(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
An analysis of Florida test score data from Georgia State Economist Tim R. Sass provides encouraging news for supporters of alternative teacher certification. The Florida data warehouse contains information about the route that teachers took for certification, and information about the types and number of courses taken in college. Sass includes a number of tables on background characteristics of teachers, and finds that alternatively certified teachers tend have higher SAT scores and took more math courses in college than traditionally certified teachers.
Sass performs an analysis of student learning gains by certification route, and finds that alternatively certified teachers have similar academic gains to traditionally certified teachers. This is similar to the findings previous certification studies. Sass however found better than average results for ABCTE:
The performance of ABCTE teachers in teaching math is substantially better, on average, than for preparation program graduates. Across all specifications and tests, ABCTE teachers boost math achievement by six to eleven percent of a standard deviation more than do traditionally prepared teachers.
The ABCTE route receives no state money and costs a fraction what students must pay for the College of Education route. Sass rightly cautions that the ABCTE cohort is not huge (there are multiple different routes to certification in Florida) so there should be further research conducted. Like the TFA research, the gains for reading are much smaller than those for math, which merits further investigation. The cut-scores for the ABCTE content knowledge exams are challenging, so it is gratifying to see the ABCTE teachers achieving larger student learning gains.
The philanthropists who have strongly supported Teach for America over the years should take note of these findings. The universe of potential career switchers with solid content backgrounds can add to the ultimately limited pool of Ivy League students willing to serve through TFA, and our students need all the help they can get.
As for teacher certification and Colleges of Education why do we have those again? The descriptive tables in the Sass study show that alternative certification can be a method for increasing the selectivity of the teaching pool (higher college entrance scores, more content knowledge courses, etc.). The results of this study reinforce previous findings that whatever is going on during those 30 hours of course work, it doesn’t seem to have much to do with better student results on the back-end.