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Study: Student-Teaching Placements Could Be Teacher-Equity Lever

What's one way to get more teachers interested in working in low-income schools? A new paper suggests one possibility: Give them opportunities to do their student-teaching in such schools. 

An important 2011 study found that teachers are far more likely to work close to their hometowns than those in other professions, a finding that obviously has implications for disadvantaged districts, since teachers tend to be white and come from more-affluent communities. 

The new research, though, suggests that this "pull of home" could be overridden by giving students a broader exposure during student-teaching assignments.

The working paper was presented at the Association for Education Finance and Policy earlier this year. It was written by John Krieg of Western Washington University and Roddy Theobald and Dan Goldhaber, both of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington Bothell.

For the study, the researchers matched data from six Washington State teacher-preparation programs with that of teachers in the state. They looked both at how teacher-candidates were assigned to student-teaching sites, and at how they proceeded to their first full-time teaching jobs. 

In all, they found that teachers did tend to student-teach close to where they grew up. But where a teacher did his or her student teaching was even more predictive of where he or she ended up being hired.  

That finding may have policy implications for student-teaching, which is often criticized as being too haphazard.

"We also take this as preliminary evidence that student teaching serves as a 'screening device' for school and districts looking to hire new teachers, and could therefore be a policy lever that influences the distribution of teacher quality across schools; that is, if [teaching programs] purposefully sent high-performing (or just more!) interns to do their student teaching in disadvantaged settings, these interns might be more likely to start their careers in these school and districts," the authors write in the study. 

Any research on student-teaching has got to be welcomed, given that it's terribly unclear which features of student teaching help improve prospective teachers' skills.

The researchers caution that their findings aren't conclusive, since they involve only a handful of teacher colleges in the state, and clearly the location and distribution of colleges and student-teaching sites varies greatly throughout the country.  

It will be interesting to see whether any states proposes changes to student-teaching policy in their plans for increasing the distribution of qualified teachers in their equity plans, which were due to the U.S. Department of Education June 1.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided some funding for the research. (The foundation also supports coverage of academic-content standards in Education Week.)

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