Policy Shop

Evidence-Based Learning Opportunities Help Both Teachers and Students

By Liam Goldrick (@lgoldrick25), Director of Policy, New Teacher Center

Baseball is my favorite sport. As cold temperatures and snow continue to impact parts of the United States, the presence of The Boys of Summer provides some existential warmth. But one question I do NOT find myself asking is, “Does every baseball player need a coach?”

Then why do we too readily ask this very question about our teachers?

Perhaps some people fundamentally believe that teachers can’t improve on the job. Some think the answer lies primarily in fixing initial educator preparation. Others may believe that public education dollars could make a bigger difference spent elsewhere. An additional challenge is the austerity agenda of some policymakers that left our schools with fewer resources. Many state education budgets have yet to recover to levels prior to the Great Recession. Further, the President is pressing for the elimination of the $2 billion federal investment in educator development and support.

The conclusion in a recent Hechinger Report opinion piece (Does Every Teacher Need A Coach?) is that the educational research base may not yet have caught up with common-sense wisdom that teacher coaching is a good thing. Barshay’s view is informed by new research (The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Causal Evidence) from Dr. Matthew Kraft of Brown University and his colleague Dr. David Blazar at the University of Maryland.

Kraft and Blazar’s analysis suggests that a primary challenge is the difficulty of implementing and scaling certain teacher coaching programs, rather than the lack of efficacy of teacher coaching as an educational improvement strategy. In fact, their study found that the estimated “effects of coaching on teachers’ instructional practice are larger than differences in measures of instructional quality between novice and veteran teachers.” This is a critical distinction. It means we should work to improve the design and implementation of teacher coaching rather than eliminating the practice altogether.

Although the breadth of their analysis did not encompass induction and mentoring programs for beginning teachers, it is worth noting that the New Teacher Center (NTC) has successfully scaled its teacher induction model. An independent, federally-funded, randomized controlled trial found that students of beginning teachers who participate in the NTC induction model achieve two-to-five months of additional learning in both mathematics and English/language arts compared to new teachers who receive typical school district support. That is real impact – as demonstrated by gold-standard research and the model’s implementation in a variety of urban, suburban and rural settings across the United States.

Kraft and Blazar’s study identifies the quality of coaches as one of the greatest challenges to implementing impactful teacher coaching programs. In NTC’s induction study, conducted by SRI International, mentors were identified through a “rigorous” selection process and received “more than 100 hours of training annually from NTC program staff, both during institutes and through in-field support from lead coaches.” This consistent and intensive focus on selecting, developing, and supporting coaches and mentors carries over to NTC’s partnerships with more than 500 school districts across the nation. Our work supports nearly 35,000 teachers and improves the learning of 2.6 million students. The quality of the coach or mentor is a key component in our updated Teacher Induction Program Standards. Likewise, it is a chief criterion in Support From The Start, our assessment of state policies on teacher induction.

As an organization, NTC eagerly continues to measure the impact of our work on educators and students. Currently in the field are two additional studies, one to assess our instructional coaching model and another to measure different approaches to developing and supporting beginning teachers. To return to my baseball analogy, NTC is not opting out of batting practice or fielding drills. And neither should educational researchers and leaders.

More work is required to expand the collection of evidence-based models that help teachers learn and improve on the job. We fundamentally believe in funding what works, not what doesn’t. But we oppose the elimination of public funding for educator learning. And that’s a key takeaway from this new study: “Coaching should not be seen as prohibitively expensive from a policy perspective. Instead, policymakers and administrators must judge whether their current expenditures on PD could be utilized more effectively.”

The promise of educator development is tremendous but, as yet, unfulfilled. As an educational community, we must work harder to ensure that every teacher has the chance to thrive professionally and that every student receives quality teaching no matter their school or classroom.

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