seem to improve the effectiveness of beginning teachers.

The study we commissioned in New York City found that both program oversight of student teaching and a required capstone project—two types of practice-based preparation that the researchers isolated in their analysis—were associated with gains for the students of new elementary teachers in both English/language arts and mathematics. These two program features had the strongest and most consistent effect in the models estimated for this analysis, showing statistically and substantively significant effects for both first- and second-year teachers and for both subject areas (Grossman et al., 2008). These findings are suggestive, but more systematic study of field experience is needed.

Faculty and Staff Qualifications

The characteristics of the instructional staff in teacher preparation programs are likely to play a role in outcomes for aspiring teachers. We found that a wide range of professionals—including tenure-track faculty, adjunct faculty, doctoral students, and practicing and retired K-12 teachers—serve

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

as instructors in preparation programs. Again, however, as with other areas we studied, it is not possible to draw any conclusions from the available information.

It is difficult to ascertain the qualifications of the people who staff teacher preparation programs. According to Levine (2006), more than half of prospective teachers are educated in institutions identified as less selective (i.e., where faculty are not expected to be active scholars themselves). But many education faculty members do not work in teacher preparation programs—the work of colleges and schools of education includes school psychology, counseling psychology, and other fields—and faculty may be housed in different units across university and college campuses.

Faculty members in university-based teacher education programs are predominantly white women, with a median age of 51 years. This demographic profile is similar to that of faculty in other university departments, though women are far more common on education faculties than elsewhere on campus, according to 2004 data from the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF) (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2005/2005172.pdf [November 2009]). Fifty-one percent of education faculty members are full time, and of those, 36 percent are tenure-track faculty (only in the health sciences is there are a smaller proportion of full-time faculty having tenure). On average, 56 percent of college faculty are employed full time, and no program area has a lower proportion of its faculty working full time than does education. (Programs with the highest percentages of full-time faculty include engineering and agriculture/home economics, both with 78 percent; natural sciences, with 76 percent; and social sciences, with 70 percent.) The average annual base salary for full-time education faculty was $58,000 in 2003, compared with $70,500 for all full-time faculty.

About one-quarter of full-time education faculty members hold the rank of full professor; education faculty are more likely than their peers in other program areas to be assistant professors (28 percent) or have ranks other than professor or lecturer (15 percent). Nearly 75 percent of full-time education faculty members have doctoral degrees. Less than 5 percent of full-time education faculty report research as their principal activity, compared with 15 percent across all program areas surveyed. More than 67 percent of full-time education faculty report teaching as their principal activity, and another 20 percent focus on administration, the highest among all program areas and nearly double the percentage across academic areas.

Very little is known about the demographic characteristics and qualifications of clinical faculty (who are typically practitioners) or the doctoral students who serve crucial roles as supervisors for student teachers. And next to nothing is known about the instructors who staff programs that are not university based. Since much of the coursework for participants in alternative program candidates is housed in schools of education, it may

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

well be that in large measure the same instructional faculty teach in the two pathways. In contrast, school district-based programs may be staffed by school district employees, and TFA alumni often serve as staff at the program’s summer institute.

The dearth of information on the qualifications of teacher educators is troubling. Ongoing work in New York City has shown limited evidence that specific aspects of faculty qualifications may promote teacher effectiveness: researchers there found that the percent of faculty with tenure is positively related to student achievement in mathematics in the first year of teaching, but does not affect teachers in English/language arts or second-year mathematics teachers (see Boyd et al., 2009). This finding is just one hint of the importance of learning much more about the qualifications of faculty and staff across all pathways and programs.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT TEACHER PREPARATION

Perhaps because teacher preparation in the United States is a diverse landscape of programs that coexist within and across different pathways, there is little centralized information about how teachers are prepared for their profession. The committee can do little more than describe this variation and observe that in the last 20 years there have been many efforts to explore new ways of preparing teachers. There are a number of elements that are well established as accepted aspects of teacher preparation—including subject-matter knowledge and fieldwork—yet the implementation even of these relatively agreed-on features varies widely.

In terms of evidence about how these features might contribute to teacher effectiveness, the committee found virtually no evidence. The available research does not show stable, significant differences in the effectiveness of teachers who took different pathways into the field (as those pathways are currently defined). Looking at characteristics of the primary features of programs, we found that a significant amount of qualitative and small-scale research suggests promising avenues for further investigation. For example, the research on field experience suggests that programs that link these experiences to theoretical study in the classroom may be more effective than those that do not, at least in teachers’ eyes. There is very little empirical evidence, however, to support recommendations that particular features, or ways of implementing them, should be adopted because they are demonstrably better.

