Teacher Training Doesn't Affect Chicago Students' Achievement

Summary of working paper 8916
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Moderate increases in teacher training have no statistically or academically significant effect on either reading or math achievement.

Does In-Service Teacher Training Raise Student Achievement?

School districts and states often use in-service teacher training to improve student learning. Seventy-two percent of teachers nationally report having participated in training in their subject area in the previous twelve months and a comparable number in training on implementing new teaching methods. Despite widespread use, the intensity of the training is typically low. More than half of the teachers had eight hours or less of such training per year.

In The Impact of Teacher Training on Student Achievement: Quasi-Experimental Evidence From School Reform Efforts in Chicago (NBER Working Paper No. 8916), authors Brian Jacob and Lars Lefgren study the effect of in-service teacher training on the math and reading performance of elementary students in probationary schools in Chicago. The authors find that moderate increases in teacher training have no statistically or academically significant effect on either reading or math achievement. The results did not vary across race, gender, socio-economic background, or student ability.

The Chicago Public School System (CPS) is the nation's third largest school district, serving over 430,000 largely low-income students. In 1996, CPS placed 71 of its 489 elementary schools on academic probation, based on the results of standardized reading test scores. Probation schools received special funding for teacher professional development along with other support services aimed at improving teacher effectiveness. The authors find that probation increased the frequency of professional development activities by about 25 percent in the first year, with teachers reporting an increase in the quality of the training as well.

Consistent with most earlier research on teacher training in the United States, the teacher training and technical assistance provided to probation schools in Chicago had no meaningful effect on student achievement. Since national data suggest that the frequency and nature of professional development activities in Chicago were comparable to other school districts in the United States, the authors suggest that such modest increases in the intensity of professional development efforts commonly undertaken in the United States will likely fail to improve the achievement of elementary students in high poverty, failing schools.

The authors contrast the results of the professional development activities in Chicago with those from other areas. One recent study of the Jerusalem public schools showed that teacher training there did increase student achievement. The authors offer several reasons to explain the disparate results from the Chicago and Jerusalem studies. First, the Chicago program was implemented in extremely high poverty, low-achieving schools. The Jerusalem schools included mostly middle to lower-middle class neighborhoods and some upper-middle class students. Second, the Jerusalem training was highly structured and closely aligned with the school curriculum, which was not the case in Chicago. Finally, the Jerusalem training was complemented by direct services to students in the form of after-school learning centers and programs for immigrant families.

-- Les Picker