Is professional development better than being dismissed?

The last issue of Best Evidence in Brief reported on a study in which low-performing teachers were dismissed. A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports on an experiment where low-performing teachers were provided with coaching from higher-performing peers.

The experiment took place in Tennessee in 14 elementary and middle schools. Tennessee teachers are observed in the classroom many times each year, and scored on 19 specific skills (eg, questioning, lesson structure and pacing, and managing student behaviour). Schools were randomly assigned to a treatment condition or business-as-usual control group. In the treatment schools, low-performing “target” teachers were matched with high-performing teachers, based on the outcomes of their classroom observations. The high-performing teachers were chosen based on their high scores in skills for which the low-performing teachers had received a low score. The pairs were encouraged to work together on these skills, as well as more generally on observing each other’s teaching, discussing strategies for improvement, and following up on each other’s commitments throughout the year.

After a year, students in treatment schools (whether taught by target or non-target teachers) showed a small improvement (effect size +0.06) on maths and English tests, when compared with students in control schools. Gains by students taught by target teachers were higher (+0.12). These improvements persisted and grew. In the following year, the effect for target teachers was a marginally significant +0.25.

Source: Learning Job Skills from Colleagues at Work: Evidence from a Field Experiment Using Teacher Performance Data (2016), The National Bureau of Economic Research.

Preschool maths and science professional development fails to improve learning

A new article published in the Journal of Educational Psychology describes a study into the impact of professional development on maths and science learning in early childhood education.

For the study, 65 staff from 34 varied early childhood settings in Ohio were randomly assigned to experience 10.5 days (64 hours) of training on maths and science or an alternative topic (art and creativity). The maths and science training was adapted from the Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence, which provides a developmental progression based on early childhood research and theory.

The study looked at both maths and science learning opportunities, and the maths and science learning gains of the children (n=385). In terms of opportunities, the authors found that the professional development significantly impacted on the provision of science learning opportunities, but not maths. However, in terms of learning gains, none were observed.

The authors suggest a number of factors that may have contributed to the outcome. These include the fact that although educators were provided with hands-on opportunities to try new maths and science activities during training, there were no systematic means of ensuring they had regular opportunities to apply these in their classrooms. Also, that changes in practice may be difficult to achieve as the emphasis on these subject areas is relatively new in early childhood education.

Source: Professional Development for Early Childhood Educators: Efforts to Improve Math and Science Learning Opportunities in Early Childhood Classrooms (2015), Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(2).