Study of Milwaukee public school teachers echoes findings in various states

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The bottom line from a new report from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute isn't a jaw dropper but it bears repeating: Wisconsin needs to improve its traditional teacher preparation programs.

Focusing on teachers with six years or less experience in the Milwaukee City Schools, the report found that Wisconsin teachers generally score above the national median on the Praxis II, but that few of the higher-testing teachers end up teaching in Milwaukee. The highest scorers were from the prestigious UW-Madison, while UW-Milwaukee candidates, a big source of teachers for the district, were the low scorers.

Using value-added data to measure the effectiveness of 'new' teacher graduates, the study found no correlation between teacher preparation programs and student achievement--except that it's not clear that the study had the goods necessary to weigh in on that contentious issue.

The sample size of new teacher graduates was so small that the authors combined ed schools by Wisconsin vs. non-Wisconsin, public vs. private, and UW-Milwaukee vs. Other UWs, which for the most part would be unlikely to show much variation. It might have been more meaningful to sort by the selectivity of the college or university housing the program, since selectivity does correlate with teacher effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the timing of the data used for the study muddied the waters. The supposed 'pre-test' was given after students had had a teacher for three months and the 'post-test' was given after summer vacation and after students had had another new teacher for three months, After admitting these caveats, the authors state, "The statistical evidence is quite clear: teachers trained in the same zip codes where MPS schools are located fare no better in raising student achievement than teachers trained in rural Wisconsin cornfields."

In the survey portion of the study, it was the teachers trained through alternative programs, not the traditional programs, who reported feeling significantly more prepared to teach in urban Milwaukee.