Teacher Preparation Helps Candidates Acquire Essential Knowledge and Develop Teaching Skill

1. 2005: National Academy of Education

Darling-Hammond, L. and Bransford, J. (Eds.) (2005). Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and Be Able to Do. National Academy of Education, Committee on Teacher Education. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, Inc. www.josseybass.com. http://www.josseybass.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0787974641.html.

The National Academy of Education asked its Committee on Teacher Education to put together a work that answers the question: what do new teachers need to know and be able to do? The resulting volume, Preparing Teachers for a Changing World, sets forth a common core of knowledge and skills that a beginning teacher should have. In the past, critics of education have used the internal disagreements among educators to claim that since there was no consensus on what made a good teacher, education schools were marginal in their effectiveness at best, and irrelevant at worst. With this volume, experts across the country reached agreement on the foundational knowledge and the skills that new teachers need. The volume covers the following: theories of learning and their roles in teaching; preparation for developmentally appropriate practice; development of language; developing curricular visions; teaching of subject matter; teaching diverse learners; assessment; classroom management; teacher learning; education program design; and implementing curriculum renewal. There is an 85 page bibliography.

The National Academy of Education calls for teacher preparation institutions to use this volume to guide the teacher preparation curriculum and experiences for candidates. Following are excerpted quotes:

  • Practice must be based on what is known by the profession as a whole…which requires of professionals that they be aware of the current knowledge base, pp. 15-16.

  • The [NAE] report focuses on content considered essential based on strong professional consensus and on research, p. ix.

  • There are systematic and principled aspects of effective teaching, and there is a base of verifiable evidence or knowledge that supports that work, p. 12.

  • Teachers who understand how learning occurs are more able to both select and develop curriculum that supports rather than undermines the learning process, p. 24.

  • Data from studies reviewed on teacher training indicated clearly that in order for teachers to use strategies effectively, extensive formal instruction in reading comprehension is necessary, preferably beginning as early as preservice (from the National Reading Panel, 2000), p. 27.

  • Teachers need to be prepared for learning differences and disabilities that are prevalent in the inclusive classroom, p. 36.

2. 2005: American Educational Research Association

Cochran-Smith, M. and Zeichner, K. M. Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education. (2005). American Educational Research Association. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. www.erlbaum.com .

The AERA Panel was charged with providing an analysis of the empirical evidence relevant to practices and policies in preservice teacher education in the U.S. The volume selected key questions that policymakers, the public, and the education community are interested in and developed research syntheses related to those questions. It contains nine research syntheses and outlines future research needs. Syntheses include research on the demographic profile of teachers; indicators of teacher quality; effects of coursework in arts and sciences and in foundations of education; methods courses and field experiences; pedagogical approaches in teacher education; preparing teachers for diverse populations; preparing teachers to work with students with disabilities; and accountability processes.

Important findings related to teacher qualifications include (1) college graduates who complete secondary education programs are comparable to other college graduates in academic ability, in spite of education being a less lucrative field; and (2) more and more teachers major in an academic subject area, rather than or in addition to a major in education.

Findings specific to education programs that produce successful teachers include:

  1. collaborative arrangements between university programs and local school districts—known as professional development schools—have a positive impact on teacher and student learning,

  2. in mathematics education, evidence favors certification in the field as an indicator of effective teaching and student achievement,

  3. certain coursework and school and community fieldwork in teacher education programs may positively affect candidates’ attitudes, knowledge and beliefs about teaching culturally diverse learners, and

  4. certain program components, such as a clear vision of teaching and learning, are related to teacher quality and student achievement.

3. 2005: National Research Council

How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science . (2005). Committee on How People Learn, A Targeted Report for Teachers, Center for Studies on Behavior and Development, National Research Council. Washington , D.C.: National Academies Press. www.nap.edu .

4. 2001: Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, University of Washington

Wilson, Suzanne M., Floden, Robert E., Ferrini-Mundy,Joan.Teacher Preparation Research: Current Knowledge, Gaps, and Recommendations. (2001). Michigan State University , under the auspices of the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, University of Washington .

