Welcome to the Profit of Education website. Continuing the conversation begun in the book Profit of Education, we discuss the latest economic evidence on education reform.

Brown Center Chalkboard

Dear reader: As you may have surmised from recent posts, I’ve moved my writing to the Brown Center Chalkboard of the Brookings Institution. Hope to see you there!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Professional non-development: Do teacher development programs work?

Today’s post appeared on the BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

Do professional development programs for teachers actually develop better teachers? Should the large amount of money spent on teacher development be re-directed to better uses? “The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development,” released this summer by TNTP (aka “The New Teacher Project”), raises serious questions about whether the entire teacher development enterprise should be abandoned.

“The Mirage” raises three issues based on an in-depth exploration of teacher development programs in three large, public school districts and one charter management organization. The report begins by looking for evidence on whether professional development works; i.e., Do teachers become better as a consequence? The second question examined is whether teachers think development works. Then finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, “The Mirage” looks at the dollars spent on professional development and finds that the costs are shockingly high.

Does professional development for teachers work?

Since the districts studied engage in large-scale teacher development programs, one might expect the result to be that teachers to improve over time. Using overall evaluation scores according to each district’s own metric, the study finds no evidence that teachers improve. It’s worth pointing out this is not the first study to come to this conclusion.[1] To state these a little more carefully, teachers typically improve substantially for their first few years in the classroom, with a flat trajectory thereafter—despite spending time in development activities. You can see what happens in this figure taken from The Mirage.

Average teacher performance by experience

Source: Figure 5, “The Mirage”

In order to drill down into the data, the authors of “The Mirage” labelled teachers as “improvers” or “non-improvers.” They ran the classifications a number of different ways, but always relying on each district’s teacher evaluation metric . Notably, the authors did not rely on value-added scores alone.

While overall performance is flat, might we be seeing a mix between improving teachers who received a lot of development support and non-improvers who didn’t? Apparently not. Improvers and non-improvers look pretty much the same when it comes to teacher development. “The Mirage” compared the frequency of a variety of development activities for improving teachers and others. Teachers who didn’t improve spent pretty much the same time being developed as those who did improve.

Frequency of Development Activities
Improvers Non-improvers
Number of times observed over two years 8 7
Hours of coaching over two years 12 13
Hours of formal collaboration over two years 69 64
Hours spent per month in professional development 17 18

Source: Figure 7, “The Mirage”

As the saying goes, absence of correlation does not prove absence of causation. Maybe teachers need ongoing training just to keep from getting worse, although I’m not aware that anyone has made such an argument.

Is it even true that teachers think that professional development activities work? Basically, not so much, according to TNTP. Only half of teachers agreed with the statement that professional development “drives lasting improvements to my instructional practice.” What’s more, nearly half of teachers whose performance did not improve also thought that development “drives [apparently nonexistent] lasting improvements.” In fact, fewer than 45 percent of teachers thought professional development “is a good use of my time.”

How much money is spent on teacher development?

You may—or may not—be surprised at evidence that teacher development basically doesn’t work. What I think you will be shocked by, as I was, is how much is actually spent on teacher development. The headline number from The Mirage is that the three districts they studied spend on average $18,000 a year per teacher on professional development. To give context to $18,000 a year, average teacher salaries are around $56,000. In other words, the cost of development is just a bit under a third of the cost of salaries. That is a very large amount of money. It is an especially large amount of money to spend absent clear evidence of results. It is a disturbingly large amount of money to spend in light of evidence that there are no results, according to “The Mirage.”

Where is all this money going? “The Mirage” does not break down the totals, but does give considerable background on what went into the calculations. The authors provide “low,” “middle,” and “high” cost estimates. The $18,000 headline number is the middle figure; the low end is $13,000 and the high end is $20,000.[2] As an example of the difference, the salary bump that comes with a master’s degree is included in the middle and high figures, but not in the low estimate. Paying for a higher degree is certainly a real cost, although perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of a district’s support of “professional development.” But getting a master’s degree does share something with the rest of findings in “The Mirage”—we know that it doesn’t improve teaching.

