Professional Development

More Induction, Less-Intense P.D. for Teachers, Report Finds

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 26, 2010 4 min read
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Most beginning teachers now appear to be receiving induction services, but teachers overall are spending less time in some kinds of sustained professional development activities than just a few years ago, according to a new analysis of federal data.

Released this morning by the National Staff Development Council, a membership group supportive of school-based teacher training, the report was penned by three researchers at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. It is the second of a three-part research study on professional development.

The study draws on data from the 2000, 2004, and 2008 administrations of the federal Schools and Staffing Survey, a nationally representative data set. As of 2008, the scholars found that 78 percent of beginning teachers report having had a mentor, though not always in the teacher’s content area. That’s a big leap from 71 percent of teachers in 2004 and just 62 percent in 2000.

“We seem to have broken through and come to an understanding of the importance of induction,” Linda Darling-Hammond, one of the report’s authors, said in an interview.

(Not all mentoring is of equal quality, although highly structured and intensive formats seem to produce more effective teachers, according to a recent Mathematica study.)

Even so, the report found that the intensity of other types of professional development decreased between 2004 and 2008. Training of at least nine to 16 hours on the use of computers for instruction, reading instruction, and student discipline all declined notably, while training of up to eight hours in those areas shot up. That could be a sign that teachers are back in the infamous and much-maligned one-shot workshops. (Time spent on P.D. in teachers’ own content area improved slightly over this time period.)

That finding is particularly discouraging given two other studies on professional development. One analysis of nine rigorous scientific studies, released in 2007, found that professional development with fewer than 14 hours of training had no statistically significant effect on student achievement, in comparison to those with at least 30 hours.

And this study’s first report found that teachers in high-performing countries generally spend less time on instruction and much more time each week meeting, planning, and constructing lessons with other teachers. Read more about it in this EdWeek write-up.

The new analysis also found that, almost a decade after the No Child Left Behind Act put an increased emphasis on special populations, only 42 percent of teachers reported having special-education-focused professional development, and 27 percent reported professional development for working with English-language learners.

“It’s a disturbing thing,” Darling-Hammond said. “With all the emphasis on high standards for all, there is still not nearly enough professional development going on for [working with] special education students and English-language learners. Teachers continue to say they need that.”

The causes for the declines aren’t specifically stated in the report, but Darling-Hammond contended that states have let their infrastructures for professional development dwindle of late.

Other notable findings from the report include the following:

• Participation in P.D. that was focused on aspects like technology, reading instruction, working with students with disabilities, and so forth varied widely from state to state. To account for this, the authors created an index of 11 indicators against which to judge state provision of P.D. Arkansas and Utah were the standouts. Darling-Hammond said that the third report generated from this study would delve more deeply into the structures at work in these states that seem to be driving these results—and that hopefully are also producing higher-quality P.D.

• On state-to-state variability, reading stands out in particular: 52 percent of teachers participated in reading P.D. in Oklahoma to 83 percent in Florida—a bit of a surprise given the $6 billion federal Reading First investment and its focus on practices grounded in “scientifically based reading research.”

• The percentage of teachers who perceived a culture of “cooperative effort” in their schools dropped from 34 percent in 2000 to just 16 in 2008. But, the percentage of new teachers who said they had common planning time increased from 49 percent in 2004 to 56 percent in 2008. Per this apparent contradiction, the study postulates the mere provision of common planning time is not enough to support collaborative work among teachers.

The report has one drawback common to many studies that look at P.D. through a time or credit-hour-based lens: It lacks context on the type of activities gauged. Although the drop in overall hours spent in certain areas is suggestive, there’s no way to tell whether the activities teachers engaged in reflected workshops, or the types that many educators say matter most: Lesson study, professional learning communities, inquiry teams, and content-based “coaching.”

One of the reasons for that here concerns the 2008 SASS. For cost reasons, officials dropped some questions that dealt with the specific type of development offered (“job-embedded” vs. workshop) and the structures built in to support it (reimbursement, release time, etc.)

Darling-Hammond said she’s lobbying the Institute of Education Sciences to restore them in the next SASS survey. She’ll no doubt be joined by other scholars hoping to make inroads into this massive and still-understudied area.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.