The literature on teacher professional development is wide-ranging, but a number of themes run through it—such as the importance of sustainability, the role of teacher inquiry, and integration with classroom practice. Below are some notable research studies and articles for use in planning evaluating, and implementing teacher-learning efforts.
ADMINISTRATION & POLICY | EFFECTIVE PRACTICE
Inside the Black Box: School District Spending on Professional Development in Education
The Finance Project (2005)
• School districts have more resources for professional development than they think, according to this research paper by four education-finance experts.
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Drawing lessons from five large urban districts, the report lays out a framework and coding scheme for determining whether existing district funding resources are being matched to priorities. The authors note that a complete road map for professional development requires sound estimates of school-level spending.
Teacher Professional Development in 1999-2000: What Teachers, Principals, and District Staff Report
National Center for Education Statistics (2006)
• Approximately one-third of teachers said that the teachers at their school have a great deal of influence in determining the content for professional development offerings, according to a federal survey of 4,700 school districts. The principals surveyed were likely to say that teachers have a considerable amount of influence over their in-service activities.
The study, designed to provide a statistical overview of school professional development practices, also finds that teachers were most likely to obtain training in a workshop, conference, or training sessions. While about three-quarters had collaborated with other teachers on instructional issues, only 46 percent had done individual or collaborative research on a topic of interest.
Teachers tended to have a positive view of the professional development they received in various instructional topics. Those who undertook an in-depth study in their subject area were the most likely to view the training as “very useful,” according to the study.
The PBS TeacherLine National Survey of Teacher Professional Development
PBS Teacher Line/Hezel Associates, LLC (2007)
• A shift to greater school-level control of teacher professional development may be responsible for “perceptual discrepancies” over who is primarily responsible for organizing teachers’ learning activities, according to a survey of 1,400 teachers, principals, and district superintendents.
Principals and superintendents surveyed gave conflicting responses to the question of whether decisions about professional development were primarily made at the school or district level, the study found. Principals and teachers in larger schools tended to have the greatest sense of school-level influence over professional development; however, in low-income schools, district administrators were perceived to have more authority.
Districts were seen as the main source of financial support for teacher professional development, but the findings “also suggest a fair amount of discretionary authority at the school level to select and purchase materials and services specific to their needs.”
Bridging the Gap Between Standards and Achievement: The Imperative for Professional Development in Education
By Richard Elmore, Albert Shanker Institute (2002)
• This paper argues that today’s schools are not designed in ways that promote sustained professional learning by teachers and that new strategies are needed to “rebuild the organization of schooling around a different way of doing the work.”
For quality professional development programs to take hold, the author contends, schools must re-evaluate knowledge and skill needs, incentive systems, resource allocation, and organizational capacity.
Evaluating the Impact of Professional Development
By Christine Lowden, National Staff Development Council (2005)
• An important key to successful outcomes, this study finds, is integration of professional development activities into the school’s ethos and vision. School community members, including parents, teachers, administrators, and union representatives, must work together to create the most effective professional development plan for their schools’ needs, the author advises.
The study also finds a “strong correlation between teachers’ reported implementation of new knowledge and skills in the classroom and the impact on student learning outcomes.”
Professional Development: How Do We Know If It Works?
By Pendred Noyce, Education Week (2006)
• More stringent measures are needed for determining the success of teacher professional development efforts, according to this opinion piece written by a physician active in education reform efforts. Effectiveness for enhancing student learning must drive teaching training, she writes, with all other outcomes—for example, building teacher satisfaction and knowledge and decreasing teacher turnover—in service to that goal.
The author suggests eight steps for assessing training efficacy, including linking student and teacher records, monitoring change in teacher practice, and finding a consistent method for measuring student outcomes.
Strengthening Professional Development
By Dennis Sparks and Stephanie Hirsh, Education Week (2000)
• The potential of highly focused and sustained professional development to improve student learning is so great that it must be given more emphasis and become a central part of school-improvement efforts, write executives with the National Staff Development Council.
The authors propose a national plan to encourage a “results-driven and job-embedded approach to professional development,” with schools transitioning to a new organizational model that incorporates continuous learning into teachers’ daily work.
Evaluating Professional Development: An Approach to Verifying Program Impact on Teachers and Students
By Steven H. Shaha, Valerie K. Lewis, Tamara J. O’Donnell, and Diana H. Brown, National Staff Development Council (2004)
• Taking account of the growing importance of “proving” the success of professional development programs, particularly in the age of NCLB, the authors of this paper suggest a methodology for statistical evaluation. The key data for measuring success include: teacher attitude, skills, and knowledge acquisition for teachers, and classroom outcomes for students. The paper provides approaches to data measurement, including surveys for teachers and students.
Instructional Policy And Classroom Performances: The Mathematics of Reform in California
Cohen, David K. and Hill, Heather C., University of Michigan (2000)
&bull: This prominent research study tracked California teachers who had participated in professional development for a new state-approved math curriculum. The training ranged from one-day workshops on cooperative learning to longer events where teachers studied the new curriculum.
The researchers find that teachers who participated in longer sessions that focused more on academic content tended to embrace the curriculum change more completely than those who did not. Their students also scored higher on the state math exams than the other group.
“Professional development that is fragmented, not focused on curriculum for students, and does not afford teachers consequential opportunities to learn cannot be expected to be a constructive agent of state or local policy,” the study concludes.
