Teacher training and results

Certified teachers who’ve gone through a teacher education program are more effective than uncertified teachers, a Stanford study (pdf) concludes. From the San Jose Mercury News:

Students do markedly better when their teachers have received training in how children learn and in ways to make material accessible to a wide range of pupils.

Based on a study of more than 4,000 teachers and their 130,000 students in Houston, “those who have completed the training that leads to certification are more effective than those who have not,” concluded Linda Darling-Hammond, professor in Stanford’s School of Education who presented the research Friday in Montreal at a meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

I’ll be interested to see the reaction to the study by advocates of alternate paths to teaching.

Update: Chris Correa is at AERA blogging “the new teacher education.”

Jenny D isn’t there, but posts the schedule of the “mother of all education conferences.”

Michael Lopez sees certification as a proxy for commitment to a teaching career.

About Joanne


  1. I would be interested in how they broke down the teachers who majored in education and were then given a course to teach from those who majored in a subject other than education and then got some education training. I was lucky in that I only had 2 teachers who were trained in education and then were given subjects to teach. Both were disasters. It seems to me that people should be trained in a subject and then given a minor in education to get the best of both worlds. At least then we have a shot at them actually knowing what they were teaching.

  2. Chris C. says:

    Decker/Mayer/Glazerman were scheduled to present their Teach For America study (finding TFA teachers were no worse than traditionlly trained teachers) in the same paper session.

    I left Friday morning and missed it, but I wonder how that went.

  3. Here in California, the commission on teacher credentialing has *finally* got around to establishing a requirement that teachers (elementary/junior high/high school) pass a competency test in their subject matter(s).

    Unfortunately, the the commission only requires that *new* teachers pass these examinations.

    As with all most other attempts to “raise professional standards,” teachers that had obtained their crendentials before the requirement was established were “grandfathered-in,” and do not need to take any tests at all.

    Sadly, it is often the teachers that have been in the classroom for several years that could most benefit from taking additional coursework in their subject area.

  4. BadaBing says:

    Education classes for credentialing are 90% bullshit. The only classes worth a damn are methods classes, especially if taught by former or current teachers. Last I heard was that the new Commandante of the College of Education was looking to purge the department of former teachers. I don’t think they followed the party line.

  5. Is the issue really education classes? There surely are ‘tricks of the trade’ which help teachers teach and which may be taught. In my not-very-humble opinion — backed up by a not insignificant number of studies — the problem is the lack of academic knowledge by certified, or at least schooled, teachers.

  6. Chris C. says:

    Rod, but the bulk of these studies is suggesting that good ‘academic knowledge’ alone won’t make a good teacher. Something about the traditional credentialing system is associated with student improvement in Houston. Even the ‘alternative certification’ routes seem to lead to nonsignificant or negative effects on students.

    I also think it’s too simplistic to say “education classes are 90% bullshit” when it’s clear the credentialed teachers are doing something right in comparison to the non-credentialed teachers.

    On the other hand, it’s not clear to me from these studies *what* about certification is good – are certain types of courses or experiences significantly more useful than others?

  7. mike from oregon says:

    While not all certification necessarily has to be (is) bad – for the most part I think it’s just another hoop that they are forcing teachers to jump though. I know for a fact that certain students, I can teach better than the ‘teacher’ – proven by tutoring them. Other subjects, I could run rings around a teacher, because I have first hand, real life experience in the field/subject – while in many cases the teacher is ONLY preaching from a textbook.

    Certification really doesn’t prove anything except that they paid their money, took the course(s) and passed a test. Does THAT prove they can teach? I think not.

  8. Fortunately, here in California our schools don’t offer BA/BS degrees in education anymore–haven’t for years. You have to get a degree in “something”, and then spend a “5th year” getting a teaching credential. That’s if you go the ed school way. I myself went through an internship wherein I attended credentialing classes at nights and on weekends while teaching. Most of the classes were, unfortunately, b.s. I’ve never even had a “methods” class.

    And Linda Darling-Hammond? She is to ed schools what Stephen Krashen is to bilingual ed. Take what she says with a bin of salt.

  9. Chris C. says:

    Darren – I don’t understand the ad hominem attack on Darling-Hammond. The report and data are out there to be evaluated for yourself.

    This is in contrast to the Hoover Institute’s pro-TFA studies; they claim their data from Houston is “proprietary” in order to prevent analysis by others.

