MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Researchers say a lack of data makes it impossible to know whether teacher training programs in Tennessee are having an impact on student learning.
The Commercial Appeal reports that a legislative brief from the state Offices of Research and Education Accountability in the Comptroller’s office says there’s not even enough information to evaluate the content or the full cost of the training programs.
One issue is that about half of the money allocated for training is managed by local districts. Rebecca Wright, a legislative research analyst who wrote the report, says it’s difficult to determine how much of those funds are going toward professional development.
“These are local-level issues. Unless you get it at the local level, you aren’t going to find a lot of information,” she said.
Of the $500 million Tennessee received in Race to the Top funds, $148.2 million was allocated to train the state’s 63,000 public school teachers.
The report analyzes the changes in professional development since the state received Race to the Top funding and provides policy considerations, but does not offer recommendations.
“One of the difficulties of measuring professional development is that the results are not immediate,” says Richard Doss, OREA director. “Teachers have to take what they learn back to the classroom. The effect, you would hope, shows up at some future point in improved instruction.
“We are asking legislators to be aware that a significant amount of money is going to professional development,” Doss said. “That creates certain expectations for the future.”
Keith Williams of the Memphis Education Association teachers union was critical of the training teachers receive now.
“Professional development in this district and across the state is electronically done. There is no human contact. I don’t know how much that does. But I do feel before it was all given to web-based stuff, it was more effective,” he said.
District administrator John Barker had a different opinion.
“Our teacher effectiveness work in Memphis City Schools has shown that PD (professional development) matters and that providing development opportunities where teachers need them most is an effective strategy for improvement,” he said in an email.
“Given the diversity of PD programming in the 136 school districts in our state, establishing correlations between PD and other performance variables at a statewide level is a challenging task.”
The state Department of Education noted a marked improvement in student test scores last spring, but conceded it is “difficult” to tie the increases to one “intervention.”
“We believe that district professional development efforts have been important drivers of better student performance, but we also agree with the Comptroller that professional development efforts vary considerably by district and school,” department spokeswoman Kate Shellnutt said in an email.