NEPC Review of Report on the Effectiveness of Teacher Development Programs

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New NEPC review says TNTP report describes some real weaknesses in current professional development but makes poor analytic choices, yielding problematic conclusions.

A recent report from TNTP, formerly known as The New Teacher Project, argues for fundamental changes in the way public school districts think about teacher professional development (PD) and growth. But a new review of that report explains key weaknesses and cautions against policy use of the report’s findings and conclusions, notwithstanding the report’s presentation of useful original data about how educators experience the PD.

Heather C. Hill, the Jerome T. Murphy Professor in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, reviewed The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development for the Think Twice think tank review project at the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education.

The TNTP study uses original data collected from teachers and administrators in three school districts and one charter network. The report contends that PD options are often a poor fit for teacher needs, rendering those options ultimately unsuccessful in improving teacher evaluation scores. Hill’s review praises the study’s descriptive passages, including evidence that teachers find a lack of coherence in school district offerings and in the utility of their own PD.

Hill’s review, however, cautions readers about the report’s calculations of per-teacher cost estimates for PD, which TNTP determined by including salary increases resulting from development credits and master’s degrees. Because this choice is at odds with much of the prior research on this topic, it is a weaker component of the study. The analysis comparing growth in teacher evaluation scores to teachers’ PD experiences suffers from a number of issues as well, including a mis-match between the behaviors rewarded by teacher evaluation and the PD features explored in this study, Hill writes. In this vein, many of the report’s statements—such as that teachers are “marching in place” in terms of evaluation scores—lean toward hyperbole rather than reason. However, the report does conclude with an astute comparison of the coherence of professional development in public districts to that of charter networks, finding that charter networks maintained a much more coherent system, one in which teachers were expected to improve and where they had regular feedback and opportunities for out-of-classroom practice in instructional techniques.

Hill concludes that “readers who rely more on the report’s empirical evidence and less on its hyperbolic statements will profit from reading this report.”

Find Hill’s review on the NEPC website at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-tntp-mirage

Find The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development, by The New Teacher Project, on the web at:
http://tntp.org/publications/view/the-mirage-confronting-the-truth-about-our-quest-for-teacher-development.

The Think Twice think tank review project (http://thinktankreview.org) of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. The Think Twice think tank review project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on the NEPC, please visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/.

This review is also found on the GLC website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/.

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William Mathis

Heather C. Hill
Harvard University
(617) 495-1898
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