Who does it better? Comparing undergraduate and graduate teacher training programs

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When people first go through training to become a teacher, they can choose from a few different routes: an undergraduate program, a graduate program, or an alternative route program. Given that teachers get paid more if they have a master's degree (on average, about $2,760 more for a first-year teacher, at least in large school districts), it's reasonable to assume that a master's degree in teaching should provide new teachers with a leg up compared to those who go through training as an undergraduate.

Not so, as data on graduate and undergraduate elementary teacher prep programs collected for NCTQ's Teacher Prep Review reveal: 

  • Graduate elementary programs do worse, on average, in the Review than undergraduate programs. Nearly 80 percent of undergraduate programs outperform the average graduate program in the Review on NCTQ's standards.
  • Graduate programs are less aligned with scientifically-based reading methods, based on more than four decades of NIH research. The Review found that almost 40 percent of undergraduate programs versus just 23 percent of graduate programs teach these research-backed methods.
  • Training for elementary mathematics at a graduate programs is even worse: just one percent of graduate elementary programs provide instruction in or verify that incoming candidates know elementary mathematics content—compared with 13 percent of elementary programs. 
  • While both results are abysmal, the Review found that 5 percent of undergraduate elementary programs confirm (either through coursework or an exam) that teacher candidates know the English language arts, social studies, and science content they will teach. Less than 3 percent of graduate programs verify that candidates have a firm grasp of that content.

The Teacher Prep Review examines over 2,000 teacher prep programs across the country using a set of research-based standards about what effective teacher training looks like. To find highly rated programs in your area, visit https://www.nctq.org/review/home.