The report summarizes what research has to say about five key issues in teacher preparation: subject matter preparation, pedagogical preparation, clinical training, preservice teacher education policies, and alternative certification. The report was prepared for the U.S. Department of Education and the Office for Educational Research and Improvement by the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy at the University of Washington in collaboration with researchers at Michigan State University .

On subject matter, research shows a positive connection between teachers’ preparation in subject matter and their performance in the classroom; subject specific methods courses in education also have a positive impact (p.2, Executive Summary). The report also says that the way subject matter is taught for those entering teaching may need to be restructured to give them a better understanding of concepts. The report concludes “the solution is more complicated than simply requiring a major or more subject matter courses” The example of mathematics is used (p. 2, Executive Summary).

Regarding pedagogical preparation, the report concludes “the pedagogical aspects of teacher preparation matter, both for their effects on teaching practice and for their ultimate impact on student achievement” (p. 2, Executive Summary). The study notes that many studies use possession of a teaching credential as a proxy for pedagogical preparation, and therefore, the results “give little insight” into “which aspects of pedagogical preparation are most critical” (p. 2, Executive Summary). In terms of clinical practice, the report notes that “in field experiences with focused, well-structured activities, significant learning can occur” (p. 3, Executive Summary).

The report is available at http://depts.washington.edu/ctpmail/ or google the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy. Publications are listed in alpha order.

Wilson, Suzanne M. and Floden, Robert E. Creating Effective Teachers: Concise Answers for Hard Questions. (2003). ERIC Clearinghouse. Washington , D.C. : American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

This is a follow up study to the original report above. The Education Commission of the States commissioned the follow-up study. The authors note: “The process used in identifying research in the addendum differed from that of the original report. In the original report, we conducted library searches to locate all relevant published research. We aimed to be as comprehensive as possible. For this report, ECS solicited nominations from experts, educators, researchers, state department officials and policymakers.”


The study concludes that “teachers with mathematics or mathematics education degrees have students who demonstrate higher levels of achievement” (p.14).

The study notes the broad consensus within the teacher preparation community on the knowledge and skills new teachers need to possess: “When asked what knowledge and skill new teachers need to possess, there appears to be uniform agreement among educators” (p. 15).

The study asked whether professional development schools offer high-quality field experiences. The report noted that there is “not sufficient evidence to make claims about the features of a high quality field experience,” (pp. 18-19) and therefore, the results were “inconclusive.” In contrast, the AERA Study on Teacher Education asked a different question on professional development schools, (do they have a positive impact on student learning). That study found that professional development schools do have a positive impact on teacher and student learning (see item 2 above).

5. 2000: National Research Council

 Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., and Cocking, R. R., Eds. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning, National Research Council. Washington , D.C.: National Academies Press. www.nap.edu

Learning research suggests that there are new ways to introduce students to traditional subjects and that these new approaches make it possible for the majority of individuals to develop a deep understanding of important subject matter. (p.6). The publication focuses on research on human learning including new developments from neuroscience; on learning research that has implications for P-12 schools; and research that increases the possibility of helping all individuals achieve to the fullest potential (p. 5). The emerging science of learning underscores the importance of rethinking what is taught, how it is taught, and how learning is assessed (p. 13). Teachers need to integrate this knowledge into their practice and be able to apply principles in the classroom, and educator preparation should incorporate the ever evolving knowledge base.

6. 1999: National Research Council

How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice. (1999). M. Suzanne Donovan, John D. Bransford, and James W. Pellegrino, Editors; Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice, National Research Council, National Academies Press. www.nap.edu .

In this report, the National Research Council indicates that teachers must be highly skilled in working with students to develop true understanding of concepts. The level of skill that a teacher must have to ensure student understanding takes time to develop. It does not happen overnight. The Council’s study found that

  • Content knowledge is necessary but not sufficient

  • Clinical study, practice, and supervision are crucial. Teachers must be very skilled at working with students’ preexisting and mistaken ideas about how the world works. Students tend to maintain mistaken understandings even after they have been taught a new model that contradicts the naïve understanding. Research with young children all the way to research on physics students at elite colleges confirms this finding.

