Teacher Training: Experience May Be More Valuable Than An Advanced Degree

Jan 02, 2019

Overwhelming evidence suggests that teachers with master's degrees are not more effective than teachers with bachelor's degrees. Policymakers are actively looking for other ways to improve teacher training and boost student achievement.


A Master of Education Does Not a Master Educator Make

Many school districts offer pay raises and promotions to teachers who earn advanced degrees. In many career fields, a graduate degree signifies specialized knowledge in a singular field of study.

Similar to medicine or law, however, education is a practice-based field. Success depends on hands-on experience and is developed over time, not necessarily through additional coursework. A growing body of evidence, including studies conducted by Harvard University's School of Education, suggests that experience is more important than classroom education, and that focusing district resources on training teachers can have a positive effect on student success.

enthusiasm in the classroom

Teacher Training Reform

There is currently a quiet nationwide shift to reform the teacher training process. Led by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), the suggested transformation of this process centers around four criteria - selection, subject area preparation, practice teaching, and institutional outcomes. This model calls for prospective teachers to become subject matter experts while undergraduates. These teachers-in-training then develop practitioner skills as graduate students before managing classrooms on their own.

States throughout the country are analyzing the quality of their teacher training programs and looking to implement the kinds of changes proposed by the NCTQ. Education leaders in Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Washington recently announced preliminary changes to teacher training programs at colleges and universities in their respective states. The success or failure of these changes may have far-reaching effects and could affect how teachers everywhere are trained.

The Residency Model

Instead of pushing new hires straight from graduation to the classroom, prospective teachers in some districts may be encouraged to participate in residency programs. These programs combine pedagogy and supervised classroom practice with constant feedback and mentorship, and they may be offered in conjunction with master's degree programs. Residencies allow new teachers to make the shift from student to teacher at a slower pace, and with lots of tools in their toolboxes.

The best school-based residencies are structured much like residency programs for doctors, and they're highly competitive. Applicants typically need high undergraduate grade point averages and a history of leadership in other fields. Following a yearlong apprenticeship with an experienced teacher, resident teachers take control of their own classrooms. However, the districts (and partner graduate schools of education) provide continued support while these teachers develop skills in classroom management. It's a win for all involved - the teachers often earn a master's degree without the stress of debt (a portion of the cost may be subsidized), and the district is sure that teachers are ready to teach when they take charge of a classroom.

Real World Outcomes

Programs are going strong in many cities, including Baltimore, Denver, Boston, Seattle, New York, and Chicago. Districts present plans to develop residency programs in more and more cities each school year, and they appear to be working. The greatest success may lie in the fact that teachers in residency programs, according to the non-profit Urban Teacher Residency United (UTRU), stay in the profession longer. Approximately half of all urban school teachers leave the profession within three years, but the average retention rate for UTRU network programs is 85% after three years.

The residency model has typically been implemented in urban districts with a great need for teachers; it hasn't been seen on a large scale in more suburban, higher-resource districts. The hope, as communicated by leaders in every area of public education, is that this kind of approach becomes the national standard for training teachers. In doing so, districts across the nation can benefit from the innovations of the residency model.

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