Students who have teachers certified through alternative-training programs do no worse in mathematics or reading achievement than students whose teachers have been certified by traditional teacher education programs, according to a study released today by Mathematica Policy Research Inc.
The study, which was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, also found no correlation between teacher effectiveness and the amount of coursework that teachers received as part of their alternative or traditional teacher-training programs.
“Our bottom line is that when students are placed with teachers with alternative routes versus traditional routes [for certification], there’s no harm in terms of student achievement,” said Jill Constantine, an associate director of research at the Princeton, N.J.-based Mathematica and the project director for the study. She said the researchers based their findings on students’ math and reading scores on the California Achievement Test, a standardized test.
Jane Leibbrand, the vice president of communications for the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, who had not yet had a chance to read the Mathematica study, said, however, that previous studies have shown otherwise. “A number of studies have shown that fully prepared and licensed teachers do make a difference with student achievement,” she said.
“Some alternate routes are of high quality, but many are mediocre to low-quality,” Ms. Leibbrand added. “Alternate-route programs often do not have to meet the same standards as traditional programs must meet.”
The Mathematica study compared students from the same schools who were randomly assigned to teachers from alternative-certification programs or regular teacher education programs. It tracked 2,600 students in 63 schools in six states.
The researchers chose to examine alternative-certification programs that are not very selective in picking candidates, so they didn’t examine two of the best-known programs, Teach For America and the New Teacher Project. They did so, the researchers explained, because most alternatively certified teachers come from programs that aren’t very selective. Similarly, most traditional teacher education programs are not highly selective.
The study involved 87 alternatively certified teachers and 87 traditionally certified teachers. They came from 28 alternative-certification programs or 52 traditional programs. The researchers found that teachers who are alternatively certified are more likely to be black than white.
Sixteen of the sponsoring organizations for alternative certification were colleges or universities, half of which also operate traditional programs.
The study found that the amount of coursework required by training programs varies greatly within alternative-certification programs and also within traditional programs. Alternatively certified teachers were required to take 75 to 795 hours of coursework. Teachers from traditional programs were required to take anywhere from 240 to 1,380 hours of instruction.
The number of course hours taken by teachers didn’t affect student achievement, according to the study.
Ms. Constantine says the study is different from previous studies in that it examines a large number of teacher-certification programs. What’s more, she said, “Most studies have focused on the selective or highly selective programs like Teach For America and the New Teacher Project.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 11, 2009 edition of Education Week