U.S. Department of Education

We've Known for Years What Makes Teachers Better: It Isn't Sexy or Controversial But It Works

As school reforms go, it’s not sexy, it’s not new, and it’s not at all controversial. So it probably won’t get as much attention as Betsy DeVos being voted Donald Trump's worst cabinet member by  readers of the New York Times, which is really saying something given that she’s in the same gaggle as Scott Pruitt of the Environmental Protection Agency and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But we’ve got results from another  new education study, and it bears repeating: Supporting new teachers with skilled mentors and meaningful feedback makes a big difference for student learning and helps keeps newbies on the job. It works whether teachers are in urban, suburban or rural schools—although the impact is even higher in high-need districts where new teachers are too often tossed in the deep end of the pool without the educational equivalent of a life jacket. This study came courtesy of the federal government, and was weighing in on whether the $15 million Investing in Innovation grant given to the New Teacher Center revealed a worthy educational practice. Turns out it did:
Final results from the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grant show that the New Teacher Center’s (NTC’s) teacher induction model for new teachers increases student learning in grades 4-8 by an additional 2-4 months in ELA/reading and an additional 2-5 months in math. These third-party evaluation results prove that the NTC induction model yields statistically significant gains in student learning—a gold-standard that few peer organizations can demonstrate. “Teachers are the most critical school-based factor impacting student achievement, as the research clearly shows,” declared NTC CEO Ellen Moir. “But, to reach this high standard, new teachers, especially those in high-needs districts who leave the profession at a higher rate, need additional support. When new teachers are better prepared and have the skills to effectively teach, students learn more, and we can work to close the achievement gap and give kids a fair opportunity to succeed.”
While I’m not sure quality mentoring for new teachers qualifies as “innovative,” the New Teacher Center nonetheless scored an i3 grant to roll out their mentoring model in two urban districts and a consortium of 32 rural districts in Iowa. (And the Center got another $20 million from the feds to ramp up their teacher induction work in more high-need districts, although the results are not in on that yet). As Education Week  points out, 1 of every 8 teachers nationwide are in their first or second year, and it’s almost a third in some areas. So regardless of where your kids go to school, odds are that at least one of their teachers in grades K to 8 is going to be a rookie facing a steep learning curve in teaching technique, subject knowledge and classroom management. And we’ve known for years—hell, probably decades—what makes them better teachers: A lot of structured coaching from respected pros. D’oh, as Homer would say. But too many schools don’t invest in this. So too many teachers get stuck at mediocre and never learn how to welcome constructive feedback on improving their practice. And too many promising educators flounder in their early years and exit through the revolving door. As a nation, we need to stop obsessing about the unpopularity of Betsy DeVos and keep focusing on common-sense solutions that work for all schools. As parents, we need to start asking our schools better questions like, what are you doing to help new teachers thrive?
Tracy Dell’Angela
Tracy Dell’Angela is a writer, education nonprofit executive director and a mom passionate about education improvements. Previously, Tracy was Director of Outreach and Communications for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. She came to IES from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, which produces research that ...

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