To the Editor:
I write with a friendly amendment to Hayes Mizell’s Commentary “The Misuse of Professional Development” (Sept. 22, 1010).
Mr. Mizell notes that one question educators must address is whether professional development has the desired impact. I couldn’t agree more. This means that education leaders should thoughtfully approach how they collect data about professional development and people’s participation in it. Few districts do that today.
Key data to collect include: professional development accessed by teacher, by year; whether the teacher participated in the whole session or just part of it (and which parts); whether the learning was individually sought, prescribed, or required for a whole group; a robust and accurate listing of professional-development choices.
This last is particularly important. It means that upon running a report on professional-development offerings, the results are meaningful—the courses and workshops listed in the report are current and have syllabuses, schedules, and instructors associated with them. The list should also indicate whether the item is offered in-district or out-of-district and how many professional-development units it confers.
A robust data-collection system would ask teachers to input development sought outside the school district and ineligible for professional-development units, thus capturing professional development to which the district never has direct visibility. Ideally, districts should track such opportunities as observing lessons, team-teaching, and participation in professional learning communities. All of this assumes there is a human-resources system that can accurately report a teacher’s entry to and exit from the district, as well as school, grade, and class assignments (over time).
There is huge opportunity to explore whether and how professional development has an impact on teaching effectiveness. Unfortunately, few districts currently gather the requisite data to do this analysis.
Strategic Data Project
Center for Education Policy Research
A version of this article appeared in the October 27, 2010 edition of Education Week as Professional Learning: Collect the Right Data