“Professional Development”: Be Wary

by Jay Mathews, The Washington Post, 9/14/15

Teacher development is built mostly on good intentions and false assumptions.

I used to speak at professional-development sessions for teachers, but I eventually

realized I was wasting their time. Like most professional-development presentations, my speeches were not integrated with a research-tested approach to improve teaching. That meant whatever I said was unlikely to help them much, if at all.

My embarrassment has been reawakened by a new study delving deep into the uselessness of professional development. The study by the teacher-training and research group TNTP, titled “The Mirage,” reveals that teachers who are improving have the same professional-development experiences as those who aren’t. What they have learned is not having the effect it should….

TNTP found in its survey of teachers that “only about 40% reported that most of their professional-development activities were a good use of their time.” …

The 10,507 teachers surveyed by TNTP said they spent on average about 19 full school days a year, about 10% of the total available time, on such activities. Yet “no type, amount, or combination of development activities appears more likely than any other to help teachers improve substantially,” the study said. Just about 30% of the teachers showed any improvement, as measured by classroom observers and student test scores.

Fifty percent of teachers who showed improvement said their professional development was “targeted to support my specific learning context,” but 48% of teachers who showed no improvement said the same thing. Forty-one percent of the former group said the “individual teacher is responsible for development.” So did 40% of the latter group.

The TNTP researchers said they found a few “consistent, small, but statistically significant relationships associated with more teacher improvement.” For example, teachers who were improving were almost twice as likely to rate their own performance as the same as their formal evaluation, while those not improving were almost twice as likely to rate their performance as better than their evaluators said….

In the TNTP study, just 1 in 5 teachers said they often received follow-up support and tailored coaching opportunities. Only 1 in 10 reported frequent opportunities for practicing new skills. Most said that they wanted to observe other excellent teachers but that they did so less than twice a year….

Teacher development at the moment is “built mostly on good intentions and false assumptions,” the study said….

Jay Mathews is an educator columnist for the Post and creator of the “Challenge Index”—a ranking of top US high schools based on the availability of AP and IB courses.

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