Category Archives: Teachers

Teachers Could Have it So Much Better If….

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Two studies just came out on professional development: one by TNTP and one on Leading Educators via Rand Corporation.

Big shout to TNTP for focusing attention on an extremely important issue and to Leading Educators for having the discipline to formally evaluate their work. Also, the CEOs of both orgs (Dan at TNTP, Jonas at Leading Educators) were generous enough to review and give feedback on this post (all thoughts below are mine only).

Highlights and analysis below.

The highlights from TNTP’s report, which studied three districts and one CMO:

  • Professional development in the three districts did not lead to significant gains in teacher effectiveness.
  • Professional development in the CMO improved teacher performance at much higher rates.
  • In the districts, most teacher improvement occurs within the first few years of teaching and then most teachers plateau in performance (before becoming very effective). See first graphic above.
  • In the CMO, teachers continued to improve overtime. See second graphic above. Keep your eyes on the blue bars.
  • A lot of money is being spent (and in many times wasted), with districts spending an estimated 18K per teacher on professional development, and the CMO in the study spending 33K.

The highlights from study on Leading Educators, which covered fellows in New Orleans (nearly all in charter schools) and Kansas City (nearly all in district schools):

  • The early findings are promising but mixed, and overall do not yet conclusively demonstrate that the program has affected student achievement.
  • There was leadership and management skill attainment across the board to a statistically significant positive degree.
  • With the exception of the positive impacts among fellows (Leading Educator participants) who teach math in New Orleans, the student achievement findings are generally inconsistent across different analysis.
  • The New Orleans math results, depending on which methodology is used, roughly equate to the benefit that students experience from attending a highly effective urban charter school.
  • There is some suggestive evidence of beneficial program impacts among mentees (teachers supported by Leading Educators fellows) in Louisiana, in two of four subject areas.

Major Takeaways:

Professional development only seems to lead to student achievement increases in charter schools!

This appears to be the major takeaway of both studies, though I haven’t seen much commentary on this point. But in both studies positive achievement effects were only found in the charter sector. In the TNTP report, it is unclear whether the teacher growth was a direct results of professional development (in that not all teachers who received PD got better). This may because even good PD will not work for everyone, or that other factors (hiring, org culture, etc.) were really driving the gains.

Both TNTP and Leading Educators hold hope that this can change.

In talking with the CEOs of both organizations, each expressed a belief that effective professional development can occur in districts.

My guess is that gains in district professional development are attainable but will be very modest.

I am not a district nihilist. I think reports such as those put out by TNTP, as well as support provided by groups such as Leading Educators, can increase district performance at the margins. I just think these improvements, as we see with most other district improvements, will be small and pale in comparison to the gains of effective charter schools.

I think we are more likely to scale effective charters than we are to see major gains in districts.

 A common retort to the aforementioned analysis is: “well, districts are where he kids are at.” In other words, it’s better to work for small gains in districts rather than large gains in charters because charters only serve ~5% of public students in our country. This is the wrong way to think about it! The question you need to ask is: is it more likely that we see can achieve major gains in districts or scale highly effective charters?

Both strategies have steep odds against them.

But I think it is more likely that we will be able to scale effective charter schools.

As such, I think focusing our efforts on charter growth is the best way to increase the effectiveness of professional development.

Japanese Corporations, American School Districts, Teacher Choice


Scott Sumner has an interesting piece on Japense corporations.

Many Japanese corporations are defined by: “lifetime employment system (which increasingly excludes younger workers), rigid promotion by rank and tenure, and fixed pay scales.”

Sound familiar?

Sumner ends on this:

“So far no one has figured out how to achieve a dynamic modern economy without rewarding merit.”

This is true.

What is also true is that Japan demonstrates how law, culture, and tradition can make it very difficult to bring about societal change.

Unfortunately, given where we’re at right now, it will not be easy to create scalable labor environments where educators can thrive.

My hope is that giving educators a choice of where to work is a good starting point.

Doug Lemov previously wrote:  “In short, more choice would likely lead to higher teacher satisfaction.”

I think that Doug is right.

A Sentence that Captures So Much About Education Reform

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Over at WonkBlog, Max Ehrenfreund wrote this sentence:

… public education is an issue that sets two important Democratic constituencies against each other: school teachers and advocates for civil rights.

At first I read the sentence and thought nothing of it: it is common knowledge that many civil rights groups disagree with unions about issues such as standardized testing and choice.

Then I re-read the sentence and realized what was novel about the sentence: it was the fact that “school teachers” was used instead of “unions.”

For some reason, I don’t always think of a union as a collection of school teachers.

But this is of course what a union is.

I’m really not sure what to make of this, but it’s an interesting world where two groups of people generally considered to be fighting the good progressive fight – teachers and civil rights groups – find themselves on opposite sides of key educational issues.

On very important issues, the representatives of teachers and the representatives of civil rights organizations fundamentally disagree about how to best educate African-American and Hispanic students.

Again, none of this novel: but sometimes the turn of a phrase can drive home a reality.

For me, it was striking to see school teachers, rather than unions, being set against civil rights groups.

Lastly, I do think it’s worth emphasizing that the disagreements between teachers and civil rights groups are about strategy rather than desired outcomes.

I’m confident that teachers and civil rights advocates want the same thing for minority children.