Complex by Design: Investigating Pathways into Teaching in New York City Schools

Article excerpt

New York City represents a microcosm of the changes that are shaking the very foundations of teacher education in this country. In their efforts to find teachers for hard-to-staff schools by creating multiple pathways into teaching, districts from New York City to Los Angeles are in the midst of what amounts to a national experiment in how best to recruit, prepare, and retain teachers. As more alternative pathways take root, university-based programs now compete with programs that allow participants to earn a salary as they learn to teach. Yet although policy debates about the relative value of teacher education and the benefits of different pathways into teaching are replete with opinion, they are lean on data.

At the heart of this debate is the desire to improve the performance of America's students, especially in urban schools. Although a number of factors contribute to student achievement, new research identifies teachers as one of the most important contributors to improved student outcomes (see, e.g., Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2000; Sanders & Horn, 1994; Sanders & Rivers, 1996). Even as research acknowledges the crucial importance of teachers, there is disagreement about the best way to prepare teachers. Some argue that easing entry into teaching is the best way to attract strong candidates (U.S. Department of Education, 2002), whereas others argue that investing in high-quality teacher preparation will better serve our nation's children (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996). Despite the stakes of this debate, there is relatively little systematic research documenting characteristics of individuals who prepare to teach in urban schools, how they select pathways into teaching, and the features of teacher education that might prepare teachers to be successful in urban, lowperforming schools (Wilson, Floden, & Ferrini-Mundy, 2001).

The research project described in this article is investigating different pathways into teaching in New York City schools and how features of those pathways make a difference to a variety of outcomes. These outcomes include whether people teach, where they teach, whether they stay in teaching, and what impact teachers have on student achievement. New York City provides a unique context in which to investigate these issues. For example, a combination of retirements and teacher turnover will require New York City to hire substantial numbers of new teachers during the next few years. In addition, new standards for high achievement by all students will place greater demands on new teachers. In low-performing schools with high proportions of poor and non-White students, the qualifications of teachers are already substantially worse than in better performing urban and suburban schools (see, e.g., Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2002). In many large cities, the need to improve teacher quality in these difficult-to-staff schools is particularly acute. As the demand for high-quality teachers increases as a result of demographic changes and policy initiatives such as class size reduction, these disparities will only worsen; schools with better working conditions and higher salaries will bid away the better qualified teachers from already difficult-to-staff schools. With this study, we hope to better understand how to attract, educate, and retain teachers in New York City to improve educational outcomes of students. (1) In this article, we describe the overall design and conceptualization for this research and explore some of the methodological challenges inherent in determining the impact of teacher preparation.

BACKGROUND TO STUDY

For many years, New York City resorted to hiring large numbers of uncertified teachers to meet its teaching needs. By 2000, a number of pathways into teaching in New York City existed, including the option of hiring teachers with baccalaureate degrees and no preparation to teach. Beginning in 2000, the New York State Regents sued the city to require certified teachers in all failing schools, also known as Schools Under Registration Review. …