New projects and reviews of previous research have refocused policy attention on the need to learn more about teacher education, yet important questions remain unanswered. In our view, a fresh look at research related to teacher preparation is in order, with four goals:

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×
  1. to determine the relative effectiveness of different pathways and pathway characteristics;

  2. to determine the relative effectiveness of the components of those pathways and programs;

  3. to better describe the characteristics of teacher candidates and how those relate to program selection and the quality of the teacher workforce; and

  4. to guide both innovation and policy making.

A better understanding of the effects of different kinds of preparation will require a sharpened strategy for identifying meaningful distinctions among pathways and programs. At present, two conflicting basic premises are implicit in policy debates about how to improve teacher quality and preparation. One is that any well-educated person can teach without needing much special preparation: therefore, states should relax barriers to entry (such as degree or coursework requirements) so they can recruit “the best and brightest.” The contrary premise is that teachers need particular and extensive preparation, and that therefore, states should increase the requirements for prospective teachers to ensure that they have the necessary skills and knowledge. These conflicting approaches highlight interest in three factors: the selectivity of preparation programs; the timing of teacher training—that is, the relative value of requiring teachers to complete most of their training before becoming a classroom teacher; and the effects of various components and characteristics of teacher preparation programs.

Selectivity

How academically able are the individuals who become teachers? Questions about selectivity have been around at least since George Bernard Shaw suggested that it is those who can’t “do” who end up as teachers. The concept of selectivity is not as straightforward as it sounds, however, since programs may consider a number of factors in selecting students: in addition to grade point average (GPA) or other indicators of academic achievement, programs may consider such subjective factors as demonstrated commitment to educational equity.

Several analyses of changes in academic qualifications have shown that, on average, entering teachers today have substantially lower academic qualifications (in terms of test scores and the selectivity of their undergraduate institutions) than they did a generation ago (Corcoran, Evans, and Schwab, 2004; Bacolod, 2007). Yet a study of candidates who took the Praxis test (see Educational Testing Service, http://www.ets.org [May 2010]) for teachers during two time periods—1994 to 1997 and 2002 to 2005—(a subset of all teachers) showed that the candidates in the more recent group

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

had a stronger academic profile, in terms of SAT5 scores and undergraduate GPA, than the earlier group had. It also showed that teachers in secondary schools have much stronger profiles than other teachers (Gitomer, 2007). Zumwalt and Craig (2005) examined the literature on indicators of teacher quality and note the difficulty of drawing firm conclusions about the quality of teacher education students, given the lack of comprehensive comparable data. For example, the authors point out that comparing the average SAT and ACT (formerly, American College Testing) scores of teacher candidates entering programs with those successfully completing them reveals that those with the lowest scores tend to drop out in greater numbers at each stage of the process. Thus, the comparison will look somewhat different depending on the stage at which it is made.

What about the selectivity of specific teacher preparation pathways and programs? A recent study found that among first-year teachers participating in the Schools and Staffing Survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, about one-quarter of teachers received baccalaureate degrees from highly competitive postsecondary institutions, and about one-quarter received their degrees from the least competitive colleges or universities (Cohen-Vogel and Smith, 2007). This study included teachers from both university-based and other pathways. The researchers found no significant differences in the overall selectiveness of the programs they identified as traditional or alternative. Similarly, a study by the National Council on Evaluation Education (NCEE) (Constantine et al., 2009) found no significant differences between the two groups of teachers they analyzed in terms of their SAT (college-entry test) scores or the selectivity of the colleges in which they had earned their baccalaureate degrees.

Cohen-Vogel and Smith (2007) did, however, document substantial variation in the degree of selectivity across programs. That is, within so-called alternative pathways, some programs were highly selective, and others were not. A similar variation was documented within traditional programs. This finding is consistent with smaller studies of minimum grade point average and college entrance test score requirements for admissions across teacher preparation programs, which also show that average requirements are comparable across traditional and alternative categories but that there is substantial variation in these measures of selectivity within categories (Leal, 2004; Walsh and Jacobs, 2007). Thus, selectivity is not clearly related to whether a program is labeled traditional or alternative.

For a closer look at the variation in selectivity between and within pathway types, the committee considered state-specific data on four measures of selectivity for the major pathways to teaching in New York and

5

Formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, it is now, formally, the SAT Reasoning Test.

