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Are UTeach Teachers More Effective at STEM?

Does the UTeach program develop more effective STEM teachers than traditional teacher preparation programs? That was the question asked in a recent research project by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER). CALDER is a program of research involving the American Institutes for Research and seven universities.

UTeach was created in 1997 by faculty at the University of Texas at Austin with the intention of streamlining how people earned a degree in math or science along with a teaching credential. The goal was to enable them to graduate in four years. The approach was viewed as being an effective recruitment strategy, drawing in STEM majors who might otherwise reject the idea of undertaking the extra year of education courses required to go into the teaching field. According to UTeach, 55 percent of its graduates at Austin graduated within four years, compared to the university's overall average of 51 to 52 percent.

The concept of UTeach spread rapidly and is now offered at 44 universities in 21 states.

The program, which expects to have produced 9,000 math and science teachers by 2020, received kudos and major funding during the Obama administration. In fact, showcase education reform programs such as Race to the Top, 100Kin10 and Change the Equation have all emphasized efforts to help prepare STEM teachers, and UTeach was held up as a model for pursuing that goal. In 2014, the National Math and Science Initiative awarded a $22.5 million grant to continue the expansion of UTeach.

Yet, according to the authors of a working paper, "Can UTeach? Assessing the Relative Effectiveness of STEM Teachers," there has been "little evidence to date about the effectiveness of UTeach graduates."

To understand the impact of the UTeach model, researchers examined student test scores in math and science in middle schools and high schools specifically in Texas. The Texas Education Research Center provided student-level administrative data linking students to their teachers for four school years (between 2011–2012 and 2014–2015).

The researchers found that students taught by UTeach teachers performed significantly better on end-of-grade tests in math and end-of-course tests in math and science, depending on the grade and subject. As the researchers put it, "Based on our estimates, the difference between graduates from UTeach replication sites and non-UTeach teachers in the effectiveness with which they teach high school math and science courses is like the difference between novice teachers and teachers with 10+ years of experience."

The effect was twice as large for those students taught by teachers who attended the Austin UTeach program than for those who attended "replication sites." The size of that impact: four months of additional learning in high school math and 5.7 months in high school science over the course of a nine-month school year. For middle school math the difference was comparable to what would be found between a novice teacher, the report stated, and a teacher with one to two years of experience.

There are several reasons why UTeach teachers end up being more effective, the researchers suggested. First, UTeach draws from a pool of math and science majors. These are people with "greater ability" than the typical teacher training program might recruit. In fact, the report noted, STEM majors who enter the teaching profession score about 100 SAT points higher on average than non-STEM majors. Second, there's evidence to suggest that subject-specific training improves teacher performance in math and science at the secondary level. Third, some UTeach-affiliated institutions such as UT Austin are more selective, thereby producing more effective teachers "by this selection effect alone."

The researchers also introduced "descriptive evidence" showing that UTeach programs within replication institutions increased the number of STEM teachers produced. For example, the count of STEM teacher graduates increased between 2012 and 2015 from 15 to 41 at U Texas Houston and from 11 to 56 at North Texas.

The project received financial support from the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education. The working paper is available on the CALDER Center website here.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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