Teachers spend time equivalent to almost 10 percent of the school year in professional development. Of this time, five to 10 school days each year are devoted to mandated development activities; the remainder is spent on self-initiated activities. So a non-trivial part of the cost of professional development is simply salaries and benefits for teacher time. But the larger fraction is paying for the time and resources of everyone else engaged in development. In fact, “The Mirage” compares the cost of staff training in schools (excluding the part that goes to teacher salaries and salary bumps) to the costs in other large organizations and reports that schools spend four to 15 times more than non-school organizations on staff training. One might speculate as to whether the high levels of spending by schools reflect a set of vested interests in the teacher development biz, but so far as I know there isn’t any evidence on why schools spend so much on training.

Professional development seems like an obviously good idea. Indeed, after writing “we found no set of specific development strategies that would result in widespread teacher improvement,” the authors of “The Mirage” argue “that doesn’t mean we should give up.” Well maybe we should give up. Or at least, maybe we should cut way, way back on what we spend on professional development and devote the freed up funds to higher teacher salaries and more hours in which classroom teachers are in class with their students. In my bookProfit of Education, I argued that the single most important education “reform” would be to pay teachers more…a lot more; my ballpark figure is 40 percent more. The considerable funds now spent, apparently ineffectively, on improved teacher development would be a good down payment towards improved teacher salaries.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Are we facing a nationwide teacher shortage?

Today’s post appeared on the BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

Here’s a question to consider: Are teacher shortages…

A. Real?
B. Imaginary?
C. Both?
D. Neither?

Are we facing a nationwide teacher shortage? What do we mean by “shortage”—or, better, what should we mean? Let’s put some numbers on the Chalkboard, and then back up a bit and ask whether we’re asking the right questions.

Education degrees and hires of new and recent graduates

The figure shows the annual production of bachelors and master’s degrees in education. The most recent numbers are about 270,000 degrees per year. Compare this to the number of new teacher hires of current or recent graduates, which ran just under 150,000 in 2007. (New hires data courtesy of Dan Goldhaber, from the new CALDER Explainer “Missing Elements in the Discussion of Teacher Shortages.”) While the new hire data is only available every few years (it’s derived from the School and Staffing Survey (SASS)), we can take an educated guess that the low 2011 square is an anomaly and that the number of new hires is now back up at about pre-recession levels.

Conclusion from the graph? The green line is way above the black squares. We learn that we’re producing two or three times the number of teachers that we currently need. If that’s right, resources are being wasted.

Of course, not all teachers have degrees from education schools. So I took a look at numbers from the most recent SASS. 80 percent of teachers have a BA from an education school. Of those who don’t, 76 percent have a master’s from an ed school. So the fraction of teachers without any kind of ed degree is


This number is a little rough as it comes from one survey taken at single point in time, but it’s safe to say that there are only a few people becoming teachers without some kind of education degree. So while new supply is actually higher than the green line, it’s not all that much higher.

However, most master’s degrees in education go to teachers who want further training or who want the pay bump that comes with a graduate degree. While we don’t know the educational background of graduate students in education, we can use the most recent SASS to find out how many teachers who got MAs in education already had a BA in education. The answer is 76.4 percent.

Suppose we take, as a ballpark number, that all but a quarter of MAs in education are “redundant.” This does not mean that they aren’t valuable, just that they aren’t adding to the number of new teachers produced. I’ve made this adjustment in this next graph, lowering the number of “first ed” masters as well as the total. With this adjustment, the production of first-time education degrees has been pretty flat at about 145,000. That’s somewhere around the number of newly hired teachers. In other words, the flow of new teachers supplied each year is roughly the same as the demand for new teachers.

Estimates of First Education Degrees and hires of new and recent graduates

In the short run, newly trained teachers are not the only source of supply. Slots can also be filled by hiring back experienced teachers who have left the profession temporarily. In fact, something like half to two-thirds of openings are filled that way. But in the long run, the annual supply has to meet or exceed the annual demand. We may be moving closer to a national teacher shortage than it first appears.

Now let’s turn to the question of whether talking about a “national teacher shortage” even makes any sense.

You can have a shortage in specific kinds of instructional needs, STEM teachers for example, or shortages in particular areas of the country, without there being a national shortage. On the first point, the “Missing Elements” CALDER Explainer shows that teacher production for both STEM and special education has been relatively flat for a very long time. With regard to geographic variation, Chalkboard reader Jason Dyer comments “Oklahoma has given out 842 [emergency certificates] this year alone, more than the last four years combined).” Dyer goes on to point to current teacher shortages in Nevada as well as Oklahoma.

