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February 19, 2003 | Volume 1 | Number 4
Research-Based Characteristics of High-Quality Teacher Preparation

Research-Based Characteristics of High-Quality Teacher Preparation

The Question

What does the research base tell us about the characteristics of high quality teacher preparation?

The Context

Two paths to development of high-quality teachers have recently emerged in policy debates at both the federal and state levels. One path assumes a “trade” model for teacher preparation. This model assumes future teachers will receive in-depth training in their subject matter prior to teaching, and the majority of their training in how to teach will be in-class, or on-the-job training. Another path emphasizes the professional body of knowledge related to teaching, and includes pre-service instruction in both the science of teaching, and subject matter. Traditionally, states have emphasized the professional path to teaching, requiring significant pre-service training for future teachers in the state certification requirements; however, most states now also offer alternate paths to the classroom that emphasize on-the-job training.

The Study

This study organized and synthesized the current body of research related to teacher preparation. Unlike previous reviews, the analysis controlled for the quality and recency of the research. Out of more than 300 initial references, 57 studies were ultimately judged to be of sufficient timeliness, scientific rigor and appropriate focus to be used in the synthesis (view the study requirements). The authors concluded that previous research generally finds that:

  1. There is a positive connection between subject matter preparation (in both content and specific teaching methods) and teacher performance; however, for some subjects, like mathematics, current subject matter preparation (including an academic subject major) may need to be reformed to increase reasoning skills and conceptual knowledge.
  2. Pedagogical preparation (instruction in the science of teaching and the management of a classroom) positively affects teaching practice and student learning; however, while some evidence suggests that coursework in content methods is important, the research generally does not differentiate between differing types of pedagogical preparation, relying instead on certification status as a proxy for pedagogical preparation.
  3. While the duration, scope, and purpose of the clinical experience (“student teaching”) varies widely within the field, experienced and newly certified teachers believe that such preparation is extremely powerful. The clinical experience can result in significant learning for the teaching student; however, the actual field experience is often disconnected with the corresponding teaching coursework.
  4. Most states have alternate route programs, although the programs vary considerably in format. The research suggests that alternate route programs recruit more diverse teacher candidates, have only a mixed record of attracting “the best and brightest,” and vary in their ability to prepare teachers for the classroom. The most successful programs have high entry standards, and require significant pedagogical training, mentoring, and evaluation.

Study Requirements

The researchers limited analysis to peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals within the last twenty years. The research selected for analysis had to be empirical (offering evidence to support the conclusions, rather than relying on opinion or theory) and meet specific standards within the generally accepted research traditions. The research also had to address five central questions specific to this study:

  • What kind of subject matter preparation, and how much of it, do prospective teachers need? Are there differences by grade level? Are there differences by subject area?
  • What kind of pedagogical preparation, and how much of it, do prospective teachers need? Are there differences by grade level? Are there differences by subject area?
  • What kinds, timing, and amount of clinical training (student teaching) best equip prospective teachers for classroom practice?
  • What policies and strategies have states, universities, school districts, and other organizations successfully used to improve and sustain the quality of pre-service teacher education?
  • What are the components and characteristics of high-quality alternative certification programs?

Who’s affected?

Future teachers, and the entities that prepare them.


While this study deals with “teacher preparation,” it is important to note that there is no longer only one model, or even a “traditional” model of teacher education. Programs vary from four-year B.A. programs, to five-year masters programs, fifth year certification programs, and alternate route internships. Universities, schools districts, non-profit and for-profit entities are all involved in teacher preparation. While 57 studies were ultimately reviewed, the body of research on teacher preparation remains limited. Although these findings may point in specific directions, more research is needed before any definitive conclusions can be drawn.

The Bottom Line

While program formats vary considerably, subject matter preparation, instruction in pedagogical knowledge, and the clinical experience are all important aspects of successful teacher preparation. Additional research is needed to determine the specific content components and program formats that have the greatest affect on teaching practice and student achievement.

The Study

Wilson, S., Floden, R., & Ferrini-Mundy, J. (2001). Teacher Preparation Research: Current Knowledge, Gaps, and Recommendations. Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy: A University of Washington, Stanford University, University of Michigan, and University of Pennsylvania consortium. Available:

Other Resources


Cochran-Smith, M., & Fries, M. K. (2001). Sticks, Stones, and Ideology: The Discourse of Reform in Teacher Education. Educational Researcher, 30(8), 3–15. Available:

Darling-Hammond, L. & Youngs, P. (2002). Defining “Highly Qualified Teachers”: What Does “Scientifically-Based Research” Actually Tell Us? Educational Researcher, 31(9), 13–25. Available:

Education Commission of the States (2000). Two Paths to Quality Teaching: Implications for Policymakers. Denver, CO: Author. Available:

Pratte R., and Rury, J. L. (1991). Teachers, Professionalism, and Craft. Teachers College Record Volume 93(1), 59-72. Available: (Requires free registration)

Walsh, K. (2001). Teacher Certification Reconsidered: Stumbling for Quality. Baltimore, MD: Abell Foundation. Available:


American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) –

Center for Educational Renewal –

Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy (CTP) –

Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) –

Education Commission of the States (ECS) –

Milken Family Foundation –

National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) –

National Council on Teaching Quality –

The Holmes Partnership –

Thomas B. Fordham Foundation –

WestEd –


All comments regarding ReseachBrief should be sent to To speak directly with an ASCD staff member, please Contact Us.

Dan Laitsch serves as ASCD's consultant editor for ResearchBrief. Laitsch is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, and is coeditor of the International Journal for Education Policy and Leadership.