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

TABLE 3-3 Teacher Selectivity in New York City by Pathways: 2004

Pathway

Proportion from Most Competitive Collegesa

Proportion from Least Competitive Collegesa

Proportion Who Passed General Knowledge State Certification Exam on First Try

Average SAT Scores: Math/Verbal

“Traditional”b (N = 934)

0.08

0.20

0.81

489/490

0.23

0.14

0.88

505/510

University-based “Alternative”c (N = 1,632)

0.33

0.15

0.98

550/557

Transcript Review (N = 256)

0.17

0.29

0.79

495/490

Temporary License (N = 316)

0.18

0.24

0.84

512/525

Other (N = 138)

0.21

0.16

0.92

526/532

aRatings from Barron’s 2009 Profiles of American Colleges College Division of Barron’s Educational Series (Ed.). Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges.

bCollege-recommending, graduate.

cIncluding Teach for America, Teaching Fellows, etc.

SOURCE: Adapted from Grossman et al. (2008, Table 19).

Florida from our commissioned studies. Grossman et al. (2008) found that New York teachers who entered the profession through alternative pathways were stronger than other teachers in terms of various academic measures. However, the variation within these two categories is great, so the traditional and alternative categories do not provide helpful distinctions in characterizing teacher preparation with respect to selectivity. Table 3-3 shows the comparisons on various indicators among teachers who entered through different pathways.

Sass (2008) conducted a similar analysis for Florida. He noted that unusually high demand for new teachers in Florida may account for his finding that there are a large number of alternative routes, as well as a much greater proportion of teachers who are prepared outside of the state’s colleges and universities, than in other states. He found that the state’s traditional teacher preparation institutions vary widely in their selectivity, as shown in Table 3-4.

These analyses show that the nature and degree of variability on in-

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

TABLE 3-4 Teacher Selectivity in Florida, by Pathway: Teachers with Elementary Certification

Path of Entry

Proportion from Most Competitive Colleges (Barron’s ratings)a

Proportion from Least Competitive Colleges (Barron’s ratings)

Proportion Who Passed General Knowledge State Certification Exam

Average Total SAT Score

Graduate of Florida Teacher Preparation Program (“Traditional”) (N = 9,716)

0.11

0.22

Math 0.57

Reading 0.76

English 0.77

Essay 0.90

929

Entry Through Any “Alternative” Route (N = 18,258)

0.12

0.20

Math 0.59

Reading 0.78

English 0.79

Essay 0.90

948

Course Analysis (N = 10,538)

0.15

0.19

Math 0.60

Reading 0.79

English 0.78

Essay 0.90

947

Certified in Another State (N = 5,111)

0.08

0.22

 

 

Graduate of an Out-of-State Teacher Preparation Program (N = 2,391)

0.45

0.24

Math 0.53

Reading 0.79

English 0.80

Essay 0.80

 

District Alternative Certification Program (N = 196)

0.26

0.12

Math 0.81

Reading 0.94

English 0.96

Essay 0.96

985

aRatings from Barron’s 2009 Profiles of American Colleges College Division of Barron’s Educational Series (Ed.). Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges.

SOURCE: Sass (2008, Table B2).

dicators of selectivity one finds depends on the specific comparisons one makes. The data from New York and Florida generally show that the variability in selectivity becomes more pronounced when the comparisons are between specific programs rather than across broad categories, reinforcing our concern that research on the role of selectivity needs to probe beyond aggregated “traditional” and “alternative” pathway descriptors.

But the important question is whether differences in selectivity matter in terms of teacher effectiveness. Some scholars have argued that high standards for academic preparation (e.g., college-entrance test scores, quality

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

of undergraduate institutions, enrollment or achievement in undergraduate courses) are essential characteristics of good teacher preparation programs (e.g., Hickock, 1998; Wayne and Youngs, 2003). And some research has shown that there may be value in matching students and teachers by race, suggesting that explicitly recruiting teachers of color may be associated with teacher effectiveness (Hanushek et al., 2005). Furthermore, in a recent study of the relationship between teacher credentials and K-12 student achievement in North Carolina, researchers found that the quality of teachers’ undergraduate institution—an indicator of general ability—is predictive of their students’ achievement at the high school level, as well as at the elementary level (though for the elementary grades the size of the effect is smaller) (Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor, 2007). Using similar analyses and measures, a study of new teachers in New York City (Boyd et al., 2008) also found support for the idea that measures of academic selectivity are associated with teacher effectiveness in the classroom. Although this research is not conclusive, the evidence points to the potential importance of program selectivity as one of several important factors in the preparation of high-quality teachers.

