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Does Teacher Preparation Matter? Evidence about Teacher Certification, Teach for America, and Teacher Effectiveness

Abstract

"Recent debates about the utility of teacher education have raised questions about whether
certified teachers are, in general, more effective than those who have not met the testing
and training requirements for certification, and whether some candidates with strong
liberal arts backgrounds might be at least as effective as teacher education graduates.
This study examines these questions with a large student-level data set from Houston,
Texas that links student characteristics and achievement with data about their teachers'
certification status, experience, and degree levels from 1995-2002. The data set also
allows an examination of whether Teach for America (TFA) candidates -- recruits from
selective universities who receive a few weeks of training before they begin teaching --
are as effective as similarly experienced certified teachers. In a series of regression
analyses looking at 4th and 5th grade student achievement gains on six different reading
and mathematics tests over a six-year period, we find that certified teachers consistently
produce significantly stronger student achievement gains than do uncertified teachers.
Alternatively certified teachers are also generally less effective than certified teachers.
These findings hold for TFA recruits as well as others. Controlling for teacher
experience, degrees, and student characteristics, uncertified TFA recruits are less
effective than certified teachers, and perform about as well as other uncertified teachers.
TFA recruits who become certified after 2 or 3 years do about as well as other certified
teachers in supporting student achievement gains; however, nearly all of them leave
within three years. Teachers' effectiveness appears strongly related to the preparation
they have received for teaching. We discuss policy implications for districts' efforts to
develop a more effective teaching force."

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