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When congress created the Elementary and Secondary Education Act they included money under Title II to help bring up the quality of teaching for low performing teachers. The majority of this money was to go for Professional Development (PD) training for already certified teachers. We have spent hundreds of millions dollars on this training in the hope that it would “provide a quality education for all children.” Unfortunately, according meta studies of such training, almost all of it has been ineffective.

Brookings Institute reviewed several of these studies and reported on their findings. A 2007 review of 1,345 studies of PD found only 9 were designed in such a way that any causal relationship between PD and student outcomes could scientifically be ascribed to the training. Though these nine found an effect for PD, they could not be used to identify a specific element that was effective.

A more recent study by the Instructional  Research Group of math PD whittled down 910 studies to 32 that focused specifically on the effect of PD and scientific enough in design to be seriously considered. The findings were remarkable, but in a disappointing way.

“Only five met the standards of the What Works Clearinghouse [USDED Managed database  of educational program research]. Of the five studies, two had positive results, one showed limited effects, and two detected no discernible effects.”

what we have is lots of research showing little to no effect on student achievement for post certification teacher training.

An Institute for Educational Sciences review of research on PD for reading found equally dismal results. The study found that teachers did know more about teaching reading and had actually adopted the methods in their classrooms after the PD. Unfortunately those changes did nothing to change student achievement when measured immediately after the PD compared to a year later.

In a controlled study of intense intervention for math teachers, where teachers  attended training during the summer, had more PD sessions during the year AND had in-classroom coaching for a total of 100 hours of PD, showed no discernible impact on teacher knowledge or student achievement over the two years of the study.

The thought that we can train weak teachers already in the classroom, to compensate for their weak content knowledge, has been proven again and again, in the literature, to be false.

Dr. Sandra Stotsky has consistently said that changes to teacher education programs have the greatest effect on student outcomes. Her report in Pioneer Institute’s Public Policy Research examined the much hailed Finland success and pointed to the quality of candidates being admitted to teacher education programs, the greater focus on content rather than pedagogy, and the professional choice available to teachers throughout the process as reason for that country’s student success. Trying to make up for the lack of these conditions in America after we have graduated teacher candidates by providing on-going training in teaching gimmicks is just not going to produce the same results

Turns out that DESE’s use of Title II money to fund their attempt to take over the standards development process in 2014 from HB1490 may not have hurt Missouri districts all that much. Their continued requirement that districts include PD as part of their overall education plan in order to retain their accreditation may be more harmful.

Lastly, the research also calls into question the effectiveness, and therefore necessity, of the regional PD centers that Missouri and other states set up under NCLB that continue to receive thousands of dollars to deliver what research shows is ineffective training. If people are looking for more money for education, diverting the money going to  these centers look like a good place to start.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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