there have been no systematic efforts to collect the necessary data; thus, we can provide only partial answers to the first three questions in our charge. However, we did find many sources for conclusions about the skills and knowledge most likely to be valuable to beginning teachers, as well as clear indications of the research that is most needed to build a base of knowledge to guide improvements to teacher education.


The lack of data related to the first two questions in our charge, about the characteristics of teacher candidates and how they are prepared, is surprising—at the very least because of the huge scale of the enterprise. There are approximately 3.6 million public school elementary and secondary teachers in 90,000 public schools in the United States. More than 200,000 students complete a teacher preparation program each year. Little is known about these teacher candidates except that they are predominantly female and white.

Aspiring teachers in the United States are prepared in many different kinds of programs, which in turn reflect many different kinds of career pathways. Between 70 and 80 percent are enrolled in “traditional” programs housed in postsecondary institutions; the rest enter the profession through one of the approximately 130 “alternative” routes.

Yet however they are designated, teacher preparation programs are extremely diverse along almost any dimension of interest: the selectivity of programs, the quantity and content of what they require, and the duration and timing of coursework and fieldwork. Any pathway is likely to entail tradeoffs among selectivity, the intensity of the training, and the obstacles it presents to teacher candidates. More selective pathways, and those that require greater effort and time to complete, may have the disadvantage of yielding fewer teachers to fill vacancies, for example, but the teachers they do produce may be more highly qualified.

There is some research that suggests that there are differences in the characteristics of teacher candidates who are attracted to different pathways and types of programs. There is also some research comparing the outcomes for graduates of different kinds of programs. However, the distinctions among pathways and programs are not clear-cut and there is more variation within the “traditional” and “alternative” categories than there is between these categories. We found no evidence that any one pathway into teaching is the best way to attract and prepare desirable candidates and guide them into the teaching force. This finding does not mean that the characteristics of pathways do not matter; rather, it suggests that research on the sources of the variation in preparation, such as selectivity, timing, and specific components and characteristics, is needed.

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