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Teachers Trained Through Fast-Track Program No Better or Worse Than Their Peers

Teachers prepared through a popular alternative certification program perform similarly to other teachers in their districts, despite having had a condensed training schedule, according to a recent large-scale federal study.

TNTP, formerly The New Teacher Project, has trained and placed about 35,000 teachers in urban areas over nearly two decades. Its Teaching Fellows program recruits strong candidates from a variety of backgrounds and trains them quickly, in six to eight weeks over a summer, before helping them find teaching jobs in underresourced city schools. The teachers get on-the-job coaching and support throughout their first year.

That's in contrast to traditional university-based preparation programs that generally require teachers to finish their coursework before entering the classroom.

Like Teach for America, which operates similarly, the Teaching Fellows program has faced pushback for placing inexperienced educators in front of some of the nation's neediest students. 

More Teachers Without Reducing Quality

The study, released in May, compared TNTP fellows in Baltimore; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Fort Worth, Texas; Nashville, Tenn; New Orleans; and the District of Columbia, to other teachers in those districts. Researchers looked at achievement data for more than 20,000 students and scores derived from classroom observations for more than 1,200 teachers.

The research was funded through the U.S. Department of Education's Investing in Innovation program and conducted by the American Institutes for Research. TNTP received an i3 grant in 2010 to implement and validate the alternative-certification program in those cities. 

Students who were taught by second-year TNTP teachers performed academically similarly to students taught by other second-year teachers in the district, the researchers found. 

And when it came to instructional practices, the second-year teaching fellows performed similarly to their peers there too, according to observation ratings from district-administered teacher evaluations. That's despite having a shorter training period than traditional teacher-prep programs, the report notes.

"Considering the persistent need for qualified teachers in urban districts, the study indicates that the Teaching Fellows program recruited and trained qualified teachers and provided a viable pathway for new teachers in the partner districts," the report says. "However, the findings suggest that TNTP fell short of its goal to produce a cadre of new teachers who were more effective than other new teachers hired to fill vacancies in the study districts."

The findings corroborate those of a 2013 federally funded study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research. It concluded students whose secondary math teachers were trained through TNTP performed no differently on end-of-year math tests than those whose teachers were trained through traditional routes.

Based on the recent results, Dean Gerdeman, a senior director at AIR and the lead author of the study, said of the TNTP program, "we think it's a more efficient training model" than traditional university-based programs. 

"This seems to be an important tool in the toolbox for districts for their human capital needs," he said in an interview.  

Better Retention

The AIR study also looked at teacher retention rates and found a plus for the TNTP program there. Teaching fellows were more likely to stay for their second year of teaching than other new teachers in their districts. The retention rates were a statistically significant 6 percentage points higher for the fellows than their peers.

"What fellows have that first year is a coaching and support system. That may have been advantageous," said Gerdeman. "What we don't know is what induction supports all the people in the comparison group had. That's something we may look into further—were the [TNTP] supports helpful in getting people to stay in teaching?"

Because TNTP, like Teach for America, has such a rigorous selection process, Gerdeman said the study doesn't likely say much about alternative certification broadly. The two programs are "dissimilar to many other alternative-certification providers," he said.

The 2013 Mathematica study also looked at TFA-trained teachers, and found they helped their students learn more in mathematics than colleagues who entered teaching through less-selective fast-track programs and traditional programs. 


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