September 14, 2000

September 14, 2000 | News Releases on Education

Advanced "Teacher Training" Doesn't Help Students, Study Shows

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2000-Time for a pop quiz on teachers. Whose students tend to perform better: a) those with an advanced degree in education, or b) those with a similar degree in a particular subject, such as math or English?

Pencils down. Most school officials and most parents would pick the teachers with the education degree, but a new Heritage Foundation study shows the answer is b. Using data from the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, Kirk Johnson, an analyst with Heritage's Center for Data Analysis, found that:

  • In reading, eighth-graders whose teachers hold an advanced degree in English score 2.7 percent higher than those whose teachers have a similar degree in education. "This may not sound like much of a difference, but it is statistically significant, especially considering the bias in favor of education degrees," Johnson says.

  • In math, eighth-graders whose teachers hold a bachelor's in math or science score 2.2 percent higher than those whose teachers have an advanced degree in education. The gap widens to 3.4 percent when the teacher holds an advanced degree in math or science. "That a teacher with a bachelor's in a specific subject could outperform a teacher with a master's or a Ph.D. in education was a surprise," Johnson says.

  • In both subjects, there is virtually no difference in academic achievement between fourth-graders of teachers who hold bachelor's degrees in reading or math and the ones whose teachers have more advanced degrees in education. "This makes sense, given the more basic concepts children are typically taught in lower grades," Johnson says. "By junior high, concepts become more specialized, and a teacher with an advanced degree in a particular subject appears more helpful to students."

Johnson also found that a parent's education appears to affect a student's achievement more than a teacher's education. Both math and reading scores rise if at least one parent holds a bachelor's or postgraduate degree.

In addition, fourth- and eighth-grade girls score higher than boys on the NAEP reading exam and both score the same on the math exam, bolstering recent studies that show girls have certain scholastic advantages over boys. "Despite the popular idea that schools shortchange girls, the results here do not support this notion," Johnson says.

The Department of Education's NAEP exam in core subjects is given every two years to fourth and eighth grade students nationwide. In one year, the students are tested in math (as they were in 1996), while the next exam tests reading.

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