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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Teacher Preparation

July 2017


What does the research tell us about the effects of participation in traditional teacher preparation programs versus alternative programs on student outcomes?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and literature reviews on the relationship between traditional teacher preparation programs and student outcomes. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to student achievement, student attendance, and student social emotional learning. For details on the databases and sources, key words, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Blazer, C. (2012). What the research says about alternative teacher certification programs (Information Capsule, Volume 1104). Miami, FL: Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Research Services. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The shortage of qualified teachers across the U.S. has contributed to the popularity of alternative certification programs. These programs are designed to attract individuals into the teaching profession by allowing candidates to become certified without having to complete a traditional teacher education program.... Research indicates that most alternative certification programs provide a viable source of high-quality teachers and even increase the diversity of the teaching workforce. Many studies have found that alternatively certified teachers can produce student achievement gains comparable to teachers certified in traditional programs. In fact, evidence suggests that teachers’ years of experience, rather than the manner in which they obtained their certification, is a more reliable indicator of their future ability to positively impact student achievement. Similarly, the school at which a teacher is placed has also been found to play a larger role in their effectiveness than the route through which certification is obtained. There is great variation in the quality of alternative certification programs and comparisons across programs are difficult. In addition, participants tend to experience the same program in dramatically different ways, depending upon their educational backgrounds, past experiences, knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs. In other words, many factors contribute to a teacher’s effectiveness, including the school to which they are assigned, their years of teaching experience, and their content area knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs. The route through which certification is obtained is just one of these factors. Examples of noteworthy alternative certification programs operating across the U.S. are provided at the conclusion of this report.”

Bowen, B. (2013). Measuring teacher effectiveness when comparing alternatively and traditionally licensed high school technology education teachers in North Carolina. Journal of Technology Education, 25(1), 82-100. Retrieved from >

From the ERIC abstract: “According to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the definition of a highly qualified teacher includes three components: obtaining a bachelor’s degree; having full licensure as defined by the state; and demonstrating competency, as defined by the state, in each subject taught (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). However, NCLB does not specifically include career and technical education, of which technology education is a part. Due to the difficulty of filling all teaching positions with highly qualified teachers, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction instituted an alternative licensure program established to allow individuals without an education degree from a university-based teacher preparation program to transfer their skills from the workplace into the classroom. This has caused some concern about the effectiveness of the alternatively licensed teachers. Some educators feel that an alternatively licensed teacher does not have the necessary understanding of pedagogical theories and practices they would obtain when completing a traditional education program. A quasi-experiment was designed to determine if there was a significant difference in teacher effectiveness when comparing alternatively licensed and traditionally licensed high school technology education teachers. The methodology was designed to use both a quantitative and qualitative approach to utilize triangulation. A series of research questions were presented and by comparing test results, the students’ time on task, and qualitative data, a conclusion can be drawn as to whether or not there are any differences in alternatively licensed technology education teachers and traditionally licensed technology education teachers. By using the methodology in this study, the researcher was able to provide evidence that there may not be any statistically significant differences between alternatively licensed and traditionally licensed technology education teachers in North Carolina.”

Clark, M. A., Chiang, H. S., Silva, T., McConnell, S., Sonnenfeld, K., Erbe, A., & Puma, M. (2013). The effectiveness of secondary math teachers from Teach For America and the Teaching Fellows programs (NCEE 2013-4015). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Teach For America (TFA) and the Teaching Fellows programs are an important and growing source of teachers of hard-to-staff subjects in high-poverty schools, but comprehensive evidence of their effectiveness has been limited. This report presents findings from the first large-scale random assignment study of secondary math teachers from these programs. The study separately examined the effectiveness of TFA and Teaching Fellows teachers, comparing secondary math teachers from each program with other secondary math teachers teaching the same math courses in the same schools. . The study focused on secondary math because this is a subject in which schools face particular staffing difficulties. The study had two main findings, one for each program studied: (1) TFA teachers were more effective than the teachers with whom they were compared. On average, students assigned to TFA teachers scored 0.07 standard deviations higher on end-of-year math assessments than students assigned to comparison teachers, a statistically significant difference. This impact is equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide; and (2) Teaching Fellows were neither more nor less effective than the teachers with whom they were compared. On average, students of Teaching Fellows and students of comparison teachers had similar scores on end-of-year math assessments....”

