TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

The power of partnerships

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In the face of all evidence on the (apparently) utter uselessness of most professional development, might there be something that works? A new NBER working paper claiming just that perked up our ears.

Researchers John Papay, Eric Taylor, John Tyler, and Mary Laski employed a relatively simple approach. High- and low-performing teachers in Tennessee were paired together based on their professional strengths and weaknesses and then asked to spend a year developing the low-performer's skills that needed improving. 

That's it. 

No new, mandatory meetings. No expensive coaches. No new policies. And cheap. The only real cost to schools was the time the teachers needed to work with each other—and even that was left to the discretion of each school.

The results were astounding: in classrooms taught by low-performing teachers, students scored, on average, 0.12 standard deviations higher than students in the control classrooms. To put that in perspective, the authors compare this improvement to what you would expect from a student assigned to a teacher ranked at the median rather than in the bottom quartile—or to an experienced teacher rather than a novice teacher. There was also evidence to suggest that the gains in teacher performance persisted or even grew in the year after the partnership was completed.

Might this be a one-hit wonder? After all, it only looked at 136 teachers who all taught in the middle grades. A study of the impact on a larger sample is in the works. For the cost, though, we think it might be worth a try elsewhere!