Professional Development

Many Teachers Have ‘No Say’ in Decisions About Their Own PD, Survey Finds

By Madeline Will — August 07, 2017 3 min read
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Teachers tend to think their school leaders prioritize professional learning, but say they are rarely involved in the decision-making process, a new survey found.

Three organizations—Corwin, a publisher of professional development materials; Learning Forward, a professional-learning membership organization; and the National Education Association—surveyed more than 6,300 teachers from across the United States. The survey, which was conducted online, is not a scientifically representative sample of the national teacher population, but the respondents do resemble their peers nationwide in terms of their demographics, and the subject area and grade level taught. The respondents were relatively evenly distributed throughout the country.

While teachers largely agree that school leaders think professional learning is important, just over half of teachers surveyed said they have “some say” in their professional learning decisions, and nearly 20 percent said they have no input at all. Teachers largely said principals and district leaders made the decisions regarding professional learning for teachers in the school. And that applies to funding, too: Teachers said the expenses of PD are not openly discussed at their school, and they don’t feel looped in on the process of deciding the allocation of learning resources.

This creates a disconnect between the professional learning teachers want and what they receive. Teachers indicated that they strongly prefer collaborative learning held during the work day and on campus, but just 25 percent of respondents said the majority of their PD takes place during school hours. Nearly half said a majority of professional learning takes place on inservice days or in the summer. And on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 indicating strong agreement, the question “give frequent feedback to colleagues” received an average score of 2.8. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they spend fewer than one hour each week on professional learning.

One bright spot in the survey was that teachers largely agree that their professional learning is informed by student achievement data. But teachers also said their own backgrounds, experience levels, and learning needs are not considered in the planning or design of their PD, and these programs are not continuously evaluated to make sure teachers are getting quality results.

“This survey affirms teachers don’t feel invested in their own professional learning,” said Stephanie Hirsh, the executive director of Learning Forward, in a statement. “Evidence from all corners tells us that the job-embedded professional learning that educators value is the professional learning that makes a difference for students.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal K-12 education law, defines high-quality professional development as sustained (taking place over a period longer than one day), intensive, job-embedded, collaborative, data-driven, and classroom-focused. But a recent report found that a majority of professional development—80 percent—doesn’t align with that definition.

And the future of federal funding for professional development is up in the air, as both President Trump’s education budget and the House of Representatives’ spending plan eliminates Title II—a $2.3 billion pot of money for schools and districts to fund professional learning programs, including mentoring and induction. The program has faced criticism for years, with Trump’s proposed budget saying the funds are “poorly targeted and spread thinly across thousands of districts with scant evidence of impact.” And research has shown that PD doesn’t necessarily mean better student outcomes.

As educator groups fight to preserve the funding for professional development (which will be taken up by the Senate), Learning Forward, Corwin, and the NEA presented some recommendations in their survey report. They are:

  • Provide opportunities for continuous, job-embedded professional learning, like instructional coaching or professional learning communities.
  • Use multiple sources of data to plan and assess professional development—student-achievement data and teacher implementation data, as well as ongoing monitoring to make sure teachers are effectively applying what they learned in the classroom.
  • Include teachers in decisionmaking about professional learning. School leaders should ask teachers to reflect on their practice and be a part of the conversation to find solutions to improve student learning.

Meanwhile, when teachers aren’t involved in decisionmaking about their own professional learning, you might get horror stories like the ones that Education Week collected this spring:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.