What is Effective Teacher Professional Development?

Conversations around professional development for educators usually talk about needing more time, money, etc. to implement effective programs. The assumption is that we know what works, but we haven’t been able to institute them. A new report from TNTP (The New Teacher Project) challenges that assumption and asks if we really know how to help teachers improve. TNTP’s findings show that even when teachers improve, there is no common element between the teachers and no direct link from a particular professional development resource to the improvement.

“Teacher development appears to be a highly individualized process, one that has been dramatically oversimplified,” write the report’s authors. “The absence of common threads challenges us to confront the true nature of the problem—that as much as we wish we knew how to help all teachers improve, we do not.”

Additional Findings

  • Districts are making a massive investment in teacher improvement—far larger than most people realize (average of $18,000 per teacher per year in the districts studied).
  • Despite these efforts, most teachers do not appear to improve substantially from year to year—even though many have not yet mastered critical skills. (Nearly 7 of 10 teachers remained the same or declined.)
  • School systems are not helping teachers understand how to improve—or even that they have room to improve at all. (The researchers feel there is a culture of low expectations.)

Recommendations include reevaluating current professional development programs and reallocating dollars based on impact as well as reinventing how schools support teachers.

Read The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development, TNTP (August 2015)


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