The academic progress of public school students can be traced, in part, to where their teachers went to college, according to new research by the University of Washington Center for Education Data & Research.
But the center’s director, Dan Goldhaber, cautioned that the study is just a first step toward determining what kind of training—not where the training occurred—best prepares teachers for excellence in the classroom.
Even so, it’s the kind of information U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan would like every school to have access to, and that’s why he recently announced a new program to use federal dollars to pay for similar research.
Washington state schools are among the first to see which teacher education programs seem to result in the best student test scores, but 35 states now have the means to do similar research, according to the Data Quality Campaign, a national organization formed by education and business groups to track state progress on collecting data about students and schools.
Where teachers are credentialed explains a small part of the variation of teacher effectiveness, Goldhaber said, with the best way to pick out a great teacher still being a visit to his or her classroom.
Still, the findings of this study, which focused on in-state schools, and a similar report published in Louisiana in early 2010 are meaningful. They both found that the differences between the best and the worst teacher education programs were as significant as differences between teachers at different experience levels or with different class sizes.
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”Improving teacher training has the potential to greatly enhance the productivity of the teacher workforce,” Goldhaber wrote in the report.
The study examined which teacher education schools were tied to better student progress, without naming any particular aspect of training that the schools did differently.
Duncan earlier this month announced new initiatives to identify the best teacher-education programs and encourage others to improve by linking student test scores back to teachers and their schools of education. The federal government also plans to give away millions of dollars in scholarships to send students interested in teaching in-demand subjects like science and math to the best teacher training programs.
Carrie Black, a middle school math teacher in Rochester, Wash., says she could have used a lot more time practicing her skills before taking over a classroom on her own, and she doesn’t think she could ever had learned enough about how to keep control in class.