Funding Professional Development for Teachers — by Betsy Hill

Almost two years ago, I blogged about the stunning research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on the connection between student scores on the PISA tests and economic well-being.  The bottom line was that if the U.S. could raise every child’s PISA score to the minimum level of proficiency on the PISA (the international tests that enable the academic rankings of various nations), it would unleash $73 trillion of GDP.

Of course, that’s a big number, but may not really help us appreciate the impact at the level of an individual student.  A recent court decision related to tenure provisions in the state of California has highlighted another research study from 2012 by Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff, in which the authors connected state test scores to lifetime earnings for students and the difference that a good teacher can make.  They found that replacing a poor teacher with an average teacher for one year resulted in an additional $50,000 in lifetime earnings for each student.  Thus, the impact of lifetime earnings on a class of 20-30 students for just one year of poor teaching amounts to $1 to $1.5 million in lifetime earnings for those students.

In the last few years, we have seen many school districts cutting or even eliminating funding for professional development for teachers. Not only does this impair teachers’ ability to raise their performance, it means that new research on effective teaching fails to reach teachers at all levels, such as applying neuroscience research in the classroom.  As one example of what recent research is showing, we now understand that cognitive skills training, done correctly, has a substantial impact on student performance, including raising performance on state test scores, the same measure correlated to lifetime earnings in the Chetty research.  Giving teachers tools like BrainWare SAFARI cognitive skills development software, can play an important role in raising teacher effectiveness.

Providing BrainWare SAFARI to a classroom of students along with professional development on applying neuroscience in the classroom would cost a tiny fraction of the $1 million in increased lifetime earnings for those students.  In these days of low interest rates, professional development like that, with a 10-100 fold return, could be one of the best investment opportunities around.

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