A recent study by The New Teacher Project found that teacher training, in its current form, is largely ineffective. The group plans to use the research to “radically upend” the way the education community approaches professional development for teachers.
What would happen to your field if its professional development programs were mostly ineffective? It would be a frightening prospect for the future—and that’s what The New Teacher Project discovered about teacher training during a two-year investigation into how teachers improve.
With the study, TNTP, a nonprofit that offers alternative teacher certification and training, hoped to uncover PD strategies that could be applied across the board. Instead, it found that the large amounts of money being invested by school districts throughout the country was having little to no impact.
“Even when individual teachers improve substantially—and we found examples of teachers who improved measurably in 95 percent of the schools we studied—we found no common threads that distinguish them from teachers who do not,” TNTP CEO Dan Weisberg wrote in a blog post.
The school districts that researchers studied spent an average of $18,000 per teacher, per year, on professional development. Based on that figure, TNTP estimated that the largest 50 school districts in the U.S. spend about $8 billion per year on teacher development.
“These findings are sobering. But we want to be very clear: We do not believe the right response is to cut investments, in either time or funding, in teacher support,” Weisberg said. “Rather than give up on teacher development, we think it’s time for school systems to radically upend their approach. … Solving this problem will take much more than a few tweaks to professional development catalogs or ‘better implementation’ of the same old strategies.”
To that end, TNTP has already begun using the report’s findings to change its organizational thinking about teacher training.
“We have to face the fact that the answer to helping more teachers improve isn’t wrapped up in a tidy package. Teacher development is a highly individualized process, and there’s no single product or approach that will likely help all teachers get great at their jobs,” Dottie Smith, TNTP’s vice president of expansion and training, wrote in an article. “We have to think about teacher growth as a process that can flourish with the right conditions, rather than as an outcome of a given intervention. For us, that means first understanding what students need, and then considering what their teachers need to get them there.”
Smith admitted that TNTP is a little daunted by the prospect of completely flipping the script on teacher development. But the work itself will bring many benefits to the teaching community, she said.
“Fundamentally shifting how we help teachers improve requires everyone to think innovatively, creating new tools and approaches, and maybe even new school models,” she said. “I expect that some of the things we try won’t work. But we think our new flexible approach for addressing these challenges, coupled with a focus on identifying clear goals and metrics for success, is the right next step. There’s an opportunity here—and an urgent need—to create environments where innovation is encouraged, both within our own organization and in the districts and schools we partner with.”