Teacher Education – A plea for evidence of impact

Imagine your pilot having six weeks’ preparation then learning on the job; physicians having six weeks’ preparation then into the emergency ward; dentists, police, architects all become apprentices and learn…

Imagine your pilot having six weeks’ preparation then learning on the job; physicians having six weeks’ preparation then into the emergency ward; dentists, police, architects all become apprentices and learn on the job. No way. So why is it ok with teachers? In the USA there are now many hundreds of non-accredited teacher education programs waxing lyrical about how they are better than the traditional model. The message is clear – you need little preparation to change children’s lives.

The state of teacher education can still be described as the “the Dodge City of the education world. Like the fabled Wild West town, it is unruly and disordered. There is no standard approach to where and how teachers should be prepared” (Levine, 2006, p. 109). This lack of evidence has allowed policy makers to devolve teacher preparation to schools, or to reduce to preparation time to weeks, and in some cases to on-the-job training or allowing some to have no preparation (e.g., if the candidate had prior experience in the military).

As Chair of the “Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership” (a federal government agency), our role is to develop rigorous standards to ensure accreditation of the 400+ programs across Australia to ensure graduates are “Classroom Ready”. This process will also enable the building of a major database of evidence about effective teacher education programs. It will help identify the excellent programs and ask whether time in preparation makes a difference.
Programs like Teach For All have not been shown to have any different impact than traditional programmes, nor do these teachers last any longer in the classroom (indeed there is only a commitment for two years and many leave at this point). Then we can also ask about cost-effectiveness, particularly as the shorter “Teach for” programs are up to five times more expensive to implement than traditional programs (as they are paid to train/teach, and there is a large overhead in their training). Vasquez Heilig and Kez (2014) estimated that the re-occurring costs of hiring 100 TFA recruits in the USA is about $6m more than hiring 100 Non-TFA teachers in traditional programs.

Every student deserves to be taught by a qualified teacher who has graduated from a program showing that they are “classroom ready”. If students are to be taught by a person who is also learning on the fly, then it is incumbent for the program to provide evidence that their “student teachers” are indeed sufficiently prepared to have a decent impact on the learning of their students. To enter a classroom with a minimally prepared amateur who will learn how to teach while teaching your child is a huge gamble. Yes, they may be bright, decent, and continue to receive after-school training – and yes they may be motivated by helping those in most need (as are most who enter teaching). Why should the most in need get the least trained teachers? Would you want untrained associates diagnosing your ailments, fixing your teeth, or flying your plane – with the plea – but they are bright, motivated to help the most needed, and will be trained at your expense.

One of my aims is to acknowledge that the main story underlying teaching is the expertise of the teachers and school leaders. My synthesis of (now) over 1200 meta-analysis scream that it is the moment-by-moment decision making in the classroom by experts that makes the most difference to student learning. My aim is to privilege, esteem, and promote such expertise in the profession; to invite all to move from ‘graduate’ to ‘proficient’ to ‘highly accomplished’ to ‘lead’ teachers/principals in our profession. The best way to fast track this esteeming of expertise is to choose the brightest (both academically and non-academically) to enter the profession – but most of all to ask the teacher education professionals to put their evidence on the table that their teacher candidates can have meaningful impact on the learning of all their students.

I ask all programs to provide credible evidence that BEFORE a teacher candidate is permitted to be paid to teach they demonstrate that they can positively enhance the learning of all their students. Nothing less is acceptable.


Hattie J.A.C. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800+ meta-analysis relating to achievement. Oxford: Routledge.
Hattie, J.A.C., Anderson, M., Clinton, J., & Rickards, F. (2015). Developing an evidence base model for the effects of teacher education programs on teacher candidates. In T.O. Seng & W.C. Liu (Eds.). Teacher Effectiveness: Capacity building in a complex learning era. Singapore: Cengage Learning Asia.
Vasquez Heilig, J. & Jez, S.J. (2014). Teach For America: A Return to the Evidence. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved 19 Sept 2015 from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/teach-for-america-return.
Levine, A. (2006). Educating school teachers. New York: The Education Schools Project.

Professor John Hattie is currently the Director of Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, a position he has held since March 2011. He is also Honorary Professor of Education at the University of Auckland. John is the Senior Advisor for Visible LearningPlus, a division of Cognition Education Limited. John is one of New Zealand’s most internationally acclaimed academics. He has been both Professor and Chair of Educational Research Methodology at the University of North Carolina.

Professor Hattie regularly advises governments in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. He has authored or co-authored 17 books and more than 500 papers.

In 2011 he was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, for services to education.

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