A new report by William Johnston and Christopher Young from the RAND Corporation examines the perspectives of teachers and principals about their pre-service training programs, with an emphasis on their preparation for work with non-white and low-income students.
The researchers primarily use data from the Measurement, Learning, and Improvement (MLI) Survey, a joint effort from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and RAND. A nationally representative sample of principals and teachers, all of whom are members of the American Educator Panels (AEP), is periodically surveyed about their working conditions. In its spring 2018 administration, 3,229 principals and 15,258 teachers, or 25 percent and 53 percent of the AEP’s national totals, respectively, participated. For the purposes of this study, the survey findings were weighted to reflect the known national principal and teacher populations across individual-level (e.g., gender, professional experience) and school-level (e.g., school size, grade level, urbanicity, socioeconomic status) characteristics. In comparing educator responses from schools with different demographic profiles, the analyses were supplemented with 2015–16 school- and district-level data from the National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data.
Overall, both principals and teachers responded positively about their preparation experiences, overwhelmingly expressing that the individuals who provided training were effective, the feedback they received was helpful, that they left feeling prepared, and saw the connection between coursework and practice. However, only 60 percent of principals and 68 percent of teachers agreed with the statement, “my program prepared me to work with black, Latino, and/or low-income students.” Principals’ preparation to support the needs of minority and low-income students was among the lowest of the reported capabilities, with 35 percent feeling unprepared when they began their job. After disaggregating the data by race, Johnston and Young found stark differences between white and non-white educators’ perception of their preparation to support these groups of students. Sixty-two percent of white educators felt that their pre-service training prepared them for this work, compared to 76 percent of nonwhite educators. And this same discrepancy existed for white and nonwhite principals’ sense of preparedness when they began as school leaders. Interestingly, the researchers note that this gap disappears when white principals feel that their pre-service training prepared them in this area, which demonstrates the impact that effective and comprehensive training can have.
Johnston and Young also found a positive correlation between educators’ perceptions of the caliber of their pre-service training program and the duration of their field experiences. Whether in the form of full-time job placements, student teaching, or teacher shadowing, educators who had greater amounts of clinical experience were more likely to feel that their programs were effective. For example, when looking at the percentage of educators who agreed that their program prepared them to work with minority and low-income students, 54 percent of educators who had no field experience agreed, while 61 percent of those with one semester or less agreed, and 70 percent of those with more than one semester of field experience agreed. Although this number increased to 78 percent for educators with one year or more of field experience, there was a leveling off or decline for three of the other surveyed components of pre-service training—effective mentorship, helpful feedback, and feeling generally prepared—which suggests a minimal difference between more than one semester and one year or more of field experience in these respects.
While it’s heartening to see the present success and future potential of pre-service training programs, we must keep in mind that this study relies on educators’ self-reported sense of preparation, a limitation that the researchers do acknowledge. Educators’ feelings of preparedness do not reflect the actual quality of the programs they completed, nor do they translate to efficacy in the classroom. As such, the key finding that white educators reported lower levels of preparedness to support the needs of non-white and low-income students does not prove that they were in fact less prepared to do so than non-white educators.
Nevertheless, it’s apparent that pre-service training is one mechanism through which principals’ and teachers’ capacities are developed, if not in practice then at least in the teachers’ own perception. Having a field experience requirement makes it more likely that educators will feel ready to step into the classroom or school. And when it comes to serving black, Latino, and low-income students, pre-service training can level educators’ sense of preparation going into their work, no matter their individual race—a powerful thing since the first year of teaching or in administration is never easy for anyone. Whether it’s through policymaking entities or preparation program administrators, targeted efforts should be made to strengthen training on supporting the needs of a diverse student body. That’s one step for pre-service training programs towards enhancing quality and equity in our nation’s schools.
SOURCE: William R. Johnston and Christopher J. Young, “Principal and Teacher Preparation to Support the Needs of Diverse Students: National Findings from the American Educator Panels,” RAND Corporation (2019).