Timing of Professional Education

Programs and pathways also vary in the amount of preparation that is required before a candidate becomes a teacher of record (a salaried teacher who has full responsibility for a full schedule of classes). Preparation may begin as early as the freshman year of an undergraduate program or when a teacher candidate leaves another career to enter teaching. Some programs designate new teachers as teachers of record as soon as they enter the program; in other programs teachers take on the full responsibilities of a teacher more gradually. For example, in New York State, all teachers are required to earn a master’s degree before full certification, although the amount of preparation they have completed before receiving initial certification may vary. Thus, pathways appear to differ more in how much preparation takes place before full certification than in the total amount of preparation that is required.

Moreover, even programs that focus on preparation that occurs before candidates enter the classroom vary considerably in terms of the number of courses and extent of field experiences offered or required. Data compiled by Editorial Projects in Education (2006) for traditional programs show that for secondary school teachers, 6 states require an undergraduate major in the area of certification and 38 states have some other kind of minimum subject-matter degree or coursework requirements. For middle school certification, 3 states require a major, and 12 states require some other minimum

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

degree or coursework requirement. A total of 35 states require a minimum amount of clinical experiences prior to initial certification.

In contrast, most alternative programs allow prospective teachers who have a bachelor’s degree but have not taken any teacher education courses to begin as teachers of record after some abbreviated preparation. Few states have minimum requirements for the quantity of preparation in these programs, but 27 states do have subject-matter degree or coursework requirements for teachers who go through these pathways, and 28 specify a minimum duration of preservice training. These requirements vary considerably: some states require 1 week, and others require 12 credit hours; 16 states require practice teaching (Editorial Projects in Education, 2006).

Disentangling quantity and quality is not easy. One cannot presume that the amount of initial professional preparation is related to the quality of that preparation, though it seems likely that there is an optimal range below which teachers might be significantly unprepared and above which there may be diminishing returns. However, this is another area in which documentation and investigation of the effects of differences would be valuable.

Content and Characteristics of Teacher Preparation

As noted above, programs and pathways also differ in the quality and quantity of the material that new teachers are expected to master in order to be fully credentialed, regardless of when the preparation takes place. For example, in Florida all of the different initial preparation pathways lead to full certification, and thus there are substantial differences in the intensity of formal preparation teachers have received at the time they earn full certification. The Florida teacher candidates who choose the (relatively new) ABCTE pathway are typically granted their permanent license after 6-10 months of individually paced work, with no formal coursework required. Constantine and her colleagues (2009) examined the content and quantity of coursework for several areas (e.g., mathematics or reading pedagogy and fieldwork) and found no significant relationship between their measures and achievement outcomes for students. We discuss the content of teacher preparation programs in greater detail in Chapters 5-7.

Tradeoffs Between Selectivity and Intensity

The reason for exploring the issues above is to shed light on questions about how selective programs should be and how they should structure and design their requirements. These are largely empirical questions that have yet to be carefully addressed by research. Yet states are faced with the challenge of filling teacher vacancies each year (producing the quantity

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
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of teachers needed) while ensuring that those hired are effective in the classroom (producing the quality of teachers needed). Policy proposals to address these dual concerns are often viewed as working at cross purposes. If states raise the bar for entry into K-12 teaching, with the goal of raising the level of quality (e.g., by requiring specific degrees, majors, minors, or coursework), they may exacerbate teacher shortages. If states are less selective, they may be hiring ineffective teachers.

This tradeoff relates to the classic tension, noted above, about whether teachers are born or made. Raising licensure requirements is a strategy grounded in the assumption that teachers need specific professional preparation prior to teaching. In contrast, opening the profession through the approval of early-entry pathways is a strategy grounded in the assumption that teachers are born: if they are generically academically able, on-the-job professional development can fill in any gaps in preparation.

In economic terms, preparation is a cost to individuals considering teaching as a career.6 Thus, it is entirely possible that raising entry requirements could dissuade some individuals from entering teaching. If this happens, and the ability of the teacher pool remains unchanged, school districts will have fewer individuals to choose from to fill vacancies and will be forced to hire less qualified candidates.

It is more likely, however, that raising preservice preparation requirements would have two effects: some individuals would choose not to seek a career in teaching, but the effectiveness of those who did would be greater than it would otherwise be. If so, the effect on the average quality of teachers is hard to predict, though it is likely that the quality of teachers would have distributional consequences. In other words, some schools would be able to hire better teachers than they otherwise would have, while other schools (most likely those with less desirable working conditions) would be forced to hire less qualified teachers. Ultimately, the question turns on whether the potential benefits of high-intensity preservice requirements exceed the potential costs of discouraging promising teacher candidates.

