Mathematica Study of Alternative Teacher Certification Does Not Apply to Vast Majority of American Classrooms, Experts Say
They Note Methodological Limitations and Caution against Relying on the Report to Inform Teacher Certification Policy
Contact: Patrick Richards – (703-237-2554); Patrick@exemplarpr.com
EAST LANSING, Mi., (March 10, 2009) – Despite the headlines announcing that a recent Mathematica Policy Research evaluation found alternative teacher certification to be as effective as traditional teacher preparation programs, a closer look by several education researchers shows that such conclusions are not supported by the study’s actual data.
Commissioned by the federal Institute of Education Sciences, the Mathematica study reports that teachers from most alternative certification programs have similar impact on student achievement as teachers from traditional certification routes. But the report’s conclusions are based on a selective interpretation of results from a sample of schools and teachers that is dissimilar from the general population of schools in the United States, two new critiques have found.
One review of the Mathematica report was prepared by Sean P. Corcoran, assistant professor of educational economics at New York University, and Jennifer L. Jennings, who will join the NYU faculty in the fall. They found significant methodological limitations that call into question the sweeping findings announced by Mathematica. They also found the Mathematica data themselves often suggest the opposite finding: that the alternatively certified teachers who were studied generally produced poorer outcomes than do the traditionally certified teachers in the sample.
The full review is available at http://www.greatlakescenter.org as part of the Think Twice think tank review project funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
Corcoran and Jennings point out that policymakers and other readers of the Mathematica report tend to look for simple answers to simple questions such as “Is alternative teacher certification a bad thing or a good thing, and if alternative certification does no harm, is traditional teacher certification even necessary?”
“Notwithstanding suggestions to the contrary in the report’s press release or executive summary, this report is unable to provide a satisfactory or general answer to either of those questions,” they conclude.
Specifically, the review found the Mathematica study:
The review found that the study sample includes teachers with an average of three years experience and is heavily weighted towards grades K-2, which comprise 71 percent of the study’s teachers. The average school in the study is a high-poverty, high-minority urban school, and the traditionally certified teachers who are the comparison group in the study are only those employed by these disadvantaged schools. As a result, alternatively certified teachers are compared only with teachers that prior research has demonstrated are, on average, less qualified than other traditionally certified teachers.
“Unfortunately, none of the results found in this study can be used to meaningfully inform the policy debate over alternative certification because they cannot be generalized to the larger population of schools and teachers,” Corcoran said.
The review also took issue with Mathematica’s selected emphasis of results, highlighting those results suggesting no difference between alternatively and conventionally certified teachers while minimizing results showing alternatively certified teachers doing significantly less well than other teachers in many categories. For example, alternatively certified teachers still taking coursework were significantly less effective in teaching reading and mathematics than their traditionally certified counterparts; and alternatively certified teachers from California were significantly less effective in teaching mathematics than traditionally prepared teachers.
Aaron Pallas, professor of education and sociology at Teachers College, Columbia University, concurred with the findings, noting that “The design of this study successfully precludes it from addressing the most salient policy questions about alternative teacher certification – but we get a pretty clean estimate of the relative effectiveness of pairs of traditional-route and alternate-route teachers that are not representative of any population of teacher education programs, teachers, or schools.”
Characterizing the outcomes of these programs as a “race to the bottom,” Darling-Hammond also reviewed the results of studies showing substantial gains for students of teachers with stronger qualifications and much higher-quality training.
“If we truly want our children to engage in a race to the top, we must create substantially higher levels of teacher effectiveness, particularly in those classrooms that have been left the furthest behind,” Darling-Hammond said. “The poor overall outcomes reported by Mathematica for these overwhelmingly disadvantaged schools show that these children are being abandoned by a system that has not invested in the quality of teachers needed to substantially improve their learning. This race to the bottom cannot be halted through alternative certification programs that simply seek to ‘do no more harm’ – or at least not much more harm – than other relatively poor training. Our students deserve far better than that. We need to invest in replicating the high-quality programs that achieve better results.”
Darling-Hammond’s review, “Educational Opportunity and Alternative Certification: New Evidence and New Questions,” can be found on the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) website, http://edpolicy.stanford.edu/.
About The Think Twice Project
The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.
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