How important in increasing student achievement is the training of teachers in the subject matter they will teach students?

Why is this question important? A great deal of emphasis has been ascribed subject matter training for teachers in the area they are to teach. In fact, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) lists "knowledge of subject matter area" as one of only three critical identifiers of who meets the criteria to be considered a highly qualified teacher. Given the limited training available in teacher preparation programs, it is important to identify the training that actually makes a difference in producing fully competent students and to limit the less important training.

See further discussion below.

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Source(s): Creating Effective Teachers: Concise Answers for Hard Questions, 2003; and Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education, 2005

Result(s): Two comprehensive studies of the effectiveness of subject matter training for teachers were included in this analysis. Creating Effective Teachers: Concise Answers for Hard Questions, an addendum to Teacher Preparation Research: Current Knowledge, Gaps, and Recommendations, a report produced by the Education Commission of the States, found little evidence to support subject matter training as critical to effective teacher preparation. Two years later, the American Education Research Association (AERA) produced a wide-ranging analysis of what works in teacher preparation. This review also found little to support subject matter training as significant in producing successful teachers.

There was only one area in which subject matter training correlated with improved student performance. High school students who were taught math by teachers whose undergraduate college experience included math courses or whose teacher preparation included math performed slightly better than students whose teachers did not have this subject matter experience. These results did not hold true for elementary school teachers or for high school teachers of subjects other than math.

Implication(s): Policy makers and teacher preparation programs should reconsider the importance of subject matter. Simply providing prospective teachers with exposure to subject matter may not pay the dividends expected from preservice training. Increased research into alternative methods of teaching subject matter is needed.

Author(s): Suzanne Wilson and Robert Floden (Creating Effective Teachers: Concise Answers for Hard Questions); and Robert Floden and Marco Meniketti (Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education)

Publisher(s): AACTE Publications (Creating Effective Teachers: Concise Answers for Hard Questions); the American Education Research Association (Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education); and

Study Description: Both studies were literature reviews. Neither study were designed as meta-analyses.

Creating Effective Teachers: Concise Answers for Hard Questions reviewed 193 papers, book chapters, manuscripts, and articles. From this original number, 64 items were accepted as meeting criteria. The remaining 129 articles did not meet research standards, were descriptive and not research, and/or did not address the issue.

Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education used the following approaches to identify studies for inclusion in the book: drawing on recent reviews that addressed the same subject, hand searching major education journals, electronic searching Eric and education abstracts, and soliciting nominations from colleagues.

Related Research: See What we know about subject matter training for teachers under Teacher Preparation for effect sizes

Citation:

Wilson, S. M. and Floden, R. E. (2003). Creating Effective Teachers: Concise Answers for Hard Questions. An Addendum to the Report "Teacher Preparation Research: Current Knowledge, Gaps, and Recommendations.". Technical report.

Cochran-Smith, M. and Zeichner, K. M. (2005). Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Mahwah, NJ 07430