Michael Q. McShane

If you ask a group of teachers what their two favorite words are, you’ll probably get a range of answers.  For some, it’s “snow day,” and for others it’s “spring break.” When I was a teacher, it was “Friday afternoon.”

The two least favorite, though, are ubiquitous: “professional development.”

A new study out by TNTP confirms what teachers will tell you: on balance, professional development (PD) does not help teachers improve their practice.

The researchers surveyed over 10,000 teachers, 500 school leaders, and 100 staff members and then compared a variety of PD experiences with several different measures of teacher performance.  The conclusion:

“No type, amount or combination of development activities appears more likely than any other to help teachers improve substantially, including the “job-embedded,” “differentiated” variety that we and many others believed to be the most promising.”

Not good.

But the real-eyebrow raiser is not just the ineffectiveness, but the cost.  TNTP found that on average the districts they studied spend $18,000 per teacher per year on PD. Yes, you read that right: per teacher, per year. In one of the districts they found that PD was a bigger budget line item than transportation, food, and security combined. Combined!

But it’s not just money, it’s also time. According to Kansas City’s teacher contract, teachers are required to attend 3 days of PD before school starts and one day during the year, and then 75 minutes of every Wednesday are earmarked for PD.  That adds up to around 10 days of their 185-day contract. This means that over five percent of teachers’ salaries (and who knows how much of their energy and good will) is dedicated to time that yields little return on investment.

Teachers want to develop professionally.  They want to get better at their jobs.  But we have done a terrible job in helping them do so.

(One brief addendum. Don’t forget this in the coming months when you are bombarded with rhetoric telling you that Missouri schools are “underfunded.”  I’m perfectly willing to admit that dollars are not going to the areas where they can be best used, but I’m not convinced that new, additional dollars will make that any better.)

About the Author

Michael McShane
Senior Fellow of Education Policy

Mike McShane is Senior Fellow of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.