New Study: School Districts Invest Big in Teacher Development, But Aren't Helping Most Teachers Improve

Aug 04, 2015, 10:00 ET from TNTP

BROOKLYN, N.Y., Aug. 4, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A massive investment in teacher development isn't helping enough teachers unlock their potential, according to a new study released today by TNTP, a national nonprofit organization. School districts participating in the study invested an average of $18,000 per teacher, per year in development, but only three out of 10 teachers improved substantially over a two- to three-year period. The study also found no evidence that any particular approach to or quantity of professional development consistently helps teachers improve their instruction.

"The hard truth is that the help most schools give their teachers isn't helping all that much," said TNTP CEO Dan Weisberg. "There's enormous untapped potential within our nation's teachers, but our findings suggest that we're nowhere close to unleashing it. While it's not what we'd hoped to find, it turns out that we know much less about how to truly help teachers improve than most of us would like to admit."

The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development focuses on teacher development in three large school districts and one charter school network. Researchers studied more than 10,000 teachers, identified those who improved substantially, and tried to identify experiences distinguishing them from teachers who didn't improve.

The report highlights four major findings:

  • School systems are making a massive investment in teacher improvement. The nation's largest 50 school districts spend an estimated $8 billion on teacher development every year—an average of $18,000 per teacher.
  • Most teachers do not appear to improve substantially from year to year. Only about three out of 10 teachers improved their performance substantially over a two- to three-year period.
  • No particular kind or amount of professional development consistently helps teachers improve. These results add to a growing body of research showing that current approaches to professional development have little to no effect on teachers' performance.
  • School systems are failing to help teachers understand how they need to improve—or even that they need to improve at all. For example, less than half of all surveyed teachers agreed that they have weaknesses in their instruction.

The study recommends school systems radically rethink their teacher development efforts in at least three ways.

  1. Redefine "development" by setting clear, measurable goals for teacher improvement.
  2. Reevaluate existing development efforts and make necessary changes to meet that new definition of teacher improvement. Pilot new approaches and reallocate resources toward what works.
  3. Reinvent how they support great teaching at scale. Consider investments in recruitment, compensation, and smart retention policies, and reimagine teacher preparation, how teacher jobs are structured, and how schools are designed.

The Mirage is available for download at

About TNTP

A national nonprofit organization founded by teachers, TNTP has been helping school systems across the country end educational inequality since 1997. For more information, visit