Study: Alternative teacher training programs more successful than traditional ones

Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 8:01pm

Of the state’s five most successful teacher training programs, three are alternative certification programs and only one is based in Nashville.

A new study released by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission Thursday highlights that teachers who hail from the Teach for America alternative certification program are generally better at moving the needle on student performance than their traditional education school counterparts.

“We’re doing some things right, but obviously, they’re a step ahead of us on other things. We want to mimic and copy what they’re doing right,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell.

The study examined how well beginning teachers from 44 college and alternative training programs advance student achievement in core subjects, stay in their jobs and perform on subject mastery exams. The study focused mainly on teachers who finished their programs in the 2010-11 school year but included data from as early as 2007.

The six alternative teaching programs, which include Teach for America Nashville and The New Teacher Project’s Nashville Teaching Fellows, made up 22 percent of this year’s new teachers, according to the report.

Teach for America Nashville and Memphis as well as the Memphis Teacher Residency were among the state’s most effective teacher training programs, according to the study, along with Freed‐Hardeman University near Jackson and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The report found teachers from TFA’s Nashville and Memphis programs were both more effective than veteran or other beginning teachers in student growth in fourth- through eighth-grade math, science, social studies and TCAP scores along with high school Algebra I. The Memphis Teacher Residency project out-taught teachers in those same subjects, except for science and Algebra I.

Although enrollees in alternative programs are more likely to work in the classroom during the first two years, turnover is high. The Teach for America program in Memphis saw almost 70 percent of teachers drop out in the 2010-11 school year, according to the report.

However, about 87 percent of teachers trained in the first class of Teach Tennessee, a state-initiated alternative certification project, have continued to teach.

Alternative licensing programs generally picked up potential teachers who had both higher grade point averages and ACT scores than their traditional college counterparts, according to the study.

That’s a cause for concern, because “new academic standards require teaching and learning that focuses on critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” said Jamie Woodson, executive director of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

The report also revealed that less than 9 percent of teaching endorsements, achieved by mastering subject-specific tests, were given in the state’s new focus subjects like science, technology, engineering and math.

Overall, veteran teachers still have an edge over new teachers, whether from traditional programs or alternative certifications, but not always.

“Preparation programs are producing some teachers who are as effective as even veteran teachers, those with four or more years of experience, in the state of Tennessee,” said Victoria Harpool, program coordinator for the Race to the Top office at THEC.

The college-specific data will help drive changes at institutions whose students are falling below their peers, she said.

Veteran teachers are better at teaching subjects like fourth- through eighth-grade language arts, high school algebra and TCAP exams, according to the report on teachers from the 2010-11 school year.

That year, new teachers performed just as well as longtime teachers in subjects like fourth- through eighth-grade math, science and social studies along with high school Biology I, freshman and sophomore English and U.S. History, the study found.

Teaching programs producing less effective teachers in more than two major subject areas include East Tennessee State University, Lincoln Memorial University, Middle Tennessee State University, South College, Tennessee Tech University, Tennessee Wesleyan College, The New Teacher Project’s Memphis Teaching Fellows, Tusculum College, East Tennessee, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee‐Chattanooga, University of Tennessee‐Martin and Victory University.

8 Comments on this post:

By: Badbob on 11/2/12 at 7:18

TFA teachers were not given as many (or in most cases any) special needs students because everyone knew their class would be out of control and every student would suffer tremendously. And nothing else mattered after that.

By: Balo on 11/2/12 at 8:13


.At every state university and some private universities, it is the responsibility of the College of Education to educate and to prepare the future teachers of each generation. If there is a problem, it is up to the Dean (or President) of each college to make the proper adjustments. Very simple.

There is no justification for these alternate training programs. None. Millions/millions of dollars each year are wasted and if there is a need to reform government welfare programs this program needs to be included and eliminated. It is a travesty for the so called leaders in education for the state of Tennessee (THEC) to support this bogus issue.

For the sake of fairness, I will recall my thoughts if the legal profession would take all college graduates without a job and send them to Delta State University and spend millions of dollars for a six week training program. At the same time, eliminate law school and the bar exam. At the end of the training, the graduates earn their law degree and can begin to practice law.

To show good faith, the state Tennessee should fire half its legal staff and replace them with these graduates. Only fair.

By: threedoginn on 11/2/12 at 9:00

tn_dude - balo, hmmm, wonder why you're such a my experience people who espouse zero sum interpretations reflect a fear of change...and comparing lawyers who study arcane systems of minutiae to teachers who must find multiple paths to communicating with a wide variety of learners and learning styles have zero in common...this does not require an either/or resolution which is what you propose...

By: HamBoneHamBone on 11/2/12 at 9:11

Just more proof that Teach for America does what it does quite well. This program should be expanded.

Babbob and balo are just bitter unionists.

By: djarrell on 11/2/12 at 11:08

Teachers knows why new teachers quit after a few years. It doesn't matter how they were trained or certified to teach. The turn-over rate in education is the white elephant in the room the blind legislators ignore.

By: boyzmom on 11/3/12 at 5:14

NCP, please block CindyLu, our resident 'Spam Queen' already!

TFA may produce higher test scores, but by how much? What can their students actually DO? And if they're such great teachers, why do more than two-thirds leave after two years? I feel that Metro and the state are relying too much on these 'teach to the test' mills and not addressing why the state has a chronic teacher shortage.

In my view, there are several reasons for the shortage. First, many baby boomers are reaching retirement age and are getting out now. Another rationale is the pay. I will graduate with my doctorate in six months, and my new salary will be about 70k. That may sound like a lot of money to some of you, but stop and think how much more I would make with a terminal degree in medicine, law, engineering, or IT. The working conditions drive out many new people. How many well-educated people would work with faulty or no AC when it is nearing triple digits outside, curriculum that makes huge changes on a dime, getting attacked and blamed for what goes wrong on all sides (administration, parents, and students), being judged by a draconian evaluation system designed largely by those who are NOT part of your profession, not having basic supplies and/or equipment in good repair. And I could go on and on from here, but I have made my point.

I have taught for nearly 25 years because it is my calling. And when NCLB, TFA, TEAM and all these foolish acronyms are but a distant memory. I will still be teaching. That is who I am and that is what I do, simple as that.

By: Balo on 11/4/12 at 9:22

TO Threedoginn

From your comments you are a highly educated person because no common man would draw those conclusions and make those remarks. First, you get into the name calling game which indicate your weak stand. Second, my remarks hit close to home because you benefit from government programs and you are a member of the modern day progressive thinkers which advocate that the government pay the way regardless of financial consequences (which we are in today and tomorrow and in the future).

I am sure that the lawyers appreciate your support of their profession. However, because of your elite intelligence you did not recognize the figure of speech (simile). I could have used any profession to make my point to inform the ones who read my comments. Again, the point being that there are many regional centers at universities over the country that host these training centers. About 600 unemployed college graduates attend each center and is required to sign a two year contract to teach. The government (tax payers) pays for salaries, food/lodging, transportation, the universities involved, materials and what ever else. Millions/Millions of wasted money on duplication.

As I said, it is very simple. The different colleges of education must do a better job in preparing future teachers to meet the changing times of each generation.

By: BigPapa on 11/5/12 at 10:59

It just seems like future teachers would benefit from more time in their "student teaching" mode. What is it now a semester or less?

Is that enough time to actually be exposed to what it's REALLY like to be a teacher? Shouldn't this take place earlier on in their training so if this is NOT for them, they can change majors?

Just ideas