In the News: Give Weak Teachers Good Lesson Plans, Not Professional Development

A new study looks at the impact of giving middle school math teachers access to a set of “inquiry-based” lesson plans and online support on how to use the lesson plans. The study finds that student achievement improved significantly, especially for the students who had the weakest teacher.

As described by Liana Heitin on Curriculum Matters

The authors, C. Kirabo Jackson, an associate professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, and Alexey Makarin, a Ph.D. student in economics at the university, conducted the study with about 360 teachers in three Virginia school districts. Teachers were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a control group that maintained business as usual, a group that received a login for the online curriculum, and a group that received both a login and some online supports for using the lesson plans…

Giving teachers both the lesson plans and support had a positive, significant effect on students’ end-of-year math test scores, according to the study, which was published as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research. (These teachers increased their students’ test scores by about 10 percent of a standard deviation relative to the control group.) Only giving teachers access to the lesson plans also had a positive effect, though it was not statistically significant.

In speaking with Heitin about the study, Kirabo Jackson noted that a number of studies have looked at the impact of teacher professional development — as opposed to just giving teachers off-the-shelf lessons to use–and found very little impact. “This is a much better investment than a lot of the PD that’s currently being implemented by schools,” Jackson said.

Tom Loveless summarizes the research Jackson is referring to in “What Do We Know About Professional Development.” He writes, “In a nutshell, the scientific basis for PD is extremely weak.”

– Education Next


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