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New Research: 3 Insights Into Molding Better Student Teachers

By Matt Barnum | January 19, 2016

Teachers who work in schools similar to where they student taught tend to be more effective, finds new research released by CALDER, a group affiliated with the American Institutes for Research.
The study also showed that teachers who trained in schools with lower turnover were less likely to leave the profession themselves, and oddly those who were trained under a teacher with an advanced degree were less effective.
The paper recommends that schools and universities try to place student teachers in schools demographically similar to where they want to work, and in schools with less teacher turnover.
The research — conducted by Dan Goldhaber, John Krieg, and Roddy Theobald — comes as increased attention is being focused on improving schools of education, though it’s one of very few studies examining how the student teaching experience plays out later in classroom effectiveness An earlier study by the same authors found teachers’ first jobs tended to be in schools geographically close to where they student taught.
This latest research focuses on six teacher preparation programs, all in Washington state,1 marshalling large data sets across many years to examine where teachers student taught, and how they performed once they were in the classroom.
Two of the main findings are fairly intuitive.
First, teachers were more effective — as measured by student test score gains — when they worked in schools with similar student demographics as the school where they did their student teaching. A teacher who trained in a high-poverty school would likely perform better in a similar school versus a more affluent one. This was particularly true for newer teachers.
This finding raises equity concerns because on average, prospective teachers trained in more advantaged schools than the ones where they ended up getting their first job. This suggests a systematic mismatch that harms low-income students of color.
The second takeaway was that student teachers serving in schools with lower staff turnover were more likely to stay in the profession themselves. This generally squares with research from New York City.
“The theory here is that doing your student teaching in a more functional school gives you a greater commitment to teaching, and you stay in the force longer,” said Theobald, one of authors, in an interview.
The third finding is “puzzling,” as Theobald put it. Student teachers who were supervised by a classroom teacher with an advanced degree were less effective once they were in their own classrooms. These results appeared in both math and reading, were statistically significant, and appeared no matter how the data was cut, Theobald said.
The authors theorize that this finding came about because universities may have placed such importance on pairing student teachers with classroom teachers with advanced degrees that they didn’t give equal weight to how well those teachers mentored younger peers.
This result will likely provide fodder for those who argue that salary schedules should not give pay bumps to teachers who have master’s degrees. (Past research has generally found that teachers with advanced degrees are no more or less effective than those without.)
The study did not find any evidence that the experience level of the supervising classroom teacher influenced the later effectiveness of the student teacher.
The researchers caution repeatedly that the conclusions shouldn’t be taken as firm evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship. Still the study suggests ways to improve student teaching experiences. Specifically, the authors say that teacher education programs “should consider placing teacher candidates into student teaching schools that look like the schools they are likely to be hired into.”
Letting student teachers train in more effective schools — or at least those with less turnover — may also be a wise move in order to keep more teachers in the profession.
For prospective teachers who plan to work in high-poverty schools, Theobald suggests combining these two insights: “placing student teachers in highly functioning disadvantaged schools” is perhaps “the sweet spot.”

Footnotes:

1. Specifically Central Washington University, Pacific Lutheran University, University of Washington-Bothell, University of Washington-Seattle, University of Washington-Tacoma, and Western Washington University. (Return to story)

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