Big Upsurge in Elementary Teacher Preparation Programs Providing Comprehensive Training in Classroom Management

While New Program Ratings from NCTQ Report Significant Progress in Attention to Long Neglected Classroom Management Training, the Quality of Clinical Practice (aka "Student Teaching") Is Largely Left to Chance


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Washington, D.C. -- The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released new data today looking at the training provided by over 1,000 elementary teacher preparation programs in how to manage a classroom and in program efforts to assert quality control in clinical practice experiences (including both student teaching and residencies) in the 2020 Teacher Prep Review: Clinical Practice and Classroom Management.

The progress in classroom management is particularly encouraging. More elementary programs are turning to classroom management strategies that are strongly rooted in research, standing now at half of traditional teacher preparation programs and representing an increase of nearly 30% since NCTQ first began to measure training in classroom management in 2013. NCTQ's evaluation is based on five evidence-based classroom management strategies that are universally effective, regardless of student age or the subject being taught.

"In previous editions of the Teacher Prep Review, the predominant approach to classroom management instruction by most programs was that establishing classroom rules and planning great lessons will prevent student misbehavior," observed NCTQ President Kate Walsh. "As any teacher can attest, engaging classes alone are seldom enough. We are heartened by the growing acknowledgment of the many benefits of building new teachers' skills in these key strategies."

However, the new data reports little progress in improving the quality of clinical practice, as managed by not just teacher preparation programs, but also their partner school districts. Few advancements have been made in adopting quality control metrics since NCTQ began measuring clinical practice experiences in 2013, specifically the all-important selection of the classroom mentor teacher.

Of the three indicators NCTQ examines, almost all traditional elementary programs dedicate sufficient time for clinical practice to occur, with 99% of programs (not including alternative programs that put teachers directly into their own classrooms) requiring practice of at least 10 weeks, and over two thirds of programs making sure that their elementary teacher candidates are observed frequently (71%), compared to only 4% which require the classroom mentor teacher to be both effective (in terms of student learning) and have the skills to mentor another adult. A major obstacle to teacher preparation programs adopting more rigorous screening of mentor teachers appears to be that they traditionally defer to school districts in the selection of mentors. However, teacher residency programs proved to be a notable exception to this practice, with 88% of these programs playing a more active role in the selection of classroom mentors for aspiring teachers.

"The quality of the mentor teacher is critical to the professional preparation of preservice teachers," commented Dr. Tom Lasley, former Dean of the School of Education and Health Sciences at the University of Dayton. "The whole teacher education experience turns on the quality and rigor of classroom clinical assignments. Until school districts and teacher preparation programs stop the widespread practice of allowing any classroom teacher to volunteer for that role, many prospective teachers will continue to be deprived of the most valuable professional development opportunity of their careers."

The evidence for the importance of high-quality clinical experience is undeniable. A National Research Council report said that clinical practice experience is one of three "aspects of preparation that have the highest potential for effects on outcomes for students," and recent research has found that having a high-quality clinical practice experience can mean a first-year teacher starts out as effective as a typical teacher in her third year.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has, at least for this year, reshaped much of what happens in schools, including clinical practice and classroom management training for aspiring teachers. Many states and teacher preparation programs have moved their clinical practice experiences online or abbreviated them, while essential classroom management strategies can't simply be converted to a remote teaching environment. However, the basic principles of quality clinical practice and classroom management still stand in spite of COVID, and are still critical to the success of aspiring teachers in their future careers.

The NCTQ Clinical Practice standard evaluates teacher preparation programs on three elements of clinical practice: 1) the length of the experience, 2) the frequency of observation and feedback from a program supervisor, and 3) that the program requires that mentor teachers are effective and have the skills needed to mentor another adult. (See the full NCTQ Clinical Practice standard methodology.)

With clear evidence that the quality of mentor teachers matters enormously for an aspiring teacher's future effectiveness in the classroom, school districts and teacher preparation programs must work together to match student teachers with specially selected mentor teachers who are passionate about developing aspiring teachers, have demonstrated effective instruction as measured by student learning, and have been trained in instructional coaching and mentorship. (See the top-scoring programs in Clinical Practice and examples of how they select mentor teachers.)

While the NCTQ data reports a clear uptick in the number of programs whose elementary teacher candidates learn research-supported classroom management strategies, NCTQ also noted a trend that prevents large numbers of teacher candidates from gaining the classroom management skills they need to help their students. A review of the observation and evaluation instruments commonly used by programs to evaluate teacher candidates showed that the most commonly used instruments, such as Danielson's Framework, do not look for competency in all five research-based classroom management strategies. Only one, the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) TAP rubric, addresses the full range of strategies.

The five strategies are:

  1. Establishing rules and routines that set expectations for behavior;
  2. Maximizing learning time by managing time, class materials, and the physical setup of the classroom, and by promoting student engagement;
  3. Reinforcing positive behavior by using specific, meaningful praise and other forms of positive reinforcement;
  4. Redirecting off-task behavior through unobtrusive means that do not interrupt instruction and that prevent and manage such behavior, and;
  5. Addressing serious misbehavior with consistent, respectful, and appropriate consequences.

Programs that earn an A on this standard require their aspiring elementary teachers to demonstrate their ability on all five classroom management strategies during student teaching, residency, or equivalent clinical practice. At the other end of the spectrum are programs earning an F that require aspiring teachers to model at most one of the five strategies. (See the full NCTQ Classroom Management standard methodology.)

One classroom management strategy, reinforcing good behavior with praise, stands out as the least likely to be taught and practiced—even though it has the most research behind its efficacy. Research shows that when praise is used well it not only improves student behavior but it also increases student's self-motivation, yet only 27% of traditional elementary teacher preparation programs require it to be practiced.

Two states, Massachusetts and Missouri, have led the way in recent years by implementing mandated student teaching evaluations that greatly increased practice of essential classroom management strategies. No other state has seen the kind of large, systematic improvement among their programs on NCTQ's Classroom Management standard, illustrating the important role state policy can play in ensuring all aspiring teachers are receiving the training they need to be effective. (See the top-scoring programs in Classroom Management and examples of the instruments they use to evaluate how aspiring teachers model these strategies in practice.)

Read the full report, 2020 Teacher Prep Review: Clinical Practice and Classroom Management:

Clinical Practice data and program scores:

Classroom Management data and program scores:


To schedule an interview with NCTQ President Kate Walsh please contact Nicole Gerber at (202) 393-0020 ext. 712.

About the National Council on Teacher Quality: The National Council on Teacher Quality is a nonpartisan research and policy group, committed to modernizing the teaching profession and based on the belief that all children deserve effective teachers. We recognize that it is not teachers who bear responsibility for their profession's many challenges, but the institutions with the greatest authority and influence over teachers. More information about NCTQ can be found on our website,

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