Despite a glut of best practice research being produced by researchers around the nation and the world, many teachers remain in the dark. Indeed, 75% of teachers say they lack the time to keep up with their professional literature, with 50% never even reading a single professional journal, according to studies from Baylor University and the University of Chicago. The cause of this gulf is not a lack of caring, but rather that teachers are maxed out and struggle to sift through their professional literature to find the one or two actionable pieces of information each month. The impact, regardless of the cause, is that students aren’t being taught with cutting-edge techniques that will lead them to the highest possible achievement gains.
The linkage between teacher's pedagogical knowledge and student achievement is well established and significant. For instance, research has shown that certain strategies for independent reading time are so much more effective that if you took a student and applied one strategy to him versus a less effective strategy, he would end the year in the 69th percentile in vocabulary instead of in the 50th percentile. Yet, if teachers do not access that kind of information, there is a strong chance that many teachers are utilizing less effective strategies and missing opportunities to significantly raise student achievement.
The Education Success Network is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that attacks the achievement gap at scale by spreading best practices among teachers, schools and districts. Our primary product, a free professional development service for teachers called Best Practices Weekly (BPW), aims to have 200,000 teachers subscribed by summer 2012 and 1 million teachers subscribed by the summer of 2014. BPW is a free weekly summary of actionable education research for teachers, delivered in video, audio, and text formats along with a planning guide for ease of implementation. BPW aims to allow all teachers to use best practice research in their instruction, resulting in maximum student achievement. Currently, over 1,000 educators across the U.S. and in a dozen countries abroad receive BPW every week.
The actual functioning of BPW is straightforward. Educators subscribe simply by entering their email address at the website. BPW subscribers are notified by email each week when a new issue is available. Once a subscriber opens the email and clicks the link, he or she is taken to the page on the BPW website with the current issue. From the issue webpage, the subscriber can view the video or listen to the podcast, or download the one-page article summary and the teacher’s companion planning guide. Live editions are viewable at www.bestpracticesweekly.com
Early reviews of Best Practices Weekly reveal the high potential of providing a key link between education research and teacher’s practice. Two stand out as evidence of the different arenas that BPW connects in ways that result in positive change for students. On the classroom side, Ellen, a 4th grade teacher in Phoenix, wrote: “In the hectic schedule of a teacher, a tool like this provides efficient and valuable instructional advice to help move students forward. I learned strong and simple strategies that already builds off of what I’m doing in my classroom and will make my instruction that much smarter. We already know that the most effective teachers are ones that use research-based practice–this is such an efficient way to make that possible for all teachers.” From the standpoint of researchers, a staff member from Achieve, Inc., wrote: “I just wanted to say this is a wonderful idea and service to teachers (not to mention researchers who could use help getting their work into the hands of teachers). Thanks for doing this.”
Supporting Best Practices Weekly means that tens of thousands more teachers and hundreds of thousands more students will benefit from having access to cutting edge research on instructional practices. These funds will be used to scale up both the diversity and quality of the service, whereas we are currently only able to produce one general edition primarily targetting elementary school grades. For instance, we will be able to hire veteran teachers as part-time staff to produce subject- and grade-specific editions. BPW provides a unique link between research and practice, bridging the divide that keeps so many teachers from accessing best practices. Quite simply, supporting BPW means that across the nation, tremendous numbers of students will learn more.
In terms of scope, teachers of different grades and subjects have different needs. In order to ensure every major cohort of academic teachers is being reached, we envision eventually expanding to a variety of offered editions ranging from High School English to Special Education.
In terms of content, in addition to reaching many more teachers and their students, BPW’s growth will allow us to enhance the quality and depth of the content we offer, such as webinars with article authors.
Our growth plan for Best Practices Weekly nationally leads us to the following trajectory:
Year 1 (2011-12 school year): 200,000 teachers subscribed, 6 million students impacted
Year 2 (2012-13 school year): 500,000 teachers subscribed, 15 million students impacted
Year 3 (2013-14 school year): 1 million teachers subscribed, 30 million students impacted
As for who we are, we're a team of former educators who know both how powerful research-based ideas are and how hard it is to access them. Elliot Haspel is the Editor-in-Chief of Best Practices Weekly and the President of the Education Success Network. A former 4th grade teacher in Phoenix, Az. through the Teach For America program, Elliot has extensive knowledge of both the practical side of elementary teaching as well as the research landscape. After his time in the classroom, Elliot attended Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, where he received a M.Ed. in Education Policy & Management. Elliot has most recently served as a Manager of Teacher Leadership Development for Teach For America’s San Francisco Bay Area region, where he supported cohorts of 25+ first- and second-year teachers. Elliot holds a B.A. from the University of Virginia, where he served as the Executive Editor of The Cavalier Daily, the independent student newspaper. All of his experiences has led him to the deep belief that all children, regardless of background, are capable of and deserve an excellent education, and that the spreading of best practices is critical in order to achieve this at scale.