October 19, 2016

A New Agenda: Research to Build a Better Teacher Preparation Program

By Ashley LiBetti | Melissa Steel King

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Every year, new teachers collectively spend about $4.8 billion on their training requirements, nearly all of which goes to teacher preparation programs. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether that is money well spent. 

As a field, we’ve known for nearly half a century that teachers are the most important in-school factor affecting student achievement. Yet despite decades of research and ongoing calls to improve the quality of teacher training, we still don’t know how to sculpt an effective teacher preparation program.

It’s not for lack of trying. To date, efforts to assess teacher preparation program quality have been dominated by two approaches. One approach assumes that program quality can be defined by the perfect combination of inputs, such as the number of content-area courses, pedagogical courses, and student teaching hours. Input-based research examines the relationship between program inputs and various completer outcomes, such as performance on certification exams, hiring rate, retention rate in schools, or student academic performance.

Another approach focuses on outcomes-based accountability. Instead of prescribing what a program should look like at the outset, outcomes-based systems link preparation programs to their completers’ performance after they enter the classroom to determine whether or not the training was effective.

Unfortunately, neither approach has successfully provided evidence that can be used to improve the quality of teacher preparation programs. 

Does that mean neither approach is effective? Not necessarily. It’s more likely that the current research doesn’t ask the right questions, and therefore can’t provide the right answers. State and federal policymakers, researchers, and preparation programs all bear some responsibility for the current state of research. 

In “A New Agenda: Research to Build a Better Teacher Preparation Program,” we argue that a new approach — focused on rigorous, actionable research — is critical to driving improvement in teacher preparation.

To create that body of research, the field needs:

  • systems that link completer performance data to preparation programs, make those data publicly accessible, and maintain individual privacy; 
  • research methods that use those data to produce actionable strategies and effective practices to improve program design; and
  • policies that incentivize programs to evaluate the effectiveness of their model and adopt new, evidence-based practices. 

The end result should be a body of rigorous research that explores a multitude of possible improvement strategies, testing which components of program design are effective, for whom, and under what circumstances. Until those pieces are in place, the quality of teacher preparation will remain stagnant. America’s teachers and students deserve better. 

Read the full paper here or expand the viewer below for more.

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