A Need For Vision: A new study of four urban school districts has found that most of their professional development activities for teachers hold little promise for systemwide change. Such programs, the study concludes, are "fragmented, in need of strategic vision, and rarely clear to teachers.'' The study, commissioned by the Teacher Networks Group, an association of federal, private, and corporate funders that supports teacher-centered reforms, sought to gain a deeper understanding of how urban districts manage professional development. Barbara Miller and Brian Lord of the Education Development Center in Newton, Mass., and Judith Dorney of the State University of New York at New Paltz wrote the four case studies. The districts, located in different geographic areas and varying in enrollment from 9,500 to 124,000 students, were not identified. The study found that none of the districts had a designated person familiar with the full range of staff-development work under way. Although short-term activities with limited follow-up were prevalent in the four districts, the study also turned up evidence of more promising practices, including multisession workshops, institutes, and collegial working groups of teachers. Teachers themselves said they preferred ongoing activities that allowed them to reflect on new ideas and to practice new skills. While teachers reported spending varying amounts of time in professional development, the study found that the numbers were lowest in districts that mandated teachers' participation. Among other things, the report recommends that districts increase time for staff development; broaden the concept of what "counts'' as professional development; create teacher mentoring programs and study groups; and help teachers conduct their own research.
Fodder For Debate: For years, educators have clashed over how best to ease non-English-speaking students into the educational mainstream. A study published in the February issue of The Elementary School Journal offers new fodder for the debate. Researchers Russell Gersten of the University of Oregon and John Woodward of the University of Puget Sound conducted a seven-year study of 228 native Spanish-speaking students in El Paso, Texas. Slightly fewer than half of the students took part in a transitional bilingual education program in which they were given content-area instruction in Spanish until their English skills were up to par. The remaining students were in an immersion program in which they received content-area lessons in English but were able to use Spanish when the need arose. Unlike other studies, which have tracked children until the 5th grade, Woodward and Gersten followed the pupils to 7th grade--several years after the special programs had ended. They found that even though the immersion students had entered the mainstream earlier, both groups of students had comparable achievement-test scores in 7th grade. "Had our longitudinal evaluation ended at 5th grade,'' they write, "a different and entirely incorrect conclusion might have been drawn.''
--Debra Viadero and Ann Bradley