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Student teaching placement sites and the performance of early-career teachers

Student teaching is a scaffolded opportunity for pre-service teachers to assume full control of a K-12 classroom and become better prepared for the demands of teaching. Anecdotally, student teaching is the most important component of teacher preparation, with states and Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) regulating many aspects of its structure—e.g., how long it lasts, qualifications of the clinical teacher, and how many observations university personnel conduct.

Despite this importance, there is a lot that we do not know about effective student teaching placements. This imbalance between the importance of student teaching and the evidence-base surrounding it motivated us to ask the following questions:

  1. Do characteristics of student teaching placement sites predict the performance of early-career teachers?
  2. Do similarities in student teaching and in-service schools predict the performance of early-career teachers?

This research connected five years of student teaching placement data from six UNC System institutions to administrative data on students, teachers, and schools in North Carolina. Several findings are worth highlighting for state policy and for the practices of EPPs and school districts.

High-quality learning environments matter

Consistent with previous studies, we find that early-career teachers are more effective, as measured by value-added estimates (EVAAS) and evaluation ratings (NCEES), if they student taught in high-quality learning environments. That is, student teaching in schools that exceed expected growth, and where teachers report more collaboration, benefits the performance of early-career teachers. The benefits of student teaching in schools with more teacher collaboration especially accrue to pre-service teachers with the lowest grade point averages.

Pre-service teachers benefit from the instructional and mentoring skills of clinical teachers

Clinical teachers possess two competencies that may be particularly relevant to the development of pre-service teachers: serving as a model of high-quality instructional practices and the ability to mentor/coach adult learners. Our results suggest that both of these competencies predict the performance of early-career teachers.

Pre-service teachers who were assigned to a clinical teacher with higher EVAAS estimates go on to have higher EVAAS estimates themselves. Likewise, pre-service teachers assigned to a clinical teacher with higher evaluation ratings on the state’s Leadership standard (featuring indicators for mentoring and collaborating with colleagues) go on to have higher NCEES ratings.

Many pre-service teachers are hired within the student teaching district

Teacher labor markets are often local. On average, teachers prefer to work close to home or where they were prepared to teach. As such, it is not surprising that a meaningful percentage of pre-service teachers secure their first teaching job in the same school district where they student taught.

For example, among our sample of six UNC System EPPs, nearly 50 percent of the pre-service teachers were hired by the student teaching district. These percentages ranged from 37 to 60 percent. These data suggest that school districts should be invested in helping EPPs secure effective student teaching placements, since today’s student teacher is tomorrow’s district employee.

The match between student teaching and in-service schools matters

Student teaching offers pre-service teachers an opportunity to become more familiar with K-12 students, school administrators and teaching colleagues, curriculum and academic content, and school policies. After gaining this familiarity, it stands to reason that early-career teachers would be more effective in environments similar to their student teaching school. Our results bear this out.

As the differences between student teaching and in-service schools become larger (as measured by school performance composites and percentages of economically-disadvantaged and minority students), early-career teachers become less effective. Complementary results show that early-career teachers hired by their student teaching school have higher EVAAS estimates and higher NCEES ratings than peers hired by a different school.

Taken together, these results should encourage state officials and EPP faculty to consider the types of schools in which pre-service teachers are placed and the characteristics of clinical teachers to whom they are assigned. More importantly, these results suggest that EPPs and school districts should work in closer partnership to improve student teaching experiences and better connect teacher preparation to district induction and on-the-job learning for early-career teachers.

Kevin Bastian

Kevin Bastian is a research associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and the director of the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina.