Teacher Development in Need of Overhaul, Report Says


The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a national nonprofit aimed at ending the injustice of educational inequality, has released a new publication that examines teacher training and development.

The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development, suggests that it is time to start a new conversation about improving teacher, what great teaching is and how teachers can get there. To that end, they surveyed more than 10,000 teachers and 500 school leaders and they interviewed more than 100 staff members who were involved in teacher development. What the team found was very different from what they expected to find.

After two years of analyzing teacher development in three large school districts and one charter school network, TNTP found that: school systems are spending much more than most people realize on teacher improvement; most teachers do not seem to be improving substantially from year to year and have not yet mastered critical skills; no evidence was found that a certain type or amount of professional development consistently helps teachers improve; and school systems have not taught teachers to understand how to improve, or even that they have room to improve.

Further findings included the surprising fact that districts which were studied spend an average of almost $18,000 per teacher on teacher improvement annually. Yet, over several years, 2 out of 10 teachers found their scores had declined. Five out of 10 teachers saw their scores remain roughly the same, and just 3 in 10 exhibited substantial improvement.

Another unfortunate finding was that teachers who had been in the profession for ten years or more rated below effective on core instructional skills such as developing critical thinking skills, engaging students in lessons, and checking for understanding. In classrooms of above-average teachers, 72% and 67% of students were proficient in math and reading. In the classrooms of average teachers, only 63% and 53% of students rated as proficient.

One puzzling discovery was that teachers who improved over time did not report that they spent more time on their development or any other particular activity, and they were no more satisfied with the development activities they experienced.

Also, there was no school in the study group which had a noticeable concentration of “improvers”, nor was there a particular school level or subject area where improvers seemed to cluster. One factor that was consistent in relationship to teacher growth was the alignment between teachers’ perceptions of their own instructional effectiveness and their formal evaluation ratings.

The fourth school system studied was a midsize charter management organization (CMO) which encompassed several cities. The CMO seemed to the team to be supporting teachers to make greater improvements over time based on observation scores and overall evaluation ratings. The mean growth rate in both areas for the CMO teachers was greater than teachers with comparable experience in the other districts.

Students in the CMO were getting consistently better results, but in the CMO, as in the other districts, there was not any discernible formula of teacher supports that could be linked to teacher growth. There were differences at an institutional level, such as “a more disciplined and coherent system for organizing themselves around teacher development, and a network-wide culture of high expectations and continuous growth.”

The research team concluded that development should be redefined as “observable, measurable progress toward an ambitious standard for teaching and student learning.” Schools should give teachers a clear and thorough understanding of their own progress and performance, and systems should acknowledge improvement through the use of meaningful rewards and consequences.

Next, schools should take a serious look at current development methods; begin to evaluate the effectiveness of all teacher development activities using as a measure the new definition of teacher “development”; invest funding for activities to those programs which have an impact.

TNTP advises schools to keep a balance among funding for development, recruiting, compensating teachers, and effective retention processes.

In the end, TNTP says that developing better teachers is like getting in better physical shape — there is not one plan that fits all people.