A horse is a horse, of course, of course...but tell us what makes a good math teacher!

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The research team of Donald Boyd, et al. are out with another study on teacher effectiveness with New York City as the stage. This one might best be understood as a horse race among various teacher providers, proving who is best when it comes to training middle school math teachers.

Let's imagine that the most representative horse from each "stable" is lined up at the starting gate: New York's Math Immersion (MI) program, Teach For America (TFA) and traditional programs referred to by Boyd as "College Recommending" (CR) programs. MI is definitely the dark horse, an alt-cert program that has grown from a pilot in 2002 to providing nearly half of all secondary math teachers in the city.

Here's the call at the finish line, according to Boyd. It's TFA first, then CR followed in last place by MI, with TFA leading by a full length and CR beating MI only by a neck.

But there's a catch. If the race were repeated again and again, using different horses (or teachers) from each stable, the winners' circle would look different each time. According to the study, "most of the teachers from one pathway are indistinguishable from teachers who enter through other pathways."

In fact, there is so much variation in the way that both the Math Immersion program and the local colleges train teachers--with training sites scattered across the city and state--it seems a misnomer to call them "programs". One might expect the Math Immersion program, generally speaking, to be the heaviest on math content, yet the number of credits required among its five sites ranges from only three all the way up to 18. And although the local colleges, on average, are lighter on math methods, they can require as many as seven credits. One might also think that the colleges might err on the side of too much professional coursework--yet almost half of them, for example, fail to require a single course in classroom management.