Of the state’s five most successful teacher training programs, three are alternative certification programs and only one is based in Nashville.
A new study released by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission  Thursday highlights that teachers who hail from the Teach for America alternative certification program are generally better at moving the needle on student performance than their traditional education school counterparts.
“We’re doing some things right, but obviously, they’re a step ahead of us on other things. We want to mimic and copy what they’re doing right,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell.
The study examined how well beginning teachers from 44 college and alternative training programs advance student achievement in core subjects, stay in their jobs and perform on subject mastery exams. The study focused mainly on teachers who finished their programs in the 2010-11 school year but included data from as early as 2007.
The six alternative teaching programs, which include Teach for America Nashville and The New Teacher Project’s Nashville Teaching Fellows, made up 22 percent of this year’s new teachers, according to the report.
Teach for America Nashville and Memphis as well as the Memphis Teacher Residency were among the state’s most effective teacher training programs, according to the study, along with Freed‐Hardeman University near Jackson and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
The report found teachers from TFA’s Nashville and Memphis programs were both more effective than veteran or other beginning teachers in student growth in fourth- through eighth-grade math, science, social studies and TCAP scores along with high school Algebra I. The Memphis Teacher Residency project out-taught teachers in those same subjects, except for science and Algebra I.
Although enrollees in alternative programs are more likely to work in the classroom during the first two years, turnover is high. The Teach for America program in Memphis saw almost 70 percent of teachers drop out in the 2010-11 school year, according to the report.
However, about 87 percent of teachers trained in the first class of Teach Tennessee, a state-initiated alternative certification project, have continued to teach.
Alternative licensing programs generally picked up potential teachers who had both higher grade point averages and ACT scores than their traditional college counterparts, according to the study.
That’s a cause for concern, because “new academic standards require teaching and learning that focuses on critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” said Jamie Woodson, executive director of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
The report also revealed that less than 9 percent of teaching endorsements, achieved by mastering subject-specific tests, were given in the state’s new focus subjects like science, technology, engineering and math.
Overall, veteran teachers still have an edge over new teachers, whether from traditional programs or alternative certifications, but not always.
“Preparation programs are producing some teachers who are as effective as even veteran teachers, those with four or more years of experience, in the state of Tennessee,” said Victoria Harpool, program coordinator for the Race to the Top office at THEC.
The college-specific data will help drive changes at institutions whose students are falling below their peers, she said.
Veteran teachers are better at teaching subjects like fourth- through eighth-grade language arts, high school algebra and TCAP exams, according to the report on teachers from the 2010-11 school year.
That year, new teachers performed just as well as longtime teachers in subjects like fourth- through eighth-grade math, science and social studies along with high school Biology I, freshman and sophomore English and U.S. History, the study found.
Teaching programs producing less effective teachers in more than two major subject areas include East Tennessee State University, Lincoln Memorial University, Middle Tennessee State University, South College, Tennessee Tech University, Tennessee Wesleyan College, The New Teacher Project’s Memphis Teaching Fellows, Tusculum College, East Tennessee, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee‐Chattanooga, University of Tennessee‐Martin and Victory University.