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Learning by Doing: The Characteristics, Effectiveness, and Persistence of Teachers Who Were Teaching Assistants First


by C. Kevin Fortner, David C. Kershaw, Kevin C. Bastian & Heather H. Lynn 2015

Background/Context: In response to a shortage of highly qualified teachers, states and school districts have enacted a number of policy innovations over the last two decades. While researchers have evaluated many of these reforms, little is known about the initial effectiveness of individuals with prior teaching assistant experience. We review existing literature related to teaching assistants and utilize administrative data to examine a number of characteristics of individuals who transition from work as teaching assistants to jobs as regular classroom teachers.

Study Purpose: Individuals who become classroom teachers after having prior experience in schools working as teaching assistants may perform differently than other teachers due to additional exposure to classroom practices. The purpose of this study is to identify differences in the characteristics, effectiveness, and persistence of teachers who work as teaching assistants prior to entering the classroom as regular classroom teachers.

Population: While the population of focus varies somewhat across research questions, we generally focus on teachers with less than five years of experience working in elementary and middle school grades in all North Carolina public schools from 20052006 to 20092010. Additional data on teaching assistants employed from 20002001 to 20092010 in North Carolina public schools allows identification of individuals who had prior experience as teaching assistants in the state.

Research Design: Using administrative data records, we utilize quantitative descriptions of teacher characteristics and persistence to identify differences between teachers who entered the classroom with prior teaching assistant experience and other groups of teachers. For effectiveness comparisons, we estimate value-added models to compare the effectiveness of teachers in the identified groups of interest.

Findings/Results: Overall, we find that teachers who began as teaching assistants are (1) older, more racially diverse, lower-scoring on licensure exams, and more likely to enter the profession alternatively; (2) more effective in elementary-grades math and reading; and (3) more likely to remain as classroom teachers in North Carolina public schools.

Conclusions/Recommendations: These findings indicate that former teaching assistants represent a quality and highly persistent labor source and call for continued research to understand how additional exposure to classrooms benefits early-career teacher performance.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 117 Number 11, 2015, p. 1-30
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18123, Date Accessed: 12/15/2017 1:06:04 PM

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About the Author
  • C. Kevin Fortner
    Georgia State University
    E-mail Author
    C. KEVIN FORTNER is an Assistant Professor of Research, Measurement, and Statistics in the Department of Educational Policy Studies. His research interests include teacher effectiveness and persistence, how education policies influence student equity, and program evaluation. Recent publications include an examination of the relationship between teacher preparation policies and student outcomes in Education Finance and Policy and an equity audit research report completed for Atlanta Public Schools.
  • David Kershaw
    Slippery Rock University
    E-mail Author
    DAVID C. KERSHAW is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Slippery Rock University. His research interests include teacher preparation and retention, preparation program evaluation, and student persistence. His work has been accepted by the American Journal of Evaluation; Education Finance and Policy; Journal of Teacher Education; and Political Behavior. He holds a doctorate in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; an MA in political science from Illinois State University; and degrees in journalism and political science from West Virginia University.
  • Kevin Bastian
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    E-mail Author
    KEVIN C. BASTIAN is a Research Associate and the Director of the Teacher Quality Research Initiative in the Department of Public Policy and the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research interests include education policy and evaluation and teacher and school leader preparation, labor markets, and effectiveness. Recent publications include an analysis of out-of-state prepared teachers, published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, and a policy brief on the distribution of educational resources in North Carolina, published by Education Finance and Policy.
  • Heather Lynn
    University of North Carolina at Pembroke
    E-mail Author
    HEATHER H. LYNN is an Assistant Professor of Education in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She enjoys teaching graduate-level teacher education courses and conducting teacher quality research. Recently, she worked at the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina (EPIC) and served as Project Lead for the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation, a North Carolina Race to the Top education reform grant evaluation.
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