This summer, we are exploring new research and best practices within each of our six policy recommendation areas. We’ve taken a look at the need to demand accountability at the state level, and the need to foster leadership in our districts and schools. This week, let’s talk about developing excellence in our teacher talent pool.

As we’ve all heard by now, a teacher is the single most important school-based factor in boosting a student’s achievement. In fact, studies have shown that students with effective teachers (those in the top quartile) gain an equivalent of two to six months of instruction per year. (Check out this study by the Center for American Progress, and this one by The New Teacher Project.) Importantly, this sort of impact on a student’s educational achievement has been shown to last for three years!

Because we have such clarity about the tremendous role that teachers play in their students’ lives, it’s clear that we must make sure that our teacher talent pool is well-developed. However, recent surveys and studies have found that teacher preparation programs, generally speaking, are not adequately preparing new teachers for the important day-to-day tasks of teaching.

Here are three best practices that might help us to ensure that teacher preparation programs graduate new teachers who are well-trained and equipped with the skills to have positive, lasting impacts on their students’ achievement.

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Before a Teacher Candidate’s First Day–

Incorporating Selective Admissions:

Although we entrust our teachers with the challenging task of molding our children’s minds, we, as a nation, fail to make sure that only the most highly qualified applicants are admitted to teacher preparation programs. One study has shown that the majority of U.S. teachers are recruited from the bottom two-thirds of their college class. And a recent report by the National Center on Teacher Quality recommends raising admissions standards for teacher preparation programs, stating, “institutions need to admit only college students who are in the top half of their class.” If we were to raise admissions standards for teacher preparation programs by having them admit only high achieving college students, we would be ensuring that—even before the first day of teacher preparation begins—we have more academically talented teacher candidates in the talent pool.

During a Teacher Candidate’s Preparation–

Increasing Field Experience:

In order to better prepare our teachers for the actual experience of working in a classroom, teacher preparation programs should make increasing field experience an important priority—preferably by also requiring mentored field time within urban districts. Since 2003, the Boston Teacher Residency, a teacher prep program, has been requiring its teacher candidates to spend one full academic year in the classroom. Teacher candidates begin the year as observers, becoming prepared for co-teaching by the end of the year. Graduates of this program outperform their peers, both at the same level of experience and at the veteran level.

After a Teacher Candidate Graduates–

Monitoring the Effectiveness of Preparation Programs:

At the end of the day, just as we need to monitor our teachers’ effectiveness in preparing our students, we also need to monitor our preparation programs’ effectiveness in preparing our teachers. This will require us to track the careers of teachers who graduate from preparation programs, and to monitor longitudinal data on student achievement and teacher retention rates. With our new teacher evaluation and support system underway, it is becoming increasingly feasible to monitor the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs. Once we have a working data system with the capacity to complete this task, it will be up to the state to refuse accreditation to programs that aren’t up to snuff.

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It’s time to take the necessary steps to improve the teacher talent pool by selecting from among the best and brightest, providing them with real world experiences, and placing them in programs that are effective at the job of preparing teachers to teach. Our students deserve the very best, and so do our teachers!