    There has been some discussion on the nature of certification.
    In this study, certified teachers stimulated student improvement more than non-certified teachers (including non-certified teach for america participants) and certified teachers in Houston (the teachers in this study) “must have completed an approved teacher education program which
    includes specified courses in the content area(s) to be taught as well as coursework in:
    teaching and learning; instructional methods and strategies; classroom management;
    curriculum; measurement and evaluation of student learning; human growth and
    development; multicultural education; the education of special needs students; legal and
    ethical aspects of teaching; organization of schools; technology; and the teaching of

  10. Andy Freeman says:

    How dare they use student achievement to measure teacher effectiveness.

    Next thing you know, they’ll be using student achievement to evaluate teachers.

  11. Richard Nieporent says:

    I am surprised that nobody commented on the obvious conflict of interest for a school of education to do a study that concludes that schools of education are beneficial. For example when I hear that a hunger organization finds that there is hunger I dismiss the finding as suspect since it is self-serving. Now if the study concluded that there was no hunger then I would give it more credence. This does not mean that the Stanford study was biased or flawed. (I did not read the study nor do I intend to do so.) There is simply too much at stake in such a study to not worry that the researchers consciously or unconsciously reached the conclusion that they wanted to. Such a study should be done by an organization that does not have a vested interest in the outcome.

  12. teaching and learning;
    Gotta be more specific, please.

    instructional methods and strategies;
    As BadaBing said, probably the only ed. course that proves beneficial.

    classroom management;
    If this is taught by ed. school profs, forget it. I don’t think I took more of a howler course as a grad. student, listening to three cretins who had never been in a classroom (or hadn’t been in years).

    What about it? Making one? Following one? Revising one?

    measurement and evaluation of student learning;
    Aside from my undergrad methods class, this grad class was the most beneficial. What a breath of fresh air! An ed. class worth attending! Most of us already knew how to make good tests and quizzes, etc.; this class taught us how to make them better.

    human growth and

    What about it? Is this really overwhelmingly important? All teachers grew up and know what it’s like to be a student, academically and socially. To me, such a course is mostly fluff.

    multicultural education;
    TOTAL fluff. A complete waste of time.

    the education of special needs students;
    Certainly may be necessary if “mainstreaming” becomes … more mainstream.

    legal and
    ethical aspects of teaching;

    I actually think this is a good idea in our ridiculously litigious society. Many, many teachers ask one another, for instance, “How do I break up a fight? Can I touch the student? Can I physically protect myself if I’m attacked by a student?” In the classroom, many teachers wonder how precisely they have to follow a 504 plan, for instance. If the wording is rather nebulous, what does a teacher do? Can they get sued if the 504 says “allow extra time for assignments,” and the teacher gives the student a zero after a month?

    organization of schools;
    Here’s the science wing, there’s the math wing … More fluff.

    Unless your school has the means to make use of the best aspects of tech., a waste of time.

    and the teaching of

    Do math teachers need this? Do art teachers? Shop teachers? Etc.?

  13. I wonder which ed schools produced the most capable students?

    Looking at the study, there’s no breakout for ed schools so it’s impossible to determine which ed schools do the best job as measured by the attaintments of their graduates student’s.

    That may have been due to limits placed on the scope of the study or to limitations of the data-set. Either way it seems that a perfectly logical extension of the central question – whether conventional teacher certification is worthwhile – would be to identify the ed schools that produce the best teachers.

  14. I’m majoring in education and the good thing about it is, I believe, the school provides so many field experiences before throwing the students to teaching world. They require us to take 3 semesters of field experiences and one full semester of student teaching, starting from observation to actual teaching. I don’t know about any other ed schools but it’s so hard to teach without learning how to teach in a real world. As somebody mentioned earlier, only having academic knowledge doesn’t work to stimulate students. The more they see what exactly teaching is like, learning from other teachers what is effective and what is not, the more they can picture themselves as future teachers, and those who can’t picture would end up changing their majors.

  15. SuperSub says:

    I agree with Aya… from what I’ve heard from friends in a Master’s program right now, the most beneficial component of the program is the field experience (they’re required to do a full year student teaching… in the same classroom). There’s classes on methodology, lesson design, technology, classroom management, and these all are beneficial too.
    Even one of the “fluff” courses has turned out to be beneficial. It’s based upon journal writing over the course of the student teaching, and analyzes the student teacher’s actions towards students. Many of my friends have declared they’ve become more objective with respect to students as a result, not allowing personal feelings to influence their disciplining of students.

