The student teaching experience is a crash course in lesson planning, organization skills, and classroom management—and also in learning from and gelling with the teacher who is in charge of teaching you these things. That can be challenging, especially since cooperating teachers (CTs) are recruited in multiple ways, none of which is all that thoughtful or organized. For instance, if several teachers want a student (or preservice) teacher, assignment can be based on seniority (veteran teachers get first dibs), or conversely a student teacher can get assigned to “help” a new, struggling teacher. Other times, educators in a subject-area department simply take turns taking on a student teacher, or the department head asks for volunteers. It’s rare that teacher effectiveness be a criterion for assignment to a student teacher. Yet a new study shows the merit in such an approach.
A team of analysts conducted a random experiment to see if a low-cost intervention could improve how cooperating teachers are assigned to preservice teachers. Specifically they provide a recommended list of CTs to district leaders.
The study was conducted in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Education and a large teacher education program at the TN Technological Institution, where candidates must complete a year-long student teaching experience. In 2017–18, when the study took place, the institution placed 162 candidates in twenty-two neighboring districts. Candidates must obviously complete their residency in the subject and grade level of their certification, but are able to request a specific district or county to accommodate travel constraints. The analysts used this information to identify for each candidate all teachers that matched their subject and grade level and requested district. They calculated a composite measure of instructional effectiveness based on teacher value-added, observation ratings, and years of experience, and generated a list of the most instructionally effective and experienced CTs to guide recruitment. Only teachers in the upper three quintiles of the quality distribution were on the list, which was organized chronologically with teachers with the highest scores at the top. The researchers randomly assigned neighboring districts to either receive the recommendation list or to the business-as-usual approach. District leaders in the treatment group were asked to use the lists, starting with the teachers at the top, if possible, but told to use their judgement and skip teachers on the list if they had reasons for doing so.
After controlling for differences among the fields that teachers are placed in, they find that the average placement quality for CTs in treatment districts is 0.43 standard deviations higher than the placement quality for CTs in control districts. In looking at individual quality measures, CTs in treatment districts have on average value-added scores that are 0.68 standard deviations higher than CTs in control districts. These are technically “intent-to-treat” results because there are no data on how the lists were or were not followed.
The researchers also examine a variety of self-reported survey measures and find that preservice teachers who learned to teach with these more effective CTs also felt significantly better prepared to teach at the end of their training than those in the control group (by about 0.62 standard deviations). Specifically, they felt better prepared with regards to their questioning techniques and other instructional skills. Future work will examine the bigger question of whether preservice teachers in the treatment districts are also more effective during their first year of teaching.
But the takeaway right now is that simply providing district leaders with actionable information in the form of a more “strategic” recruitment list raises the average effectiveness and experience of the pool of cooperating teachers. Moreover, the intervention is feasible and low-cost. Apparently if you build the list, they will use it. Sure sounds like a better way to recruit teachers than the haphazard approach we use now.
SOURCE: Matthew Ronfeldt et al., “Improving Student Teachers’ Feelings of Preparedness to Teach Through Recruitment of Instructionally Effective and Experienced Cooperating Teachers: A Randomized Experiment,” Annenberg Institute at Brown University (October 2019).