Breathing the air of success in student teaching

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One way that teacher prep programs can stem the tide of new teachers who typically head out to the suburbs for jobs is to give them some experience in high-functioning urban schools. If nothing else, that experience should serve as a great opportunity for teacher candidates to see that all children, no matter where they live, can be successful.

But what happens when teacher prep programs only pay attention to half of that equation: placing student teachers in urban settings, but not steering them towards ones that are high-functioning?

A new study by University of Michigan researcher Matthew Ronfeldt looks at this question, addressing the long term impact on teachers from having been placed as student teachers in urban schools--both functional and not so functional.

Using the rate of staff turnover in a set of New York City schools to serve as the metric of the schools' functionality, Ronfeldt finds that teachers who did their student teaching in high-functioning urban schools ended up posting higher student test score gains and were less likely to leave teaching in their first five years. The magnitude of the test gains are significant, comparable to the teachers having an additional half to a full year of teaching experience under their belts.

For no reason that could be explained, these positive effects were even more pronounced when the schools had a large share of African-American students.

Perhaps the most critical takeaway is that the impact of having served in a high-functioning school as a student teacher was as strong for teachers who ended up getting jobs in relatively low-functioning schools as for those who ended up in high-functioning ones. Instructive indeed.