With High-Quality Lessons and Social Supports, Even Weak Teachers Do Better

A new study from 100Kin10 and the University of Chicago has found that giving middle school math teachers access to high-quality lesson plans and support can "significantly" impact student performance and teacher effectiveness.

100Kin10 is an organization focused on building up the number of American K-12 teachers who can teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects to 100,000 by the year 2021. The non-profit worked with U Chicago's Urban Education Lab, which researches ways to help the educational outcomes for disadvantaged children growing up in urban neighborhoods.

This particular study evaluated what impact there was by providing teachers with real-world lessons from Mathalicious and access to other teachers through Edmodo. Mathalicious is a company that develops standards-based lessons that explore the math of life — sports, shopping, game creation. The Edmodo interactions among teachers went by the name, "Project Groundswell."

Eligible teachers in three Virginia school districts were randomly assigned to one of three groups: 104 received Mathalicious licenses, 119 received Mathalicious licenses along with professional support through Project Groundswell and 140 teachers received no additional resources. Each lesson was intended to span two to four instructional days and revolved around a "guiding question," such as "How is wealth distributed — and how should it be?" Teachers were given seven lesson plans and implemented, on average, two to three.

Remarkably, those students whose teachers had access to the lessons and the online educator interactions showed improved academic outcomes — 8.5 percent of a standard deviation higher on the Virginia Standards of Learning math assessments than students of control teachers. The impact was even greater for teachers considered "less effective."

The experiment also found that lesson plan access and support improved student perceptions of their teachers' instructional abilities.

As a summary of the study noted, "This finding suggests that high-quality, real-world lessons were able to compensate for deficiencies in teacher skill." Likewise, wrote the researchers, "The intervention is highly scalable and is more cost effective than most policies aimed at improving teacher quality."

Results of the study, "Simplifying Teaching: A Field Experiment with Online 'Off-the-Shelf' Lessons," were recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

"Finding low-cost ways of boosting teacher performance and student achievement has been an enormous challenge for schools across the country," said Roseanna Ander, executive director of the Urban Education Lab. "This study suggests some additional resources and supports we can offer teachers in order to deliver the best educational experience possible to young people."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.