In other words if you’re a principal trying to hire for a specific slot and not getting any applicants, words about overall national availability provide little comfort.

The second point is that discussing quantity without discussing quality is a mistake. Oklahoma only has about 41,000 teachers. If the state issued emergency certificates in a single year to more than two percent of the teacher corps, one can’t help but worry if teacher quality is at risk.

The U.S. can always get “enough” teachers. Just lower standards enough. On the flip side, even when we produce more than enough bodies to fill classrooms, that doesn’t demonstrate that all or most of the new teachers have the skills and drive for the tough job of running a classroom.

In the private sector, salaries get adjusted to get enough, good enough employees. That doesn’t happen in public schools. Rather than talking about shortages in terms of body count, we should be asking whether we are producing (and retaining) enough really, really good people in the classroom. Quantity matters when it comes to teacher supply, but it’s a mistake to talk about quantity without talking about quality at the same time.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Student teaching: Can we leverage the recent teacher “shortage” to students’ advantage?

Today’s post appeared in THE BROWN CENTER CHALKBOARD at the Brookings Institution.

A possible teacher shortage has been much in the news—in California, for instance, the number of new credentials has fallen by about half since 2004, while K-12 enrollment stayed roughly flat. (Take a look at Paul Bruno’s July Chalkboard.) Whether this is a transient, post-Great Recession blip, or if it’s a major trend is not yet clear. It’s hard to say just yet what fewer teacher candidates means for teacher quality, because we don’t know much about how the characteristics of people getting certified has changed, or whether or not schools are having more trouble finding good candidates. However, I’d argue that the drop-off in credentials actually creates an opportunity to raise teacher quality through another channel: improvements in student teaching.

A chance to trade off lower quantity for higher quality

As I discuss below, evidence suggests that a high-quality student teaching experience is valuable in getting a new teacher off to the right start. But people who’ve looked at the question tell me that practice teaching is currently over-subscribed and under-managed—there aren’t enough high-quality slots available, and as I describe below, standards are low.  The current drop in the number of new teaching credentials, at least some of which have historically gone to people who never end up teaching, makes it more likely that new teachers will get the chance to learn from a top-notch mentor.

In short: Fewer teacher candidates vying for limited student teaching slots could mean better prepared newbie teachers. If education programs take the opportunity to shore up their requirements, the teacher “shortage” could in part translate into a tradeoff of smaller quantity for higher quality.

Student teaching: Exploring the data (and the lack thereof)

A first question might be “Is a high-quality student teacher experience important?” Very little data exists on student teaching experiences and outcomes. But, the available scientific evidence on the topic suggests that the answer is yes.

Donald Boyd and colleagues looked at teachers in New York City schools. They found that oversight of student teaching assignments by a teacher candidate’s program led to notably better outcomes (measured by value-added scores) in the first year of teaching. “Oversight” here meant that the cooperating teacher had a minimum amount of teaching experience and was selected by the program, and that a program supervisor made at least five observations of the student teaching. The gain from oversight held for both math outcomes and English language arts. Unsurprisingly, the effect did not seem to persist into the candidate’s second year on the job.

Boyd and colleagues also looked at whether simply having any student teaching experience at all mattered. Student teaching did matter for the first year of teaching math, with results being mostly inconclusive for English language arts.

State regulations of student teaching

Now, given that good practice teaching is valuable, do all students in education programs get such an experience? The answer appears to be no.

Here too, the data is very limited. I’ve put together a few pieces that are available; the news is not reassuring.

I had assumed practice teaching was a more-or-less universal requirement. (I was wrong.) Here are three questions about state regulations. See what your guesses are before looking at the answers.

How many states require:

  1. Student-teacher placements of at least 10 weeks?
  2. Placements represent a full-time commitment for the student equal to at least 12 credit hours?
  3. Supervising teacher must have at least three years of experience?

The answers, from the National Center on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) “Student Teaching in the United States”:

  1. 10 week placements: 27 states.
  2. At least 12 credit hours: 18 states.
  3. Experienced cooperating teacher: 11 states.

