December 6, 2011 — Speaking Nov. 29 at a forum sponsored by the Center for American Progress, Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, argued for teacher training that is both rigorous in implementation and measurable in results.
Pianta was a featured presenter at the Washington, D.C., forum, titled "Professional Development and Teacher Evaluation in Improving Teacher Effectiveness," which also included such authorities as education professor John H. Tyler of Brown University and Rorie Harris, coordinator of teacher effectiveness measurement for Memphis City Schools.
He presented a report, "Teaching Children Well: New Evidence-Based Approaches to Teacher Professional Development and Training," which argues that increasing teacher and teaching effectiveness is the most significant challenge facing public schools in the United States. School districts annually spend thousands of dollars per teacher on professional development programs that are, at worst, known to be ineffective, or at best, have very little evidence of positive impact in the classroom, he said.
"The aim of this report is to illustrate features of new evidence-supported approaches to professional development that have promise for closing not only the evidence gap, but the achievement gap as well," Pianta wrote.
The report focused on a professional development model, MyTeachingPartner or MTP, developed at Curry, that has been shown to improve teacher effectiveness and student learning. MTP provides relevant, interactive and ongoing feedback to teachers through online resources and Web-mediated consultation throughout the school year. It uses the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, or CLASS.
Cynthia Brown, vice president for education policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization, agreed with Pianta that most professional development for teachers is ineffective.
"Developing new, evidence-based teacher-performance systems, such as the one highlighted in this report, is a critical factor in helping our students achieve academic success," Brown said.
In his remarks, Pianta said that research at Curry's Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning has shown that improving teachers' interactions with students has improved student achievement, as measured by standardized test results, in a number of randomized control trials.
He said a system of personalized coaching for teachers, coupled with resources such as a video library showing effective teacher-student interaction, has an annual cost of about $2,500 per teacher. "Districts now spend a ton of money on ineffective professional development," he said. "A lot of resources are sitting there that could potentially be redeployed. This isn't adding something onto the workforce, but training the workforce to implement protocols in a fairly standardized way."
Pianta pointed to the study he published in August in the journal Science with College of Arts & Sciences psychology professor Joseph Allen showing that the same approach works across subject areas in secondary schools. Higher education can also be a lever for change, he said.
"Program accreditation could be based in part on the extent to which a teacher preparation program is using evidence-based models of training," he said.
The rigor of such training must go beyond the use of rubrics, Pianta said. "A rubric has a connotation of being soft," he said. "We should hold ourselves to a higher set of standards."
Teacher evaluation must focus on promoting teacher-student interactions that are shown to be most effective, Pianta said. "If at the end of the day we tended to some of these things, we'd end up building better teachers."
He commented later, "When I was a teacher, I would have liked to have been observed on the same things I was being evaluated on," he said, "and hope that both of those things were producing student achievement."
Pianta's presentation can be watched online.