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New Teacher Prep Study Asks The Wrong Question

We should be asking why traditional training programs aren’t producing vastly better teachers

The Journal of Child and Family Studies has published a new meta-analysis of research on teacher training that seeks to determine how alternative certification programs stack up to the traditional route when it comes to preparing new educators for the classroom.

What did they find? Denise Whitford, an assistant professor of education at Purdue University who co-authored the study, told Education Week: “We found there really wasn’t much difference between the two [types of preparation programs], but the small difference we did find was in favor of alternative programs.”

And what about Teach For America, the program that education reform opponents love to hate? Whitford and her colleagues found that TFA teachers were often more effective than those who came out of schools of education, particularly when it comes to teaching science and math.

Why do so many academics in ed schools hate Teach For America? Because TFA has beaten them at their own game.

Some folks will look at this study as a vindication for alternative certification. Others will point to it to emphasize that alternative certification programs don’t produce superior teachers. However, the question we should be asking is why traditional four-year education programs aren’t producing teachers who are vastly more effective than their alt-cert counterparts.

After all, 80% of new teachers who entered classrooms across the country last year graduated from traditional teacher training programs. They endured four years worth of coursework and spent tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of dollars in the process. But if they emerge, on average, no better prepared to teach than someone who took the shorter and less costly alternative route, what was the point?

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Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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