I had every intention of writing about back to school, a theme that is being beautifully discussed by my fellow bloggers at Stories from School. But then a proverbial bomb was dropped on the world of professional development in the form of what is being commonly called, “The Mirage Report.” And, everything surrounding its release has me feeling both wary and pensive. Not because of the challenging research presented by the authors, but by how it is already being leveraged to suggest that investing in teachers is a waste of money. So this, “non-back-to-school-themed-blog” is my plea to you. Don’t believe the hype. I would even suggest you do something that we all rarely do.
Actually read the body of the report. Not just the headline.
Why is this worth your attention? The study appears to be getting serious traction with heavy-hitters and policy-makers in an environment that is currently gestating ESEA re-writes and policy platforms for presidential and congressional candidates. And, as we all know, Title IIa money, which pays for a majority of professional development, passes through this same carnival. Even Learning Forward, a dominant force in the world of teacher learning, issued a press release acknowledging the work, and conceded that it addresses real issues in professional learning.
The study suggests we have invested heavily in training teachers, however, it has not translated into the results we would expect or want. Teachers still plateau, and “throwing” PD at them does not seem to have a measurable impact on the growth of their practice. Further, they find that teachers that show substantial annual growth would have done so anyway, only by leveraging different experiences to improve.
But here’s where the report and the headlines will diverge. The authors are very careful to say that they do not believe ceasing to fund teacher learning is an appropriate response. They call for a reshaping of the profession and the role of the teacher, as well as the surrounding recruitment and evaluation models. Also included is the suggestion that we take a serious look at intensely evaluating PD efforts, rather than assuming they are translating into improved performance. In the end, they make strong calls for strategically investing in professional growth, while focusing efforts around an institutionalized system of improvement that is built to actual propel teacher performance.
I recommend, however, that you don’t take my word for it. For all you know, I’m also mischaracterizing the research for my own purposes.
So, contrary to the inevitable headlines, the study does not say professional development is a waste of money, and does not suggest we shouldn’t invest in our teachers. Inevitably, however, those looking to further slash educational funding will try and leverage it for that purpose. Many of those people will not even read the study.
But you will, right?