  • The model of the child as an empty vessel must be replaced. The teacher must actively inquire into students’ thinking, creating tasks under which student thinking can be revealed. Teachers must be able to devise formative assessments that examine the understanding of the student.

(National Research Council publications are written by Committees “selected for their special competencies and with regard for appropriate balance” How People Learn: copyright page).

7. 1996: Handbook of Research on Teacher Education, Association of Teacher Educators

Handbook of Research on Teacher Education, (1990). W. Robert Houston, Ed., Martin Haberman and John Sikula, Assoc. Eds., NY: Macmillan.

Handbook of Research on Teacher Education, Second Edition. (1996). John Sikula, Senior Ed., Thomas J. Buttery and Edith Guyton, Eds. NY: Macmillan.

The more recent handbook compiles research analyses on early childhood, elementary, middle level, and secondary education, classroom management, assessment, case methods, diversity/equity, in addition to focusing on the context of and influences on teacher education and emerging directions in the field. It is the work of 200 people from 50 states and several countries.

8. Teach for America

Decker, P.T., Moyer, D. P., Glazerman, S. Effects of Teach for America on Students: Findings From a National Evaluation . Mathematica Policy Research. (June 2004). This study of 41 Teach for America recruits reports that students of TFA teachers gained one percentage point in reading and three percentage points in math as compared with a control group—but both groups are at the bottom of the barrel in terms of performance and proficiency.

The analysis below is by the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality. The study findings and analysis below support the message that teachers develop skills over time—not overnight. Although Mathematica, the author of the study, attempted to phrase the findings positively, their findings demonstrate poor results for students when teachers receive minimal or no preparation.

Southeast Center for Teaching Quality Analysis of Mathematica Study

A recently released study indicates that students of Teach for America (TFA) teachers matched students of a comparison group of novice and veteran colleagues from the same schools in reading and performed slightly better in math.  The study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., examined a small sample of 41 TFA teachers across several urban school districts serving mostly at-risk students, and compared them to 57 control teachers of whom 18 were also novices.

While the study’s authors viewed the results as evidence of the success of TFA and concluded that “the success of TFA teachers is not dependent on their having extensive exposure to teacher practice or training,” their findings illustrate the failed teaching policies that plague our nation’s urban schools.  In fact, the student achievement of both TFA teachers and the control group was abysmal, students made few gains, and the novice control group teachers actually had less teacher preparation than their TFA counterparts in the study.  Meanwhile, other studies show that more extensive teacher education can lead to substantial student achievement gains which, sadly, did not materialize for the students in the schools sampled in this study.

The study’s authors did not ask whether TFA teachers are effective teachers for the students they teach.  If they had, the answer would be, “no.”  Students of both TFA and control group teachers scored very poorly on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.  The achievement scores in reading for the students in the sample went from the 13th to the 14th percentile for the control group and increased at the same rate (from the 14th percentile to the 15th percentile) for TFA teachers. Thus their gain scores were essentially the same -- which is virtually no gain at all.  These students are still reading more poorly than 85 percent of their peers nationwide and well below grade level, as well as far below expectations for improvement under No Child Left Behind.

In math, the students of TFA teachers had gains from 14th to 17th percentile, but these very low scores left the students far below grade level and way behind their peers nationally.  Perhaps most striking was that there was no difference between the TFA and non-TFA teachers in the high rate at which students are retained or referred to attend summer school. The authors alluded to this fact, but did not emphasize it in their conclusions.

Despite the rhetoric that Teach for America represents a short-cut alternative to traditional teacher education, the facts of this study revealed that the TFA teachers had more background in teacher education than the novices in the control group. The control group was filled with emergency, temporary, and alternatively licensed teachers."