Professional Development

Report: ‘Job Embedded’ Professional Development Often Found Lacking

By Stephen Sawchuk — December 22, 2014 2 min read
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Despite widespread belief that on-the-job professional development is superior to the “spray and pray” workshop model, many teachers seem to be unsatisfied with the quality of their in-school offerings, according to a new report.

It’s not that training options like coaching, lesson observation, and “professional learning communities,” in which groups of teachers plan together, aren’t good ideas. In fact, the report—written the Boston Consulting Group and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—emphasizes that such practices are theroretically grounded in the best research on teacher PD. The problem appears to lie in the execution of such activities—too often, PLC time turns into “social hour,” coaching is viewed as administrative monitoring, and lesson observation is superficial.

In other words, the missing link is how these activities are structured and carried out at schools. And that’s a big research hole, the report says: “There is little evidence to support which model of coaching (e.g. technical coaching, team coaching, peer coaching) is most effective,” it notes. (Similar problems were found with PLCs.)

Take a look at this rather depressing chart from the analysis. You’ll note that principals and other district leaders overwhelmingly think that they should be doing more lesson observation, coaching, and common planning time. But teachers said that they were not really satisfied with those efforts, placing their PLC time even below that of workshops.

This is not just a matter of semantics, either; the report estimates that $18 billion is spent annually on professional development, and most of it on internal investments. ($3 billion was provided by external providers—"independent consultants” and the like.)

Barriers to better practices include not enough time in teachers’ schedules and school leaders overwhelmed with administrative tasks, the report asserts.

The report relied on surveys and focus groups with 1,300 teachers, professional-development directors, principals, and PD providers, as well as a supplementary survey of 1,600 other teachers. (The survey methods aren’t spelled out in the report, so it’s unclear if this is a representative or self-selected sample.)

The report also indicates that the much-maligned workshops remain the most common form of P.D., with over 80 percent of respondents reporting that they’d spent some time in one. Only two-thirds spent time in a PLC, but they spent more hours in such meetings than in workshops.

In all, the report says, efforts need to be made to make the on-the-job professional development more relevant, more hands-on (with strategies that can be used immediately), and sustained over time.

(The Gates Foundation also provides support for Education Week‘s coverage of college- and career-ready standards.)

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