  16. Chris C. says:

    “All teachers grew up and know what it’s like to be a student, academically and socially. To me, such a course is mostly fluff.”

    This kind of thinking is really part of the problem in improving education. Most people have been to school so most people think they are an expert on teaching and learning. This kind of thinking far too often leads to reform ideas guided by ideology rather than evidence.

    Just a note; it seems other newspapers are picking up on the story, including USA Today (who quote eduwonk).

  17. Aya and Supersub,

    I wrote earlier that I disagreed with the author. My point is not that all ed classes are useless. My point is the teachers who major in ed and don’t have the knowledge to back up what they are teaching in the classroom. If you are only 1 lesson ahead of your students in what you are teaching, then you are severely shortchanging your students. I think that the example of California mentioned above where you get a major in a subject and then get the ed training is a very smart way to go. Just getting the info on how to teach is fine so long as that is what you are going to teach. If, however, you are going to teach physics, then that training is not going to enable you to do justice to your students in any way, shape or form.

  18. This kind of thinking is really part of the problem in improving education. Most people have been to school so most people think they are an expert on teaching and learning. This kind of thinking far too often leads to reform ideas guided by ideology rather than evidence.

    With all due respect, Chris, if you read Michael Lopez’s bit on Joanne’s post, most teachers have put up w/the coursework b/c they want to teach. They want to help kids. That, coupled with the training they’ve already received, to me is pretty damn sufficient. I’ve see “trained” psychologists friggin’ psychoanalyze a kid left and right, so-called “counselors” try to “deal” with problems, and y’know what? The most beneficial assistance came from a plain old teacher sitting down and have a hearty one-on-one sans bulls***.

    So, if “this thinking” is hindering improvements in education, what the hell have you all been doing the last 30 years, hmm?? All the edu-babble mumbo jumbo sure has been doing a “bang up” job, hasn’t it?


  19. Chris C. says:

    I had the same first reaction as Lopez did when I read the article, but after looking closely at the report I decided this concern is overstated.

    TFA teachers are *required* to enter cetrtification programs when they start working in Houston. So it’s not like some teachers are opting out while the motivated actually do become certified. It’s really not much of a gatekeeper in that sense.

    Furthermore, nearly all the TFA teachers,whether or not they were certified, dropped out after two or three years. There doesn’t seem to be a clear connection between certification and motivation to help kids for this population of teachers.

  20. That may be true of TFA teachers, Chris. I was thinking of teachers in general — those in college who have decided to enter the field or are thinking about it. I had pretty much made up my mind by my sophomore year; however, if I had waffled somewhat, after seeing the silly coursework and hoops to jump through, I may have reconsidered.

    Granted, this is just my own personal experience (and that of many of my friends and associates) so I don’t want to sound as if this happens across the board. That, and my experience w/administrators and psychologists et. al. hasn’t been all that positive either. So, pardon my sometimes “harsh” tone when commenting on such.

  21. I could not open the PDF, so I am left wondering what the ages of the students studied were. I would expect that to make a big difference. A first grade teacher hardly needs a college-level understanding of English Literature to teach reading, but she does need to know how to keep a room full of little kids in control and how to teach reading. On the on the other hand, a high school math teacher that doesn’t really comprehend algebra (and this is an example from the real world) is going to do worse at teaching math than almost anyone who completed a college math major.

    The other question is whether the education courses actually taught how to manage a room full and first graders and how to teach reading, or just taught untested and unworkable theories. It does sound like this study proved that education majors learn some practical teaching methods – although I would not be surprised to find that this happens only when the ed majors leave the college classrom for student teaching.

  22. Chris C. says:

    This study really focused on the TFA teachers, so I was only really commenting on that. I really don’t know enough about teacher education programs to comment more generally. I hear both positive and negative anecdotes regarding the usefulness of teacher ed. programs, and I suspect it varies a lot according to school – more than most people think. There are good and bad ed schools out there.

    Mark, the data was limited to fourth- and fifth-grade teachers for what they wanted to do. I suspect you’re right about the different requirements of effective teaching for different age levels.

  23. Mike in Texas says:

    I haven’t followed this discussion too closely or read the articles but I do remember last summer the Houston Chronicle ran a series on the school district’s alternative certification program. In particular it followed one student (who I assumed was considered the star of the program). On his first day he made a critical mistake straight out of Teaching 101; he only planned for 20 minutes of activities for a 90 minute class. I don’t remember any mention of field experience for these future teachers, which seems almost criminal to me.

    I was not impressed with the Houston ISD training program.