George Lucas Educational Foundation

Teacher Development Research Review: Evidence-Based Practices and Programs

Few specific professional-development programs have been shown by research to improve student learning, and even fewer can scale their services to schools and districts nationwide. Edutopia's research analyst recommends these research-proven programs that have developed to scale nationally.
Vanessa Vega
Former Edutopia Senior Manager of Research
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Five adults sitting around a science lab table in discussion
The key to innovations in assessment and curriculum planning at School of the Future are trust, transparency, and collaboration -- and providing the professional development and training teachers need to succeed. Photo credit: Tom LeGoff

The following programs have received support by independent evaluators or peer-reviewed publications, using independent outcome measures, and have developed to scale nationally. As professional-development research is in an early developmental stage (Borko, 2004), not many programs have strong empirical support. Please leave a comment to share professional-development programs that have strong evidence of success.

Evidence-Based Professional-Learning Practices & Programs
Program Practices Outcomes & Evidence
  • Supports teachers in using technology to promote inquiry-based learning and information literacy
  • Team building and coaching
  • Lesson study (see below)
  • Behavior management strategies
  • In a randomized controlled trial, eMINTS professional development and technology use increased students’ performance on state tests in grades 3-6, as compared to students not in eMINTS classrooms (Meyers and Brandt, 2010).
Math and/or science professional development
  • Teaching cases use realistic classroom narratives with dilemmas that any teacher might face, including student work, student dialogue, and descriptions of teacher instruction and thinking. Using such teaching cases within a sustained science professional-development program improved both teacher and student understanding of science concepts (Heller, Daehler, Wong, Shinohara, and Miratrix, 2012).
  • In Science Teachers Learning through Lesson Analysis (STeLLA), teachers use two lenses when analyzing video clips of science teaching: the Science Content Storyline Lens and the Student Thinking Lens. An experiment with 48 teachers and 1,490 upper-elementary students found that STeLLA improved science teaching and increased science content knowledge among students and teachers (Roth et al., 2011).
Lesson study
  • Teachers identify a single lesson study goal, conduct a small number of study lessons that explore the goal, and reflect about the process.
  • To start a lesson study, see these resources by lesson study researchers Makoto Yoshida and Catherine Lewis.
  • Teachers engaged in lesson study showed increased knowledge of subject matter and instruction, and achievement test scores did not refute possible positive impacts on student learning, based on a five-year case study of a California school district (Lewis, Perry, Hurd, and O'Connell, 2006).
  • Video-based observation and feedback cycle
  • Individualized coaching
  • Web-based library of highly focused video clips showing effective teachers in action
Video clubs
  • Video-based feedback and analysis of teaching practices for teachers
  • Personalized support from trained consultants and/or colleagues
  • Discussions focused on student-teacher interactions and student learning
  • Secondary math teachers met 16 times to develop video clips for certification submissions to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, creating a professional learning community that improved their teaching practice (Brantlinger, Sherin, and Linsenmeier, 2011). Middle school math teachers participating in ten 40-minute video club meetings improved their analysis of student thinking (Sherin and Han, 2004).
  • See STeLLA (above)
  • See MTP-S (above)
Success for All
  • Whole-school reform program with intensive initial training and ongoing coaching and progress monitoring
  • Cooperative learning
  • Common Core alignment
  • A best-evidence synthesis of whole-school reform efforts found that Success for All improved math skills among elementary and high school students and improved reading skills among K-5 students (Slavin, Lake, Chambers, Cheung, and Davis, 2010).
National Writing Project
  • Developing leadership of local teachers (teacher-consultants) who participate in summer institutes in teaching writing
  • Customized in-service programs
  • Continuing education and research opportunities
  • Students of teachers who participated in the National Writing Project showed improved development of ideas, organization, and stance, as compared to control classrooms, based on 16 studies conducted in seven states (National Writing Project Research Brief, 2010).
National Board certification
  • The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification assessment process includes components such as video, examples of student work, and content knowledge exercises.
  • Many districts and states provide aid and/or incentives for National Board certification.
  • Research finds that the National Board certification identifies teachers who are more effective in increasing engagement, learning, and achievement and who are more likely to stay in the profession, as compared to teachers who have not achieved certification. The NBPTS supports new and struggling teachers and helps teachers assume school-based leadership roles (NBPTS Research page, 2012).
Mentorship programs
  • Effective mentorship programs connect new teachers with positive, pro-social, professional mentors in the same teaching area.
  • Mentorship programs can increase teacher retention, student achievement (Ingersoll and Strong, 2011), problem-solving skills, and confidence and reduce feelings of isolation, particularly for early-career teachers (Beltman, Mansfield, and Price, 2011).
  • High engagement in the California Formative Assessment and Support System for Teachers improved teaching practices and student achievement, producing an effect size equivalent to half a year’s growth (Thompson, Goe, Paek, and Ponte, 2004).

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Continue to the next section of the Teacher Development Research Review, Avoiding Pitfalls.

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