Clark, M., McConnell, S., Constantine, J., & Chiang, H. (2013). Addressing teacher shortages in disadvantaged schools: Lessons from two Institute of Education Sciences studies (NCEE 2013-4018). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Schools serving low-income students struggle to attract effective teachers, particularly in science and math. In response to these staffing difficulties, states have tried to lower the barriers to becoming a teacher by establishing “alternative routes to certification.” These routes enable teachers to begin teaching before completing all the requirements for certification and, in many cases, require less education coursework than traditional teacher preparation routes in the same states. Currently, as many as two-fifths of new teachers enter the profession through alternative routes…”

Constantine, J., Player D., Silva, T., Hallgren, K., Grider, M., & Deke, J. (2009). An evaluation of teachers trained through different routes to certification. Final Report (NCEE 2009-4043). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study addresses two questions related to teacher preparation and certification: (1) What are the relative effects on student achievement of teachers who chose to be trained through different routes to certification and how do observed teacher practices vary by chosen route to certification?; and (2) What aspects of certification programs (such as the amount of coursework, the timing of coursework relative to being the lead teacher in the classroom, the core coursework content) are associated with teacher effectiveness? In 63 study schools, every grade that contained at least one eligible alternatively certified (AC) and one eligible traditionally certified (TC) teacher was included. Students in these study grades were randomly assigned to be in the class of an AC or a TC teacher. Students were tested at the beginning of the school year as a baseline measure and at the end of the year as an outcome. Classroom instruction was observed at one point during the year as an outcome. Reported findings include: (1) Both the AC and the TC programs with teachers in the study were diverse in the total instruction they required for their candidates; (2) While teachers trained in TC programs receive all their instruction (and participate in student teaching) prior to becoming regular full-time teachers, AC teachers do not necessarily begin teaching without having received any formal instruction; (3) There were no statistically significant differences between the AC and TC teachers in this study in their average scores on college entrance exams, the selectivity of the college that awarded their bachelor’s degree, or their level of educational attainment; (4) There was no statistically significant difference in performance between students of AC teachers and those of TC teachers; (5) There is no evidence from this study that greater levels of teacher training coursework were associated with the effectiveness of AC teachers in the classroom; and (6) There is no evidence that the content of coursework is correlated with teacher effectiveness.”

Darling-Hammond, L., Holtzman, D. J., Gatlin, S. J., & Heilig, J. V. (2005). Does teacher preparation matter? Evidence about teacher certification, Teach for America, and teacher effectiveness. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 13(42). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Recent debates about the utility of teacher education have raised questions about whether certified teachers are, in general, more effective than those who have not met the testing and training requirements for certification, and whether some candidates with strong liberal arts backgrounds might be at least as effective as teacher education graduates. This study examines these questions with a large student-level data set from Houston, Texas that links student characteristics and achievement with data about their teachers’ certification status, experience, and degree levels from 1995-2002. The data set also allows an examination of whether Teach for America (TFA) candidates-recruits from selective universities who receive a few weeks of training before they begin teaching—are as effective as similarly experienced certified teachers. In a series of regression analyses looking at 4th and 5th grade student achievement gains on six different reading and mathematics tests over a six-year period, we find that certified teachers consistently produce stronger student achievement gains than do uncertified teachers. These findings hold for TFA recruits as well as others. Controlling for teacher experience, degrees, and student characteristics, uncertified TFA recruits are less effective than certified teachers, and perform about as well as other uncertified teachers. TFA recruits who become certified after 2 or 3 years do about as well as other certified teachers in supporting student achievement gains; however, nearly all of them leave within three years. Teachers’ effectiveness appears strongly related to the preparation they have received for teaching.”

Kane, T. J., Rockoff, J. E., & Staiger, D. O. (2006). What does certification tell us about teacher effectiveness? Evidence from New York City (NBER Working Paper No. 12155). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “We use six years of data on student test performance to evaluate the effectiveness of certified, uncertified, and alternatively certified teachers in the New York City public schools. On average, the certification status of a teacher has at most small impacts on student test performance. However, among those with the same certification status, there are large and persistent differences in teacher effectiveness. This evidence suggests that classroom performance during the first two years, rather than certification status, is a more reliable indicator of a teacher’s future effectiveness. We also evaluate turnover among teachers with different certification status, and the impact on student achievement of hiring teachers with predictably high turnover. Given relatively modest estimates of experience differentials, even high turnover groups (such as Teach for America participants) would have to be only slightly more effective in their first year to offset the negative effects of their high exit rates.”

