An examination of graduate and alternative teacher preparation programs

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) recently added to their trove of teacher preparation evaluations with the 2018 Teacher Prep Review. This year’s study examines 567 traditional graduate, 129 alternative route, and eighteen residency programs across the U.S. (no undergraduate programs were examined). The difference between these programs rests largely on their approach to clinical training: traditional graduate programs require candidates to spend a semester or more student teaching in the classroom of an experienced educator; residencies place candidates in a mentor teacher’s classroom for up to a year; and alternative routes generally lack of student teaching, putting candidates in charge of their own classrooms almost immediately, what NCTQ refers to as an internship.

The report focuses on three key aspects of preparation programs: practice teaching, teacher knowledge, and admissions. To determine quality, reviewers examined whether programs aligned their requirements and instruction with scientific research in each of the three areas. Grades were assigned based on materials like course catalogs, syllabi, and observation forms. Each program was given the opportunity to review NCTQ’s findings and submit additional information.

The first area, practice teaching, evaluates whether programs provide candidates with adequate practice before licensure. NCTQ asserts that in order to offer high quality clinical experiences, programs must do two things.

First, they must actively identify and advocate for the assignment of mentor teachers who are effective instructors and have strong mentorship skills. Only 8 percent of traditional programs communicated these qualities to partner districts, while 50 percent of residency programs did so. Although about a quarter of alternative route programs also did this, very few actually arranged for candidates to spend time teaching alongside mentors.

Second, programs must require candidates’ supervisors to provide frequent observations and written feedback. Research shows that at least five observations during student teaching placement can make candidates more effective when they get their own classrooms. Residency programs stood out in this area: 72 percent conducted five or more observations. By comparison, only 43 percent of traditional graduate programs and 23 percent of alternative route programs did the same.

Within the practice section, NCTQ also evaluated programs based on their attention to classroom management—a notoriously difficult skill for novice teachers to master. To earn a grade of A or B, programs had to provide candidates with feedback on all, or nearly all, of the five classroom management strategies identified by the Institute for Education Science. Seventy-two percent of residencies and alternative route programs earned an A or B, compared to 49 percent of traditional graduate programs.

The second area, teacher knowledge, differentiates between subjects within elementary and secondary programs. In elementary mathematics, only 1 percent of traditional graduate programs earned an A for adequately covering critical math content, while twenty-three of twenty-eight alternative programs earned an A (including both residencies and alternative routes). Results for elementary reading were more mixed: 23 percent of graduate programs earned an A for teaching candidates the five key components of early reading instruction, while no alternative program earned an A.

In secondary programs, 76 percent of traditional graduate programs earned an A for ensuring candidates knew the science content they would be required to teach, while 42 percent of alternative routes earned that grade. In secondary social studies, 44 percent of traditional graduate programs earned an A compared to 25 percent of alternative programs. The report also investigated whether secondary programs required candidates to take a subject-specific methods course to prepare them to teach content. Seventy-seven percent of traditional graduate programs earned an A, compared to 42 percent of alternative routes.

The final area, admissions, is pretty straightforward: NCTQ evaluated programs based on their selectivity. An A grade was given to programs that required a 3.0 minimum GPA and either the submission of a graduate admissions test like the GRE or a rigorous audition. Eight percent of traditional graduate programs and 24 percent of alternative routes earned an A for screening their elementary and secondary candidates for academic caliber. An additional 7 percent of traditional programs earned an A+ because they maintained a level of racial diversity that was the same or greater than the institution itself (this “bonus” didn’t apply for alternative programs).

Based on the grades assigned in each of the three areas, NCTQ ranked all of the programs it studied. Six of the top ten elementary programs were alternative routes, as were six of the top ten secondary programs—results that should enhance the position of alternative route advocates. As with previous teacher prep reports, NCTQ found that most top-ranked traditional graduate programs were not located in elite and expensive schools. For programs interested in raising their grades, NCTQ also offers recommendations, including the importance of prescreening applicants for core content knowledge and focusing on better preparing teachers in the area of classroom management.

SOURCE:2018 Teacher Prep Review,” National Council on Teacher Quality (April 2018).

 
 
Jessica Poiner
Jessica Poiner is an education policy analyst in the Fordham Institute’s Columbus office. She was a 2011 Teach For America corps member who worked and taught in Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District.