Thursday, August 6, 2009

What Makes Teachers Better? Suprisingly...Not Professional Development.

Ineffective. That’s the word The Center for American Progress recently used to describe school districts’ use of Title II funding, which was designed to ensure that all teachers are qualified and effective. The brief states that the funds were not spurring the kind of innovation needed to attract, train, and maintain quality teachers.

The Center for American Progress recently published a brief that labeled the use of Title II funding “ineffective”, and stated that they were not spurring the kind of innovation needed to attract, train, and maintain quality teachers. While many of the allowable activities included in Title II are “worthwhile…funding is not specifically targeted to activities that are likely to yield a significant return on investment. In fact, districts use the bulk of their Title II funding to support professional development and class-size reduction, which both have questionable effects on student achievement when implemented on a large scale.”

Studies reported that only when teachers participated in an average of 50 hours of professional development did the investment increase student learning.

Class size reduction does not even have as consistently strong results in impacting student achievement as strong teachers.

So if professional development can’t help, and making class sizes smaller is convenient but not necessarily, effective, what does make teachers stronger, better, more effective? Is it possible to scale up the 50 hour professional developments to be utilized in large geographic areas?

Teach for America addresses this issue by basing teacher evaluation on observation that utilizes an incredibly detailed rubric, with multiple factors (investing students in ambitious goals, planning purposefully, executing effectively, etc), and uses the outcome to pinpoint exactly where a teacher is effective and where she can improve. This rubric is shared with the teacher within a week of the observation, and next steps are developed. Cycles of co-investigation with peer teachers and a mentor then use the evaluation to collaborate and problem solve in the areas where teachers can improve. These times are also used to share best practices and effective materials. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests it is highly effective, and certainly worth researching to find how it can quantitatively impact student achievement.

The money must be used for either programs that have been proven to work or new ideas that will be evaluated and adjusted as they are implemented. Basing education legislation on the rigorous research of professional development and other educational practices is wise policy.

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