State regulations don’t necessarily describe actual practice, of course. Regulations are a minimum that we expect many programs to exceed. For a more direct look at what education schools do, I looked at a different metric on student teaching. Using NCTQ data, I calculated what fraction of education programs in each state are rated by the NCTQ as requiring a “capable mentor” for student teachers. (The NCTQ defines a “capable mentor” as one “possessing demonstrated mentorship skill or having taken “a substantial mentorship course/”) The following map ranks each state from yellow (most programs do require a capable mentor) to blue (they don’t).

Fraction of programs requiring capable mentors for student teachers

Source: NCTQ, personal communication

One doesn’t see a whole lot of yellow or orange.

Making the tradeoff

It’s tough to find qualified teachers to mentor candidates through the vital step of practice teaching. If we find ourselves training fewer teacher candidates, education schools should presumably have a better shot at arranging high-quality practice teaching placements. This is especially true for schools that train a fair number of undergraduates who do not end up taking teaching positions. The available good practice teaching positions won’t have to be spread quite so thin.

When it comes to teaching, most people will argue that quality is more important than quantity. If having fewer students vying for teaching posts increases the fraction of new teachers who start their career coming off a well-mentored student teaching experience, the result of a teacher “shortage” might be less worrisome than people think.

Editor’s note: This blog post was updated on October 15, 2015 with a new version of the included map. 


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


ProfitOfEducation is going on break for the summer. Hope to see you back in the new school year!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

College graduation

While this blog is mostly about K-12 education, some of the rhetoric you hear nowadays tends toward the idea that the goal of K-12 is “college readiness.” Regardless of whether you’re in agreement with “college readiness” as an over-riding goal, I’d like to point out that being ready to start college is an entirely different kettle of fish from being ready to complete college.

Here’s a graph showing the fraction of students who complete a 4-year degree within 5 years of having started a 4-year college, the horizontal axis giving the year in which the students entered college.

5 year graduation rates

You’ll see that the numbers are up. But that means that about half of entering men, and a moderately higher fraction of women, actually complete their degree. More than a third don’t.

What do you think of the following: High schools should not only report how many of their students they send off to college; they should also report how many complete their degree.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

2 Responses to College graduation

  1. MEMO says:

    High Schools already can and do keep these stats on the students that graduate. Most high schools use Naviance- and to keep stats on where the students apply, where they are accepted, what type of aid is offered, where the student finally accepts to attend , and they keep track of the student’s enrollment, major, credits taken each semester, etc… Most high schools do not reveal that they continue to monitor former students. And few , if any, ever ask permission from students or parents. The BULLY school mandate that kids fill out personality surveys, financial aid questions, parental bio- name, dates of birth, education, employer, etc.. the schools create accounts (like Google Mail, Google Education, College Board, Naviance) for the student to use and therefore own the date. Try to ask your high school who has access to the data, what exactly the privacy policies are, who owns the data, how is it stored, can it be deleted, or destroyed? The answers will make you sick.

  2. Nordy says:

    What do you think of the following: High schools should not only report how many of their students they send off to college; they should also report how many complete their degree.

    Would that really tell you anything about the education provided by the high school? My sense (would like to have hard data to back up), is that most college dropouts are due to external, non-academic factors. I don’t know that a high school should be held responsible if a former student is unable to pay bills, or develops a drinking problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Large districts

Here’s a factoid that I hadn’t known. Public school students are quite a bit more likely to attend school in a large school district than was true in the past. I’ve made a little chart showing the percentage of students in districts with over 10,000 pupils.

students in large districts

In 1979, 46 percent of students were in large districts. Today (well 2011, which is the latest data), the number has risen to 55 percent. At the same time, the number of very small school districts–those with fewer than 300 kids–has fallen by a third.

Much of this may just be a consequence of population growth. To some extent we’d expect all districts to have more students in the past. It turns out that there’s something more than that going on, as the number of school districts has fallen 15 percent over the same period.

