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.
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.