Teacher quality researchers made plenty of provocative headlines in 2016. They identified trends to monitor, new tips for the trade, and a few wins worth celebrating. Here are the papers we think are the 2016 standouts.
1. Great teachers beget more great teachers
Papay, J., Taylor, E., Tyler, J., & Laski, M. (2016). Learning job skills from colleagues at work: Evidence from a field experiment using teacher performance data.
In one of our favorite experiments of the year from researchers at Brown University and Harvard Graduate School of Education, researchers helped schools identify a teacher who was struggling in a particular area and matched that teacher with someone who excelled in that particular area. Then, they left them to their own devices. No training. No oversight. The paired teachers found a way to work with one another to address deficiencies and grow professionally. In the end, gains for the low-performing teacher were large and persistent from year to year.
2 and 3. And the theme continues: When it comes to professional development, small may be better
Jackson, K. & Makarin, A. (2016). Simplifying teaching: A field experiment with online "off-the-shelf" lessons.
Okonofau, J.A., Paunesku, D., & Walton, G.M. (2016). Brief intervention to encourage empathetic discipline cuts suspension rates in half among adolescents.
In a similar vein to the simple paired teaching strategy are two other papers, each helping us to better understand how professional development could be improved. They each involved inexpensive, light touch interventions that led to great gains. In the first, from the prolific Kirabo Jackson with his Northwestern colleague Alexey Makarin, teacher performance dramatically improved after they were given access to a library of high-quality, low-cost lesson plans in mathematics, as well as a few emails to remind them to use them. Teachers who also received access but no reminder emails did not use the plans and their performance did not improve. In the second paper, from Stanford researchers, suspension rates plummeted in classrooms taught by teachers who had participated in only a 45-minute online session, in which teachers were prompted to thinking about how to build more positive student-teacher relationships.
Both studies serve as a reminder that when big change is needed, every small step counts.
4. Districts must find better ways to address teachers' unintended racial bias
Grisson, J.A., & Redding, C. (2016). Discretion and disproportionality: Explaining the underrepresentation of high-achieving students of color in gifted programs.
2016 began with a sobering finding: even when black students have the same high test scores as white students, they are much less likely to be enrolled in a gifted education program. The main culprit is the identification process, relying heavily on teacher recommendations. As we explore in this paper, jointly authored with Brookings researcher Michael Hansen, districts will not be able to hire their way out of this problem, recruiting more teachers of color. The solutions must also include better training of faculty and safeguards to help teachers recognize and overcome their biases.
5. Groundbreaking policy and smart talent management continue to make the District of Columbia a district to emulate
Adnot, M., Dee, T., Katz, V., & Wyckoff, J. (2016). Teacher turnover, teacher quality, and student achievement in DCPS.
Over the last decade, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) has charted new territory in teacher recruitment, retention, and management--and they have faced plenty of pushback and skepticism along the way. But this year the Academy has weighed in with a paper from University of Virginia researchers, surfacing proof that one of their biggest bets is paying off. By letting low-performers go, doubling down on retention efforts, and getting smart about recruitment, DCPS has increased the quality of their teacher workforce substantially. The result is real growth in student learning, surpassing what's been measured in any other urban district.
6. On the need to get more intentional about student teaching
Goldhaber, D., Krieg, J.M., & Theobald, R. (2016). Does the match matter? Exploring whether student teaching experiences affect teacher effectiveness and attrition.
Our top list wouldn't be complete without a paper from Dan Goldhaber and company. This year's top Goldhaber paper looks at student teaching, a much unstudied topic that the researcher and NCTQ both agree deserves a lot more attention. This Washington state study finds that teachers are more effective if they have completed their student teaching in a school that was demographically similar to the school where they would ultimately work. Not only that, but teachers are also more likely to remain in the profession if they student taught in a school that had low teacher turnover. Two important insights for teacher prep programs to ponder.