Teacher coaching improves instruction and student achievement more than other forms of professional development
But larger programs less effective, suggesting difficulty of successfully taking them to scale
July 26, 2018—Teacher professional development is changing. Once dominated by daylong seminars, PD in schools is increasingly taking the form of individualized coaching: in the 2015‒16 school year, 27 percent of public K‒12 schools reported having a reading coach on staff, 18 percent a math coach, and 24 percent a general instructional coach. But how effective is coaching? In a new article for Education Next, Matthew A. Kraft of Brown University and David Blazar of the University of Maryland, College Park, evaluate its impact on instructional quality and student outcomes, finding that coaching improves instruction by as much as the difference in effectiveness between a novice and a teacher with five to 10 years of experience. This contrasts sharply with research on traditional PD efforts, which have largely been found to be ineffective.
Kraft and Blazar reviewed all 60 studies that have used a randomized controlled trial or quasi-experimental research design to evaluate coaching programs on two specific outcome measures—teachers’ instructional practice as rated by outside observers and student achievement on standardized assessments. They found that, on average, teacher coaching raises the quality of teachers’ instruction and their impact on student achievement by 0.49 standard deviations and 0.18 standard deviations, respectively, which is as much as or more than the differences observed between a novice teacher and an experienced veteran.
Other key findings include:
• Achievement gains require major instructional improvement. Coaching programs are a rare PD model in that they improve instructional practice enough to move the needle on student achievement. Further, programs that produced larger improvements in teacher practice tend to show larger effects on student achievement. However, large improvements in instructional practice translate into more moderate gains in student achievement.
• Quality over quantity. Coaching models designed with more frequent observation and feedback cycles are not necessarily better, but for an individual program of fixed quality, more cycles are likely better than fewer.
• Virtual versus face-to-face. Delivering coaching in person or via video technology makes little difference in effectiveness, an encouraging finding for schools that lack in-house coaches.
• Program size matters. Studies of coaching programs with samples of more than 100 teachers generated average effects only one-third to one-half as large as studies with samples of fewer than 100 teachers, consistent with a theory of diminishing effects as programs are taken to scale.
Kraft and Blazar also discuss the obstacles to scaling up such programs, including coach quality, financial constraints, standardization, and teacher engagement and school climate. “A fundamental challenge to scaling up coaching programs is finding enough expert coaches able to deliver these services,” they say.
To receive an embargoed copy of “Taking Teacher Coaching to Scale: Can personalized training become a standard approach” or to speak with the authors, please contact Jackie Kerstetter at email@example.com. The article will be available Tuesday, July 31 on www.educationnext.org and will appear in the Fall 2018 issue of Education Next, available in print on August 30, 2018.
About the Authors: Matthew A. Kraft is an associate professor of education and economics at Brown University. David Blazar is an assistant professor of education policy and economics at the University of Maryland, College Park.
About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit www.educationnext.org.