As we note in Chapter 1, teaching is one of the nation’s largest occupations for college-educated workers, and there are considerable challenges associated with preparing a high-quality workforce of this size. At present, many teachers are not paid well in comparison with workers in comparable fields, and teaching is not a high-status occupation. Given the size of the teaching force, it is likely that there is no one best pathway to high-quality preparation for teachers. What is clear, however, is the importance of developing more comprehensive data on which to base recommendations for the composition of teacher education programs and pathways.

6

Though it is worth noting that the preparation is likely to yield benefits even for individuals who do not become employed as teachers.

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
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CONCLUSION

Issues concerning teacher preparation and its effectiveness have received a perhaps unprecedented wave of attention for the past 10 years. Several important reports have emerged, including one summarizing the empirical research on various aspect of teacher education (Cochran-Smith and Zeichner, 2005) and one summarizing the relevance of research on teaching and learning to the preparation of teachers (Darling-Hammond and Bransford, 2005). In addition, a growing number of studies have addressed the relative effectiveness of various forms of preparation.

These efforts have certainly helped clarify what is and is not known about teacher education, and they have also made clear that there are no definitive answers to even the most basic questions. More work is needed—to develop a clearer picture both of how teachers are prepared and of which aspects of their preparation have the greatest effects on the quality of the teaching force. Chapter 9 presents the framework we propose for structuring this work.

Until that research is done and its findings known, teacher educators will continue to rely on their best judgment and whatever research is available, and the 200,000 new teachers who enter the field each year will quickly find out what they know and what they would like to know. The absence of clear evidence to answer basic and important questions is not a reason to question every operating assumption that now guides teacher preparation.

The research that has been done generally seems to reinforce what might be described as commonsense thinking. For example, there is some evidence that fieldwork (classroom teaching) that is designed to link to and reinforce the theoretical material aspiring teachers have learned in the classroom is more effective than fieldwork that is not. There is not, however, empirical support for firm recommendations about when the fieldwork should take place in the course of preparation, how long it should last, or what it should encompass. So the recommendation we could safely make would be to design the fieldwork thoughtfully—hardly a momentous contribution to policy discourse.

Nevertheless, while the field awaits further empirical study of the effects of different approaches, we believe that teacher preparation programs can benefit from learning about promising innovations and can look to the available evidence, case studies, and other literature for guidance. And we highlight the importance of research that can provide answers to the many pressing questions about teacher preparation.

Conclusion 3-1: There is currently little definitive evidence that particular approaches to teacher preparation yield teachers whose students are

Suggested Citation:"3 Pathways to Teaching and Teacher Preparation Programs." National Research Council. 2010. Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12882.
×

more successful than others: such research is badly needed. We believe that the highest priority research would be studies that examine three critical topics in relation to their ultimate effect on student learning:

  1. comparisons of programs and pathways in terms of their selectivity; their timing (whether teachers complete most of their training before or after becoming a classroom teacher); and their specific components and characteristics (i.e., instruction in subject matter, field experiences);

  2. the effectiveness of various approaches to preparing teachers in classroom management and teaching diverse learners; and

  3. the influence of aspects of program structure, such as the design and timing of field experiences and the integration of teacher preparation coursework with coursework in other university departments.

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Teachers make a difference. The success of any plan for improving educational outcomes depends on the teachers who carry it out and thus on the abilities of those attracted to the field and their preparation. Yet there are many questions about how teachers are being prepared and how they ought to be prepared. Yet, teacher preparation is often treated as an afterthought in discussions of improving the public education system.

Preparing Teachers addresses the issue of teacher preparation with specific attention to reading, mathematics, and science. The book evaluates the characteristics of the candidates who enter teacher preparation programs, the sorts of instruction and experiences teacher candidates receive in preparation programs, and the extent that the required instruction and experiences are consistent with converging scientific evidence. Preparing Teachers also identifies a need for a data collection model to provide valid and reliable information about the content knowledge, pedagogical competence, and effectiveness of graduates from the various kinds of teacher preparation programs.

Federal and state policy makers need reliable, outcomes-based information to make sound decisions, and teacher educators need to know how best to contribute to the development of effective teachers. Clearer understanding of the content and character of effective teacher preparation is critical to improving it and to ensuring that the same critiques and questions are not being repeated 10 years from now.

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