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Do Less Effective Teachers Choose Professional Development: Does It Matter?


A major current policy question is whether in-service training can improve teacher quality and student outcomes in K-12 schools. This paper argues that the evidence on the effectiveness of professional development thus far is less definitive than it should be, in part, because past evaluations have failed to account for the non-random selection of teachers into the programs. If high quality teachers, a priori, are provided with professional development, evidence may suggest an effective treatment even when the measured effect is actually reflecting the fact that the treatment is applied to already high-performing teachers. The reverse holds if less effective teachers are targeted for professional development.
This paper recognizes this potential bias and provides a method for correcting the non-random selection into the program. The correction offered in this paper is complicated by the fact that teaching effectiveness can be measured only partially with observable factors. By estimating the contribution of unobservable factors on a teacher's own past effectiveness, we find that this particular program, through targeting poor performing districts, succeeded in attracting the weakest teachers into the professional development activities. Controlling for this, the professional development program shows positive effects. This paper provides a road map for future evaluations not only of this program but other teacher professional development training programs in which selection of teachers is likely to be non-random and often based on unobservable teacher effectiveness. Only with evaluation replication for a variety of programs can policy advice about designing future professional development be offered.

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