Teachers Who Learn, Kids Who Achieve: A Look at Schools With Model Professional Development
National Staff Development Council/WestEd (2000)
• This analysis examined award-winning professional development programs at eight public schools that had made measurable gains in student achievement. It concludes that professional development in these schools was characterized by collaborative structures, diverse and extensive professional-learning opportunities, and an emphasis on accountability and student results.
In each of the schools, the authors observe, “the very nature of staff development [had] shifted from isolated learning and the occasional workshop to focused, ongoing organizational learning built on collaborative reflection and joint action.”
Gauging and Improving Interactions in Online Seminars For Mathematics Coaches
Education Alliance at Brown University (2005)
• Interaction among teachers in online professional development seminars increases when teachers, rather than expert facilitators, lead their peers in discussions, according to a Brown University study.
The study finds that peer-to-peer communication increased by 10 percent when teachers led discussions. In addition, the average number of words per online communication rose by 32 percent in the peer-led group over the two facilitator-led groups.
Lessons From a Decade of Mathematics and Science Reform
Horizon Research, Inc. (2006)
• A large-scale venture to spread professional development throughout entire districts had a positive effect on teaching mathematics and science, concludes this research study.
The report is based on an evaluation of the Local Systemic Change Through Teacher Enhancement program, a professional development effort established by the National Science Foundation that aims to reach entire populations of math and science teachers across districts and consortiums of districts. The researchers found that the initiative improved the overall quality of mathematics and science content taught in participating schools, boosted teachers’ confidence in presenting that material, and increased the amount of time devoted to elementary school science.
The findings suggest that similarly ambitious teacher-training undertakings could also work, if sustained over time, its authors say.
Teacher Professional Development in Chicago: Supporting Effective Practice
Consortium on Chicago School Research (2001)
• This report concludes that “high quality“ professional development programs—characterized by “sustained, coherent study; collaborative learning; time for classroom experimentation; and follow-up'—had a significant effect on teachers’ instructional practices. The study also identifies a reciprocal relationship between strong professional development offerings and a school’s overall “orientation toward innovation,“ suggesting the two feed off each other.
According to the study, high school teachers, beginning elementary schools teachers, and teachers at large schools need “the strongest support“ from strong teacher-learning programs, but are the least likely to get it.
Does Professional Development Change Teaching Practice? Results From a Three-Year Study
American Institutes of Research (2000)
• Teachers who participate in professional development activities that focus on “specific, higher-order teaching strategies“ increase their use of those techniques in the classroom, concludes this longitudinal study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education.
The study tracked mostly math and science teachers participating in the federal Eisenhower Professional Development Program. It finds that teachers benefit most from training when activities are collaborative in format; involve participation of teachers from the same subject, grade, or school; provide “active learning“ opportunities for teachers; and are consistent with the teachers’ goals and other activities.
How Teaching Matters: Bringing the Classroom Back Into Discussions of Teacher Quality
Harold, Wenglingsky, Education Testing Service (2000)
• Teachers’ professional development training in higher-order thinking skills and in working with special populations of students is linked with improvements in student math test scores, concludes this paper by an ETS researcher.
The study finds a similar jump in science test scores in connection with teachers who had professional development training in hands-on laboratory skills.
“[P]rofessional development should occur over an extended period of time... and it should cover topics closely tied to classroom practices,“ the study concludes.
Measuring Progress Toward Equity in Science And Mathematics Education
Marry M. Kennedy, Wisconsin Center for Education Research (1998)
• An analysis of professional development programs for teachers of math and science concludes that programs that focus “on subject knowledge and on student learning of particular subject matter“ have a greater impact on student learning than those providing more general information on “teaching behaviors.“ Understanding how students learn a subject helps teachers “develop and refine their practices.“
The author argues that teachers profit more from training programs when they are allowed to integrate “knowledge and insight“ into their practice “in their own way.“ Structured prescriptive approaches were found to be less effective.
What Makes Professional Development Effective? < br /> Garet, M., Porter, A., Desimone, L., Birman, B., & Yoon, K. (2001)
• Sustained and intensive professional development promotes coherence in teaching practice and content knowledge, according to this study. Looking at survey data from 1,027 math and science teachers, the authors conclude that when professional development is offered over “a substantial number of hours,” it tends to be of a higher quality and more likely to change teaching.
The results also cite effectiveness of activities “that are linked to teachers’ other experiences, aligned with other reform efforts, and encouraging of professional communication among teachers.“
Teaching Teachers: Professional Development to Improve Student Achievement
American Education Research Association (2005)
• Professional development should focus closely on the teachers’ subject matter and be aligned with their real work experiences in the classroom, concludes this research summary aimed at policymakers.
The study also says that “the more time teachers spend on professional development, the more they change their practices, and that participating in professional learning communities optimizes the time spent on professional development.”
Teacher Learning That Supports Student Learning
Linda Darling-Hammond, Association For Supervision and Curriculum Development (1998)
• With schools facing increasingly complex academic challenges, teacher professional development must move beyond “simply reading and talking about new pedagogical ideas,“ writes a prominent teacher-education professor. To be successful, she contends, professional development activities must engage in research and inquiry, collaboration with and observation of colleagues, and evaluation of students and their work.
Principles of Effective Professional Development for Mathematics And Science Education
National Institute for Science Education (1996)
• This policy guide identifies a “common vision” for professional development in math and science. Successful teacher learning programs, it notes, commonly encompass seven principles, including: having clear, well-defined goals, offering methods to broaden instructional approaches, creating learning communities, providing leadership opportunities, and incorporating continuous assessment.
—Elizabeth Rich and Anthony Rebora
A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 2007 edition of Teacher PD Sourcebook as Report Roundup