With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:
Jane Arnold Lincove is a research assistant professor of economics at Tulane University. She has extensive experience as an expert advisor to government agencies, including the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and numerous school districts. As co-director of the Project for Educator Effectiveness and Quality, she helped develop a new accountability system for educator preparation programs in Texas, including a value-added measure of the contribution of programs to student performance growth that was developed with statewide student-level data.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Edu: What does your research look at and how does it impact Texas?
Lincove: We were hired by Texas a couple years ago to evaluate teacher prep programs in Texas. It was part of a law change where they had to hold accountable for student test scores, their performance on standardized tests. So we have the data from that and are able to use that in research. What we look at in that study is different types of teacher prep programs, based on what kind of organization they are and what their market incentives are — for-profit or nonprofit — or if they are based at a university or at a startup that only does teacher prep.
We were just looking at the issue that we don’t know what the quality of the for-profit ones are. When we looked at that compared to test scores, which is one component of being a good teacher, in that study what we found was that most effects are pretty close to zero. We did find that one type of program, like a startup nonprofit program actually did have positive effects most of the time on students. We looked at different types of students. We looked at them by race, by their prior test performance, along with free and reduced lunch status.
Trib+Edu: What did that data indicate?
Lincove: The nonprofit ones were doing better with students in inner city schools, students who were previously low performing, Hispanic students and free and reduced lunch students. It wasn’t a huge effect that would make you think it was the best teacher prep program, but they did have higher test scores.
When we looked at the for-profit programs, they were basically the same as average. Most of the teachers come from the for-profit programs. The largest group comes from them.
What we did find was that teachers that went to these nonprofits was a very small number, less than 3 percent, but they are Texas Teaching Fellows and Yes Prep, a charter organization that does its own prep. These work very closely with schools they are training teachers for and the districts that they work with, so these teachers are just teaching at these select group of schools, and at those schools they do a great job.
If you look at most of Texas, particularly at rural areas and areas around the border, anything south of San Antonio — if a school district has a large university near it, like Lubbock or Brownsville, they get a lot of teachers from there, but all these areas that don’t are getting their teachers from these online certification programs that are for profit. There is really no one else serving those areas. So if we didn’t have those programs, even if they are a tiny bit lower quality, there is not a substitute source of teachers for those areas.
The policy implication is that there is a need to be careful not to regulate out of business programs that are providing teachers for schools that have the hardest time hiring teachers.
Trib+Edu: Besides the business model, what are the differences between these programs?
Lincove: The big debate in teacher prep is that in theory, when you go to a university, you are in a school of education spending four years learning theory. You are interacting with professors that do research on education and educational strategies. You are getting content material in your major. When you do an alternative program at a university, you are still interacting with these people who care about this really theoretical approach to teaching.
When you go to iTeach Texas or The New Teacher program, the focus isn’t on theory at all. The focus is on specific strategies and classroom management. They will teach you how to handle your classroom and align your instruction with standards, but they don’t teach you child development, how kids’ brains work and how people acquire the English language, because you are only in the program five weeks before you are in the classroom.
Trib+Edu: What are the backgrounds for people going into the different programs?
Lincove: We looked at how selective the programs were compared to each other. A program like The New Teacher program is really selective. They are only going to pick people who graduated from elite universities, so they have some advantage in how they select.
State universities are actually the ones who have a disadvantage because a lot of universities by law have open enrollment so they can’t select teacher candidates based on anything other than a statement of GPA. They can’t necessarily look at an essay about how dedicated they are to teaching kids.