On the Road to Better Teacher Training
As you probably know, TNTP used to go by The New Teacher Project. And that’s what we did: train new teachers. Today, we’re doing much more than that, but we’re still training teachers. And we’re still working, year after year, to train better teachers—because we know that teacher preparation programs, including ours, have plenty of work to do to truly provide new educators with the skills they need to serve students effectively right from day one.
To push ourselves (and our Teaching Fellows) forward, we’re constantly assessing how well we’re doing—through ongoing teacher observations and feedback; through our Assessment of Classroom Effectiveness (ACE), a rigorous set of certification requirements; and when available, through student surveys and value-added data. But seven years ago, we had a unique opportunity, through an i3 grant from the Department of Education, to have an external research organization take a close look under the hood of our Teaching Fellows programs, and assess our Fellows’ effectiveness against other new teachers from different kinds of training programs.
This week, the American Institutes for Research released their final report on that research study. So what did they find?
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Teaching Fellows perform just as well as new teachers who come through other prep programs. AIR compared teachers in seven Fellows programs to teachers with similar experience levels in the same districts, but who came out of different preparation programs. To compare teachers’ effectiveness, they used classroom observation data drawn from district evaluation tools, as well as student outcome data. Ultimately, they found that Teaching Fellows’ perform just as well as comparison teachers—not appreciably better, nor appreciably worse.
And teaching Fellows are more likely to still be teaching a year later, compared to teachers from other programs. The second-year retention rate for our teachers was 6 percent higher than for other new teachers. And the research team notes that their analysis includes the 8 percent of our teachers who didn’t pass ACE—in other words, who didn’t meet our bar for certification (and who therefore do not continue in the classroom). Had they been excluded from the analysis, Fellows’ second-year retention rate would show an even more marked improvement compared to teachers coming out of other programs.
So what does all this tell us? We’ll be honest: We’re not jumping up and down with excitement over these results. Our goal is always to produce the best teachers possible, and better teachers than we ever have before. We believe that teacher preparation programs can and should get teachers ready to teach well from the start, and we’re always striving to figure out the best path for doing so. So we admit, we’re a little disappointed that the AIR study didn’t find that our Teaching Fellows are doing better than their peers from other prep programs.
We’ve already made some changes to our program since 2013 that we think are helping us improve. For example, we’re giving Fellows more time to build content knowledge and deepen their understanding of college and career ready standards, alongside classroom management techniques, during pre-service training. And we’re putting a greater emphasis on students doing the bulk of the intellectual lifting in class. Alongside that, we made a switch to a more streamlined evaluation rubric, known as TNTP Core, that focuses on what students are doing, rather than teachers, as a way of providing Fellows with clearer feedback on where their classrooms are humming along and where they need support. Our data shows that CORE observations are positively correlated with state measures of value added (including Tennessee’s TVAAS, Charlotte EVAAS, and Louisiana’s VAM), validating the emphasis we put on the CORE rubric. We’re already seeing some early evidence that all these changes are for the better: The 2016 Tennessee Teacher Preparation Report Card rated the overall performance of TNTP’s Nashville Teaching Fellows program with top marks. Only 7 out of 40 teacher preparation programs in the state received this rating.
Nonetheless, there’s always going to be more to improve upon; that’s the work. In the meantime, we’re heartened to see that our teachers are doing just as well as anyone else—especially compared to teachers who come from programs that require them to take a year or more away from work, and potentially acquire significant debt to become teachers. That’s great news, because it means it’s possible—just like we’ve always believed—to give teachers the highest priority skills in a relatively short amount of time, at a relatively low cost to them, and then continue to support their improvement while they’re gaining valuable classroom experience during the first year. It means that students aren’t missing out on anything by having first-year teachers who spent less time learning how to teach from books, and more time learning how to teach in the classroom.
And in fact, if teachers who receive our rigorous pre-service training and year-long in-service support are more likely to stay in the classroom for a second year—and keep improving as a result—that’s a net win for kids, and for the profession. So for us, the big message is the same as it long has been: We’re doing a lot of things right, but we can still do better—and we’ll keep working toward that.