Extensive research has demonstrated that the single most important factor in a student’s success is the effectiveness of that student’s teacher. Students who have highly effective teachers are more likely to graduate, to go on to higher education, to be employed, and to earn higher salaries as adults. In fact, teacher quality has two to three times the impact on a student of any other factor in a school.
The most effective technique for building the skills of a future teacher is spending time practice teaching alongside an experienced and effective teacher. This sort of clinical experience does more than just raise teaching quality; by better preparing teachers, it reduces burnout and attrition. According to research compiled by the Education Commission of the States, teachers who enter the profession with more training in the classroom during their teacher preparation programs are significantly less likely to leave the profession in their first few years.
Yet New Mexico’s colleges of education currently only require one semester of student teaching, and the state’s alternative licensure programs, which produce more than half of New Mexico’s new teachers, do not require any student teaching experience at all. (A person who is seeking to become a teacher via alternative licensure simply begins teaching, on their own in the classroom, and simultaneously completes courses to earn their license.)
Think New Mexico recommends that the legislature and governor require that all teacher training programs include year-long clinical training experiences (known as teacher residencies) with highly effective teachers.
In order to develop a cadre of highly effective teachers to train incoming teachers, we also recommend creating a new Level 4 license, above the state’s existing three teacher tiers, which are based on years of experience and meeting other requirements. Teachers who are identified as consistently producing high student achievement would be eligible to become Level 4 master teachers.
Finally, in order to promote the ongoing professional growth of teachers, the state must provide access to high-quality professional development. A 2007 meta-analysis by the U.S. Department of Education concluded that well-designed professional development that averages 49 hours (about six days) over 6-12 months increased student achievement by 21 percentage points. Unfortunately, about 60% of teachers report that their professional development activities are not a good use of their time.
New Mexico law does not guarantee that teachers will receive any professional development. A 2018 study by the Legislative Finance Committee noted that teachers in New Mexico schools receive an average of seven days of professional development a year (charter school teachers in the state receive an average of 13.6 days). The National Center for Teacher Quality reports that teachers nationwide receive an average of 10 professional development days a year. Twenty-one states require that teachers receive a certain number of paid professional development days each year, with five of them setting that level at 10 days or more.
We recommend that the legislature and governor require that teachers attend at least 10 days of paid professional development, and require that those professional development programs be evidence-based.
Together, better initial and ongoing training for teachers will lift the quality of teaching, reduce costly attrition, and minimize teacher shortages that negatively impact student outcomes.