TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

The $8 billion question

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At this point, we figure that everyone else has already written about the more interesting and insightful takeaways about TNTP's latest report, entitled The Mirage (see here and here). (That's what we get for putting out a newsletter only once every two weeks). No question that the results were depressing, finding that school districts are spending about $18,000 per teacher on professional development that isn't developing anyone.

One explanation we liked for PD's lack of an impact didn't seem to get much of a bounce around the echo chamber. On the day of the report's release, Washington, DC's Chancellor Kaya Henderson observed that the biggest "bang for the buck" in teacher PD might lie in teachers' study of curriculum (see above!)—hashing through standards, joint unit and lesson planning, sharing resources and materials—and that is something American school teachers just do not seem to get to do a lot, at least compared to other countries.

As if to confirm our hunch, shortly after The Mirage was released, we stumbled across an even more depressing example of How Bad PD Is in the USA, and which illustrates the disconnect between professional development and curriculum.

Two Florida State University researchers describe how school districts there essentially squandered a generously funded opportunity to allow teachers to spend a lot more time on curriculum. While roughly half of all Florida districts signed up to use dedicated Race to the Top funds to implement a Japanese Lesson Study, most never followed through.

No question that Lesson Study involves a significant amount of time and resources. Groups of teachers must meet regularly to set goals, review content and plan and practice lesson delivery. Doing Lesson Study right requires a hefty budget for training on how to implement the PD, devoted planning time and substitute teachers to cover classes while teachers observe each other's lessons. When it came down to making the changes that Lesson Study requires in schedules and spending, not only did districts fail to benefit from the money they were slated to receive, most never even requested the money.

Motoka Akiba and Bryan Wilkinson never were able to pinpoint why exactly the money wasn't spent. We could posit a few guesses, but then so could our readers, we imagine.

Professional development that dives deep into curriculum, where content and pedagogy intersect, may not be simple, but it is, in our humble opinion, the Holy Grail.