I’m pretty sure that closing very small districts is mostly a good thing. They’re probably too small to be efficient. But is it a good idea to have more students in mega-districts? Or is there a sweet spot somewhere in-between tiny and mega?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Applicant Hiring vs Performance

I had the pleasure this week of hearing Jonah Rockoff talk about a paper he’s written with several colleagues, “Teacher Applicant Hiring and Teacher Performance: Evidence from DC Public Schools.” My impression is that in general school districts do a lousy job of selecting the best future teachers from the available applicant pool. Or maybe it would be more accurate to that some districts do well at this and others do a terrible job. From the researcher’s vantage, it’s been very hard to identify factors that do a good job of predicting who’s going to be a good teacher. That makes it hard to give advice to school districts.

Rockoff and colleagues were given access to hiring data on a large number of applicants to Washington, DC schools. They also were given data on how well hired applicant performed according to DC’s Impact rating system. What they found was that DC had collected data on several factors that did a pretty good job of predicting who would turn out to be a good teacher, but scores on these factors played very little role in deciding who would actually be hired.

Here are some things that do predict teacher success according to the DC data:

  • Undergraduate academic performance, including
    • GPA
    • SAT/ACT scores
    • college selectivity
  • Application data, including
    • score on a subject-specific written essay
    • interview score
    • teaching audition

But perhaps the most interesting predictor is the score on what’s called the “Haberman test.” A number of years ago, Martin Haberman interviewed good teachers and then created a multiple choice test intended to pick out applicants with attitudes that matched those of the good teachers. Rockoff and coauthors find that the Haberman test really does do a good job of predicting teacher success. And oh yeah, the test is available on the web and costs all of five dollars to administer.

So it seems that schools could do a better job of picking good teachers with relatively little difficulty. Along those lines, I’ll close with the opening quote from the paper.

The best means of improving a school system is to improve its teachers. One of the most effective means of improving the teacher corps is by wise selection.

-Ervin Eugene Lewis, Superintendent of Schools, Flint, Michigan, 1925

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

8 Responses to Applicant Hiring vs Performance

  1. RT @CharlesBarone: Schools could do a better job of picking good teachers with relatively little difficulty. HT @MrPABruno http://t.co/ogqs…

  2. RT @MrPABruno: “it seems that schools could do a better job of picking good teachers with relatively little difficulty” http://t.co/z3D5NjN…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Why do private schools need so many new teachers?

Roughly 12 percent of teachers work in private schools. But more than twice that fraction of new teachers, 28 percent, work in private schools. (Numbers are from the Digest of Education Statistics. They’re probably not perfect, but I suspect they’re close.)

All vs new teachers

Why do private schools have to hire relatively more teachers? It’s not that private schools are growing faster than public schools. It’s not that private school teachers move around more, because a move from one private school to another doesn’t count as being “new” in the government data.

My guess is that being a private school teacher isn’t so attractive as being a public school teacher (on average, obviously lots of exceptions)–so there’s just more turnover. Alternatively, it could be that private schools kick out more teachers and so need to do more hiring. Surely that can’t account for such a huge difference.

There’s no reason why the rate of new teacher hiring should be exactly the same for public and private schools. But this different?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

2 Responses to Why do private schools need so many new teachers?

  1. “12% of teachers work in private schools…more than 2x that fraction of new teachers, 28%, work in private schools” http://t.co/eiLDYIpMev

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Teacher attrition

The Department of Education has a “First Look” study out, “Public School Teacher Attrition and Mobility in the First Five Years,” with somewhat surprising numbers on teacher attrition. (Thanks to NCTQ for the link.) The headline number is that only 17 percent of teachers who began in 2007-08 had left teaching by 2011-08. That’s very surprisingly low. A comment below on why I’m not sure I believe it. But first, a quick picture relating the numbers to one of my favorite topics–teacher salaries.

teacher attrition iesSo low paid teachers are much more likely to move out of teaching. By the end of the study the difference was just short of two-to-one.

However, one caveat is called for in all this. About three-quarters of teachers surveyed responded to the questionnaire in the first year. By the fifth wave, the response rate was only 56 percent. Do you think those who didn’t respond were disproportionately those who left teaching? I do. That means that headline 17 percent dropout rate could be way, way off. I’ve presented the graph above on the theory that the survey errors for low-paid and better-paid teachers might not be too different. In other words, I suspect both lines below are lower than the truth, but maybe the gap between the two isn’t too far off.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *