Student teaching is intended to serve as the opportunity for aspiring teachers to apply what they have learned from their preparation programs in real classroom settings. There are key factors that can make this experience valuable, not just for aspiring teachers, but for the schools that host them. Many of these factors seem obvious but are often not implemented systematically, such as carefully selecting cooperating teachers and supporting student teachers to improve their performance.
A new study from Dan Goldhaber, John Krieg, and Roddy Theobald (of American Institutes for Research and Western Washington University), provides evidence that who serves as the cooperating teacher is a make-or-break factor. Using data from 14 teacher prep programs in Washington state, the researchers explored whether hosting a student teacher has any detrimental impact on the cooperating teachers' students' achievement. They found little harm, only a statistically significant but very small negative impact in math. Not enough, from their perspective, to warrant a decision by teachers to turn down hosting a student teacher.
What's most interesting, however, was that this small ill effect was largely driven by the weakest cooperating teachers—those in the lowest quartile of performance. This finding points to how important it is for schools to be mindful of whom they select to serve as a cooperating teacher. Assigning student teachers to only effective cooperating teachers should mitigate any negative impact on student achievement, and provide those student teachers with a stronger training experience to boot.
Another study from Robert Vagi, Margarita Pivovarova, and Wendy Miedel Barnard found that the top-rated student teachers were more likely than other student teachers to take a job in their placement school and then stay for at least two years. While this study did not determine why some student teachers had higher final scores, this evidence suggests that setting up structures that help student teachers improve (such as frequent observations with feedback) is likely a worthwhile investment.
NCTQ has championed student teaching as an opportunity school districts and charter schools ought to take advantage of for all the benefits it offers. At minimal cost, hosting a student teacher allows for what is essentially a multi-month job interview, the chance to get "first dibs" on a future hire, and an opportunity to train a future hire in your curriculum and culture before he or she assumes full responsibility of a classroom.