Teacher mentorship improves performance on both sides

Teacher mentorship improves performance on both sides

(Tenn.) When middle and elementary school teachers  who were ranked high in certain areas on educator evaluations were asked to help another teacher rated low in those same categories, everyone improved, according to a report released last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“The relatively low-performing teachers targeted by our intervention — and ultimately their students — benefited substantially from partnering with a higher-performing colleague at their school,” wrote John Papay, Eric Taylor, John Tyler and Mary Laski, the report’s authors.

Unlike costly professional development courses or graduate degrees, “the one-on-one personalized approach to on-the-job training we study in this paper is apparently much more successful and much less costly,” they wrote.

A number of states have moved toward boosting professional development efforts as a means to increase teacher retention rates and student achievement. Many, including California, Ohio and Florida, have proposed increases in professional development spending. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education dispersed nearly $30 million for six grant awards to improve teacher effectiveness.

Authors of the report, “Learning Job Skills from Colleagues at Work: Evidence from a Field Experiment Using Teacher Performance Data,” evaluated the pre- and post-experiment student achievement measured by state tests at 14 elementary and middle schools – seven of which acted as a control group – during the 2013-14 school year.

Each school where highly rated teachers were paired with lower ranked colleagues was compared to another school within the Jackson-Madison County School System with similar student enrollment and grade level.

Researchers found that at the seven schools in which teachers were paired up in mentorship teams, teacher performance improved over the school year, with both the experienced and inexperienced teachers making gains. This was found to be especially true when both teachers worked at the same school.

According to the report, K-12 schools spend approximately $18 billion each year on professional development courses, $3 billion of which is paid to an external provider. On average, teachers spend about 20 hours at such courses each year, despite studies that have shown little benefit is drawn from such courses.

In addition, many districts cover at least partial costs of teachers’ graduate tuition, then pay higher salaries once teachers obtain their graduate degrees – although little evidence shows graduate degrees improve teacher effectiveness, according to the authors.

Through intra-district, or even intra-school, mentorship programs, schools can cut the costs of hiring third party experts because the high-performing teacher is the one providing the expertise.

“The teacher job performance improvements documented in this paper suggest learning from colleagues is at least as valuable as formal on-the-job training or the gains from experience in developing teaching skills,” the authors concluded. “Indeed peer learning may be a key contributor to the oft-cited estimates of returns to experience in teaching.”

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