Despite heavy spending on professional development, most district teachers don’t improve their skills after the first few years, according to The Mirage. The TNTP study analyzed three large public school districts and a mid-sized charter school network.
The three districts spend an average of $18,000 per teacher each year on development efforts, which take take nearly 10 percent of the school year. Yet “only three out of 10 teachers in the districts we studied improved substantially over several years, even though many have not yet mastered critical instructional skills.” Five stayed the same and two declined in effectiveness.
Teachers improved in 95 percent of schools studied, but no approach to training or amount of training appeared to more effective.
The vast majority of district teachers “received high marks on their evaluations” and less than half of teachers surveyed thought their teaching skills needed improvement.
“Even the few teachers who did earn low ratings seemed to reject them,” the report found. “More than 60 percent of low-rated teachers still gave themselves high performance ratings.” Among teachers whose observation scores declined “substantially” over the previous two years, 80 percent said their teaching had improved.
By contrast, 70 percent of the charter network’s teachers improved significantly, showing more growth than district teachers at every experience level. Their students also improved more than students in neighboring schools.
Charter teachers were much more critical of their own skills: Only 4 percent gave their teaching a 5 on a 1-5 scale, compared to 30 percent of district teachers. Eighty-one percent of charter teachers said their teaching skills had weaknesses; only 47 percent of district teachers acknowledged room for improvement.
The charter network spent $33,000 per teacher for “a tight loop of observation, feedback, and implementation,” notes Alyssa Schwenk on Gadfly.
Two factors — “openness to feedback” and “ratings alignment” — were linked to improved teaching, writes Catherine Brown, vice president for education policy at the Center for American Progress in U.S. News.
In other words, teachers who were open to hearing ways to get better got better. “Ratings alignment,” which means teachers rated themselves the same as their evaluators, embodies a similar concept: These teachers were clear-eyed about the deficiencies and bright spots in their own practice.
. . . By establishing early on that teachers are going to get a lot of feedback and having master teachers with dedicated time in their schedules to helping other teachers improve, the high-performing charter network in The Mirage was able to create a culture where it’s OK to say you have room for improvement.
Some charters screen for openness to feedback when interviewing new teachers, Brown writes. Candidates teach a lesson, receive feedback and then teach again to show whether they can use the feedback to improve. (I believe New Teachers for New Schools, now known as New Leaders, developed this model. It’s used in two high-performing San Jose charters I visited in the spring.)
The Madison Metropolitan School District also selects candidates based on their ability to “reflect on strengths and growth areas regularly, and seek support, feedback, and mentors to improve,” writes Brown.
She suggests spending more on recruiting and selecting feedback-friendly achievers would make later training more effective.