Teachers Are Students, Too: Improving teacher education through high impact philanthropy

As a follow-up to last week's Blog Response to “A Teacher Quality Manifesto”,  this week’s commentary on teaching quality is brought to you by CHIP team members: Kat Rosqueta, Kate Barrett, Alejandro Adler, and one of our new research assistants, Melanie Lei.

In a recent Newsweek 1, McKinsey (former home to our very own Kat Rosqueta and Kate Barrett) consultants Mona Mourshed and Fenton Whelan outline the most important ways for schools to close the socio-economic achievement gap. Basing their assessment on what has worked in successful school systems, such as that of Finland or Singapore, or even domestically in the KIPP charter schools, they recommend four strategies: 1) early education in preschools, 2) longer hours in school, 3) better-trained and more effective teachers, and 4) individualized attention for struggling students.

In our upcoming teaching quality investment guide, we do a deep dive on Mourshed and Whelan’s third idea: better-trained and more effective teachers.

Teachers are the single most important in-school factor influencing student achievement. Yet schools with many low-income students end up employing teachers who have almost no practical teaching experience, even though they are the schools most in need of high-quality teaching to close the gap. Not only do these schools tend to have a disproportionate number of novice teachers, but those novice teachers often graduate from teacher preparation programs of varying quality, due partly to the lack of a standardized teacher education curriculum in the U.S. Further exacerbating the problem is the lack of effective continuing professional development programs for teachers at all experience levels.

But while no one donor is in the position to completely reform the U.S. teacher education system, can investors still have a significant impact on closing the achievement gap?

Our answer is yes. CHIP’s upcoming education investment guide has shown that donors can have a high impact on counteracting these trends by supporting three main strategies:

  1. Improving teacher preparation through year-long apprenticeships that complement clinically-focused coursework
  2. Providing better support to new teachers through in-school mentoring programs and practice-based masters programs
  3. Helping teachers continue to improve through ongoing professional development and evaluation

Nonprofits like Urban Teacher Residency United, the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship Program, and the New Teacher Center have already implemented some of these approaches on the local and state level, focusing on improving the skills of new teachers. When new teachers undergo better practice-based training and receive more individualized support and feedback, they are more prepared to take on the challenging leadership role required in a real classroom. The results show that these programs do a lot to improve not only teacher effectiveness and student outcomes, but also help to reduce teacher turnover, a perennially crucial problem in schools that serve low-income students.

In the long-term, helping teachers at the beginning of their training definitely sounds like a good investment to us. After all, before you can become a good teacher, don’t you have to have the opportunity to be a good student?

1 Mourshed, Mona and Whelan, Fenton. “How to Close the Achievement Gap.” Newsweek. (16 August 2010) https://www.newsweek.com/2010/08/16/secrets-of-the-world-s-best-school-systems.html