Leak, J. A., & Farkas, G. (2011). Effects of teacher credentials, coursework, and certification on student achievement in math and reading in kindergarten: An ECLS-K study. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In light of the strong correlation between Kindergarten performance and later cognitive and achievement outcomes, this paper investigates the link between student achievement and the educational background characteristics of Kindergarten teachers. This study will utilize the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), a nationally representative dataset, in order to address the following questions: (1) Does a teacher having a master’s degree or higher have a positive effect on student achievement gains in reading and math in kindergarten compared to teachers with only a bachelor’s degree?; (2) Are there effects of teacher coursework in reading, math, and child development on student achievement gains in kindergarten? If so, do impacts of coursework on reading and math scores vary by number of courses taken?; and (3) Do regular and highest certification levels for teachers have a different effect on student achievement gains than no certification or alternative certification? Does being certified as an early elementary school teacher matter for student achievement?…The findings of this study suggest that most teacher credentials, or degrees, appear to have little impact on student achievement in reading or math in Kindergarten with some small significant effects (See Tables 2 and 3). This is consistent with the findings of others (Darling-Hammond, Berry, and Thoreson, 2001; Goldhaber and Brewer 1997). However, some previous studies such as Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor (2007a) actually found negative effects of high-level degrees on student achievement, which was not the case in this study. The quantity of teacher coursework had mixed effects on student achievement (See Table 4)….Teacher certification also appears to have a mixed effect on student achievement (See Table 5)…”

Sass, T. (2011). Certification requirements and teacher quality: A comparison of alternative routes to teaching. Working paper 64 (NCEE 2009-4043). Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research, National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Traditionally, states have required individuals complete a program of study in a university-based teacher preparation program in order to be licensed to teach. In recent years, however, various “alternative certification” programs have been developed and the number of teachers obtaining teaching certificates through routes other than completing a traditional teacher preparation program has skyrocketed. In this paper I use a rich longitudinal data base from Florida to compare the characteristics of alternatively certified teachers with their traditionally prepared colleagues. I then analyze the relative effectiveness of teachers who enter the profession through different pathways by estimating “value-added” models of student achievement. In general, alternatively certified teachers have stronger pre-service qualifications than do traditionally prepared teachers, with the least restrictive alternative attracting the most qualified perspective teachers. These differences are less pronounced when controlling for the grade level of teachers, however. On average, alternatively certified science teachers have also had much more coursework in science while in college than traditionally prepared science teachers. The same is not true for math teachers, where the hours of college coursework are approximately equal across pathways. Of the three alternative certification pathways studied, teachers who enter through the path requiring no coursework have substantially greater effects on student achievement than do either traditionally prepared teachers or alternative programs that require some formal coursework in education. These results suggest that the additional education coursework required in traditional teacher preparation programs either does little to boost the human capital of teachers or that whatever gains accrue from traditional teacher education training are offset by greater innate ability of individuals who enter teaching through routes requiring little formal training in education.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center for Teaching Quality: –

From the website: “CTQ is a national nonprofit based in Carrboro, North Carolina. We focus on teachers transforming teaching–an idea (and reality!) we’ve been advancing since 1998. Our virtual home, the CTQ Collaboratory, is open to all who support teachers as leaders.”

Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at American Institutes for Research: –

From the website: “The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) is dedicated to supporting state education leaders in their efforts to grow, respect, and retain great teachers and leaders for all students. The GTL Center continues the work of the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (TQ Center) and expands its focus to provide technical assistance and online resources designed to build systems that:

  • Support the implementation of college and career standards.
  • Ensure the equitable access of effective teachers and leaders.
  • Recruit, retain, reward, and support effective educators.
  • Develop coherent human capital management systems.
  • Create safe academic environments that increase student learning through positive behavior management and appropriate discipline.
  • Use data to guide professional development and improve instruction.”

National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ): –

From the website: “The National Council on Teacher Quality is led by this vision: every child deserves effective teachers and every teacher deserves the opportunity to become effective.”

For far too many children and teachers, this vision is not the reality. That’s because all too often the policies and practices of those institutions with the most authority and influence over teachers and schools–45;be they state governments, teacher preparation programs, school districts, or teachers unions–fall short. NCTQ focuses on the changes these institutions must make to return the teaching profession to strong health, delivering to every child the education needed to ensure a bright and successful future.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Traditional teacher preparation

  • Teacher education programs

  • Traditional teacher preparation attendance

  • Traditional teacher preparation achievement

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.