The classroom teacher who became President Bill Clinton's education adviser has been telling Scottish decision-makers that the best way to raise pupil attainment is to improve the quality of their teachers. The Scottish Executive pledged to learn from her experience.
Terry Dozier, who was named National Teacher of the Year in America 20 years ago and became the Clinton administration's top policy adviser on all teaching issues, said research in Tennessee and Texas showed clearly that the single most important factor in improving teaching quality was providing the right continuing professional development.
CPD co-ordinators from across Scotland have been told by Dr Dozier that the best CPD is not the one-off conference or workshop model but collaborative working, team-planning and coaching and mentoring. "This is what research is telling us and it is confirmed by what teachers say - that working co-operatively on projects has the greatest impact on improving their teaching," Dr Dozier said.
Dr Dozier, in Scotland as a visiting chair of the Hunter Foundation and a guest of the foundation and the Scottish Executive, quoted research by William Sanders in Tennessee into the impact of the classroom teacher.
Pupils who had three ineffective teachers in a row for mathematics ended up in the 29th percentile of attainment, while those of similar ability who had three effective teachers were in the 83rd percentile.
Similar research in Dallas, Texas, showed that children who were in the 60th percentile group for reading at the age of nine dropped to the 27th percentile if they had three ineffective teachers in a row, compared to those who moved up to the 76th percentile point if they had effective teachers.
Dr Dozier observed: "What is dramatic is the gap between the two. Those with the ineffective teachers lost ground. The research also followed students over time. It showed that the ineffective teachers' impact remained for several years afterwards. If they had an effective teacher after the ineffective teachers, it closed the gap to some extent but not completely."
She acknowledged that other research carried out in Tennessee had shown the effectiveness of cutting class sizes to around 15, particularly in early primary and for disadvantaged pupils.
"I would want both to cut class sizes and improve teacher quality if we can," Dr Dozier said. "Cutting class sizes at the early grades does have an impact, but our research tends to show that the most significant investment you can make in terms of impacting on student achievement is investing in the learning and training of the classroom teacher."
She also drew parallels between the programme for certified teachers in the United States and Scotland's chartered teacher programme, but said the latter was still struggling to use the new breed of teacher in leadership roles in schools. She was impressed, however, with Scotland's induction programme for newly qualified teachers and intended to promote it in the US.
Dr Dozier predicted that chartered teachers and newly qualified teachers would be open to the idea of collaborative working as well as mentoring and coaching approaches. She commented: "I see the potential of these two programmes to dramatically change the professional and cultural climate within your schools."
Ewan Hunter, chief executive of the Hunter Foundation, said Dr Dozier was the first of a number of overseas experts who were being invited to share their experience with Scottish educationists.
Mr Hunter said that coaching and mentoring should be accelerated and improved. There was potential for chartered teachers and other experienced practitioners to be given training to help them fulfil this role. The trick would be in the way mentors were trained and supported.
He also suggested that more should be done to develop leadership at all levels of education and praised the work done at Harvard University, where education leaders were given support by both the education and business faculties to develop their skills.
A spokeswoman for the Executive said that there were no plans to follow the American blueprint but Scotland could learn from Dr Dozier's experience.